The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux frontline organization Kokipansi takes part in a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day action near the Montana border with Canada on May 5, 2020. Photo courtesy Indigenous Environmental Network

Indian Lawmakers: We refuse to stand idle

The senseless death of a black American has ignited civil protests around the globe. We will always remember George Floyd’s name and the eight minutes forty-six seconds that Minneapolis police officers assisted a fellow officer in pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground until he remained motionless.

While viewing current news coverage, it is evident that our nation is on the precipice of major societal change akin to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Only time will tell if our Nation will build on the victories of that movement and truly live up to the U.S. Constitution’s immortal declaration that “…all men are created equal.” It will be hard to overcome the deep-seated, systemic racism that began with the inception of this nation, but we believe it can and will happen.

As Native Americans, we understand discrimination and racism. We live with it. There are places in Montana where we are uncomfortable and make a point of avoiding. There are businesses where we know we will be followed the moment we walk in the door. When stereotypes are spewed at us, we often hold our tongues to avoid conflict.

Sadly, Native Americans continue to sit at the bottom of every social indicator. And not only are Native Americans more likely to be shot by a police officer than any other race or ethnic group, but we are also disproportionately incarcerated in the Montana prison system. Although Native Americans make up around 6.7 percent of Montana’s population, we make up 16 percent of the prison population.

To determine if racial inequality exists, it takes just a handful of statistics to see the gravity of the situation. When Montana Indians make up around 26% of the missing people in Montana, the racial equity gaps become even more evident. And only recently has the widespread and pervasive epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People come to the consciousness of Montana and the country. Although emergency response and media coverage has slightly improved in Montana, such efforts continue to lag far behind that of missing white women.

We refuse to stand idle and have these issues swept under the rug. We stand in solidarity with black Americans and ask for true change to happen throughout our country. Nobody should feel intimidated anywhere in this land of the free and the home of the brave, regardless of the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation.

As our country looks in the mirror, we must recognize and address these disparities. We must have hard conversations and educate one another to break down stereotypes and start closing the gaps of inequality.

Although the gaps in racial inequality are far from being closed, we recognize that many attitudes and perspectives toward Native Americans have changed for the better. We know Montana is filled with a lot of wonderful people.

The members of the Montana American Indian Caucus in the State Legislature are: Sen. Susan A. Webber, Rep. Shane A. Morigeau, Rep. Bridget Smith, Sen. Frank Smith, Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Rep. Barbara Bessette, Rep. Jade Bahr, Rep. Marvin Weatherwax, Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy.

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