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Steve Bullock for Senate: Indian Country Virtual Town Hall
Senate candidate touts tribal agenda in closely watched race
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Speaking to tribal leaders on Indigenous Peoples Day, Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock promised to respect tribal sovereignty and support much-needed federal programs that benefit Native people if elected to the U.S. Senate.

“Today we recognize and pay homage to the indigenous communities and culture that certainly have been damaged throughout history due to historical injustices,” he said, speaking to a virtual forum of Montana tribal leaders on Monday.

Bullock is in a tightly contested and very expensive race against incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the outcome could decide which party controls the chamber, currently in GOP hands. The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter, has called the race a toss-up, while spending by both candidates has topped $75 million, a record for Montana, according to the MTN News Network.

On Monday, Bullock criticized his opponent for supporting President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, which he said have largely favored corporations and the very wealthy.

“In these uncertain times, Montana really needs a leader who’s certain who they’re working for, and I’ll never forget that,” he said.

If elected, Bullock said he would support fully funding the Indian Health Service, increasing funding to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for law enforcement, increasing the number of Native veteran service officers and living up to the federal trust obligations for tribes.

He said he plans to meet Wednesday with leaders from eight Montana tribes at the state Capitol, and he said he planned to raise the flags of all eight tribes in front of the Capitol prior to the meeting.

“No Native American should ever feel like they should walk through the back door of our Capitol,” he said.

Several tribal leaders asked questions of Bullock during the virtual forum Monday, including Blackfeet Nation Chairman Timothy Davis.

Davis asked Bullock what he would do to ensure Native people are treated equally under the law.

Bullock responded, saying he would first seek to ensure Native people were provided adequate health care. He said Native people in Montana live on average 20 fewer years than non-Native Montanans. Without proper health care, Native residents would never enjoy equal treatment, Bullock said.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) addresses the National Congress of American Indians annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 23, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

To that end, Bullock said he created the Montana Office of American Indian Health and succeeded in expanding Medicaid to serve more state residents, including Native people.

And if elected, he said he would fight efforts to delete key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA.

By comparison, he said his opponent has sought to end the ACA, whose provisions have benefited the IHS and the tribal health care system.

Andy Werk Jr., president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, asked Bullock if he would support Congressional approval of a water settlement affecting his community.

Bullock said he would support that water compact and criticized his state’s three federal representatives for failing to gain passage of the settlement, which state leaders approved 19 years ago.

“Fort Belknap Indian Community should not be waiting this long,” he said. “I will do my level best in the first year to get this done, and I’ll work with you to get this done.”

Montana State Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a citizen of the Crow Tribe, asked Bullock if he would support the efforts of tribes to protect their borders in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

He said he would support the decisions of tribal leaders seeking to keep their citizens safe.

“South Dakota obviously took a completely different approach,” he said, referring to efforts by that state’s governor to get two tribes in her state to remove checkpoints on their borders.

Patricia Iron Cloud Runs Through, a council member for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, asked whether Bullock would be willing to seek judicial reform to ensure Native people are treated fairly by courts.

“A lot of our people are going to prison, and they’re staying there longer than any other people,” she said.

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Bullock said he would support seeking to nominate more Native attorneys to federal judgeships.

He told the tribal leaders Monday that he would seek to include tribes in all federal policy decisions affecting them.

“Together we have been able to accomplish a lot, while respecting also the government-to-government relationships that are so important,” he said. “We also know that there is so much more to do.”

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