Op-Ed by Rep Bruce Meyers
The Indian name of the late Donald W. Meyers, my father, is Buffalo Walker. Such names were given by the Elders to acknowledge that we as First Nations tribal people understand the ways of, importance and sacredness of the bison. Our cattle ranch neighbors take great pride in raising domesticated quality stock which produces some of the best beef in America. Unfortunately, the issue of bison is one that has served to galvanize our rural native and non-native communities where inflammatory rhetoric and personal attacks which hinder our tribal leaders and state law makers seeking a bi-partisan solution.
Many Indians and non-Indians want to see the bison return to the landscape for what it would mean to our native cultures and national heritage. Just as many Indians and non-Indians are concerned about the potential economic impact on agriculture, our state’s number one industry. Those who have chosen to see the bison issue as racial or partisan issue have already lost. Now is the time for wisdom, empathy, mediation, peace-making and a win-win scenario.
As we have this discussion, it is important that we accurately present some of the different proposals for handling this delicate issue. During the 2015 legislative session I proposed HB 495 which would have required a bond on all bison being transferred to an Indian reservation. Also during the 2015 session Lieutenant Governor Candidate Lesley Robinson, as a rancher and county commissioner, supported SB 284 which would have required the permission of county commissioners before wild bison could be relocated to their counties.
In a June 9, 2016 article in the Char-Koosta News, an official publication of the Flathead Nation online, Chairman Azure of the Fort Belknap Community is critical HB495 bill and of Robinson claiming that it violates tribal sovereignty and offers no tribal consultation. I would encourage Mr. Azure to read the bill. The bill specifically exempts tribal governments from the requirement to obtain permission from county commissioners. The bill would have had zero impact on the ability of tribes to place bison on tribal land.
Chairman Azure’s article is not so much an attempt at legitimate criticism of Lesley Robinson as it is about carrying water for Governor Bullock’s campaign, and convincing voters in tribal communities that Gianforte and Robinson don’t care about Indian Country.
However, the truth about Mr. Gianforte that I observed while riding with him through three reservation communities is that he is running an open, honest and praise worthy campaign for the Governor's Office in this great state of ours.
I was with him as he knocked on doors and was invited into Native homes in the poorest neighborhoods on the reservations. I was there as some were skeptical about his conducting listening sessions on the reservations. After tribal people found out that he was truly interested in their concerns and starting businesses on the reservations he was accepted.
Montana’s native communities have suffered for decades from a lack of jobs and opportunities. Unemployment rates on some Montana reservations are over 60 percent. Career politicians in both Helena and Washington have often made empty promises to help us in Indian Country. However, year after year our communities struggle to provide the jobs and opportunities that our communities need to support our families, children and Elders. After fifty years in the wilderness of government socialism I have asked many Native Elders if they feel that we as tribal people are now “better off” and the vast majority of them say “No we can’t honestly say that we are.”
Indian country needs to see more economic success stories such as the one featured in the June 15, 2016 edition of the Missoulian where it was reported that Boeing awarded $200 million in subcontracts to the tribally owned S&K Global Solutions owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribe of Montana. The company currently employs 160 people in six locations across the United States including its Polson headquarters and the new contract will add approximately 90 more employees.
Today many Natives and non-Natives see that it’s time for a change in this direction for the state of Montana and for Indian Country, and that’s why I’m voting for Greg Gianforte and Lesley Robinson and their high paying jobs platform for all Montanans, I hope you will too.
G. Bruce Meyers is the current Representative for House District 32 in the State of Montana and is a candidate for Senate District 16 which covers North Central and North East Montana and includes three of Montana’s Indian Reservations. He is an enrolled member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe.
Photo credits: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain