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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Group Working To Register Native Voters

Election sign reading 'polling place' on a door at a Missoula polling place.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Western Native Voice works to register voters in Indian country.

Among the organizations working to get out the vote this fall in Montana is Western Native Voice,  a nonpartisan group based out of Billings.

Jewell Deschamps-Gopher works for them. Part of her job is motivating people to register to vote.

"Oh yeah, yeah!  It’s just like, c’mon guys, get with it! Look how important this is! I wish I can, you know, speak so that I can open their minds and make them see how important our voice is."

This weekend Deschamps-Gopher was at the back-to-school event put on by the Great Falls Indian Education Department. Hundreds of people there, getting vaccinations, enjoying some barbeque and waterslides.

She says that voting is the first step to making positive progress in Indian country.

"I would say bringing more funding to our native communities, as well as programs that can hopefully establish perhaps employment, helping with the education process in the schools, maybe some of the addictions that are out there with meth and alcohol."

Deschamps-Gopher is used to getting a wide range of responses from the people she talks to.

"Some of the responses that I’ve received is that they have registered already. Some just don’t really like the political process and don’t want anything to do with it. Some of them have said that the system is corrupt and that they don’t make a difference anyway. And then some just really don’t care because they don’t know how important it is."

On Sunday, Deschamps-Gopher said she registered 10 people to vote, many of them first-time voters. She’s been doing this work since May.

"I’ve been downtown, walking the streets, trying to get our Native vote … Also we do powwows, I know there’s a little powwow coming up soon … Little Shell will be having their quarterly meeting."

Western Native Voice has been knocking on doors and registering voters all summer. They are currently in the process of conducting polling across Montana reservations and urban areas to better understand Native voting patterns. The results are expected to be out in a few weeks.

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