Montana Public Radio

While President Visits Bozeman, Tester, Williams Campaign In Indian Country

Nov 4, 2018

As members of the Crow tribal council stood alongside Republican Senate hopeful Matt Rosendale for his pro-coal stance at the Bozeman airport Saturday, tribal leaders from the Blackfeet Nation and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes threw their weight behind Democrats Senator Jon Tester and Congressional candidate Kathleen Williams.

They started their day in Browning with a breakfast feed. By afternoon, they were at Elks Lodge in Polson with the Blacklodge drum circle.

On the western side of the state, Tester is widely seen as a advocate who delivers on Native issues.

"I think Jon Tester and Kathleen Williams will make good representation for us here in Blackfeet Country," said Eugene Whitaker.

Mark Pollock, acting secretary of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council said, "Senator Tester has worked very hard not only for Montana but Indian Country across the nation."

Pollock touted Tester’s work to find solutions for missing and murdered Indigenous women, securing funding for the Blackfeet Tribal Water Compact and his dedication to improving education, healthcare and veterans services in Indian Country.

"He's done everything for the Indians," said George Spotted Bear, "not only the Blackfeet but other tribes too."

"He'll be a powerful voice for us. I asked an elder what’d be appropriate to say and that's what she said," former Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley said.

"These are just a few of the things that this distinguished gentleman has done for Montana, for Native Americans, for Indian Country across the United States," Pollock told the crowd in Browning. 

Kathleen Williams supporters at a Democratic candidates rally in Kalispell Sat., Nov. 3
Credit Nicky Ouellet

In Polson, emcee Anna Whiting-Sorrell lauded Williams for sharing her story of caring for her mother through the final stages of her Alzheimer’s.

"After I heard Kathleen's story, not only did she win my heart, but Kathleen, you earned my vote. Thank you so much," Whiting-Sorrell said, to applause. 

More than a hundred people attended the events in Browning and Polson, and a few hundred showed up for a rally in Kalispell.

Glacier County, which includes most of the Blackfeet Reservation, went big for Democrats in 2016, but Sanders and Lake Counties, which split the Flathead Reservation, tipped toward Republicans in every partisan race but three.

At each stop, Tester asked. "Just curious, how many people have voted?"

Almost all hands went up, and Tester responded, "Good job."

More than a third of Montana voters have already cast a ballot, so candidates urged attendees - Native and Non-Native - to get unlikely voters to the polls. In Kalispell, staffers signed people up to phone bank and canvas.

Michael Siracusa and Ali Wunderman, two millennials already volunteering in Whitefish, were the rallies’ target audience.

"I'd like to see more young people at these events," Siracusa said. "There was actually more here than I would have thought."

"But it'd be nice to see a level of action equal with the level of complaining that’s happening," Wunderman added.

As Tester headed to his fourth and final rally for the day, I asked him what impact visits and endorsements for Rosendale’s campaign from President Donald Trump and Libertarian Senate challenger Rick Breckenridge had on his campaign.

"Bottom line, it's a race between myself and Matt Rosendale," Tester said. "I feel good about my chances. We just need to make sure everybody votes."

Election officials nationwide are predicting high voter turnout for the November 6 midterm election. Fifty-five percent of registered voters in Montana cast a ballot in the last midterms in 2014. Seventy-four percent voted in the presidential race in 2016.