American Indians Find Seats at the Table
by Beth Britton
Photo by Todd Goodrich
Representative Carol Juneau remembers well her first day on the job during the 1999 Montana Legislature. Representing a relatively small population on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana, one of a few Indians in the 150-member body, Juneau says she felt like a fish out of water.
What a change six years can bring.
Juneau has become a leader for Indians statewide and an
educator for legislators not familiar with issues facing the
state’s tribes. And two other UM grads have joined her in
representing their reservations—Joey Jayne and Margarett
The three representatives have different backgrounds, but they
have found common ground in Montana state
government—working to improve the lives of their
constituents. And they have backup: five other Indian legislators
are serving. American Indians now hold twice as many seats as the
state’s tribes held just four years ago.
The Indian Caucus represents 5 percent of the 150-member
assembly—close to the 6.2 percent of American Indians in
Montana’s total population. The number is significant; it
places Montana second only to Alaska in the percentage of Indian
legislators. With seven Indians in its sixty-member legislature,
Alaska has just under 12 percent representation.
TRIBAL LEADERS’ INSTITUTE
“I think many Montanans forget about Indians, but
Montanans need to understand that these three women come to the
Legislature with a wealth of understanding about issues relevant
not only to their own tribes but to all Montanans,” says
former U.S. Congressman Pat Williams, now senior fellow at
UM’s O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West.
“What really strikes me is [that] people [are] finally
recognizing their competence. Carol is one of the most competent
of state legislators, a nonstop hard worker. Joey is a quite
accomplished lawyer and whip smart, and Margarett is razor
Williams is leveraging his experience and the O’Connor
Center’s resources to provide a quick anecdote to the
American Indian legislators’ steep learning curve. The
center received a one-year pilot grant of about $40,000 from The
Sallie Mae Fund to finance the Tribal Leaders’
The institute, designed for any and all elected or appointed
American Indian officials, debuted last fall. “The purpose
of it is simple: Indian leaders tell us what they want more
information about and we attempt to provide it,” Williams
Issues of specific interest to the 2005 legislators are the
principles of federal Indian law, the partnership between state
government and tribal government, and how the state budget
affects people on and off the state’s Indian
“The overall goal is to provide Native American leaders
with an understanding of the issues they select as wanting to
know more about,” Williams says. “This request for
help is a sign of genuine maturity. Most elected officials
don’t want to ask for help.”
For Juneau and the seven other American Indians holding office
in the 2005 legislature, the growth of Montana’s Indian
Caucus is not just about numbers. It’s about time.
“Indian people have to be a part of the decision-making
process,” Juneau says. “I’m hoping that as
Indian legislators we’re able to make a much stronger
connection between Indian people and the state of Montana.
It’s wonderful to be a part of the decision-making process.
We’re sitting at the table, which is only right.”
Juneau, the vice-chair of the Democratic Party in Montana, is
optimistic about the future of tribal involvement in state
government. She proudly states that residents of every
reservation in Montana now have an Indian representing them in
the Montana Legislature.
Juneau, a Mandan and Hidatsa in her fourth term, earned a
master’s degree in education from UM in 1980. It was at the
University that she learned the power of a strong education and
what education allows people on or off reservations to
accomplish. “It’s always good to be on a college
campus and around people with different ideas,” she says.
“I developed my skills there.”
She worked for Blackfeet Community College and retired
recently from Browning Public Schools, where she was student
affairs adviser and the director of the Stay-in-School
Now a leader in the Montana House, Juneau says she learned as
much from her personal life as she did from any professional
experience. She grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation, sixty
miles southwest of Minot, North Dakota, and moved to Montana in
1969. Having lived on reservations most of her life, Juneau says
she is familiar with Indian issues and the challenges that
Indians have faced for decades.
Her background serves her well today in her role as a member
of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Juneau
also serves on the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on
Long-Range Planning and the House Appropriations Committee, where
she is vice-chair.
“It’s good to go into the hearing room showing a
real strong, united front on issues of importance to us,”
Juneau says. “Hopefully [the Indian Caucus] is sending a
strong message. So often we come to Helena or the federal
government and ask for support, and then we leave, go home, and
hope it works. Now we can make those laws.”
The creation of the Indian Caucus, which meets weekly at the
Capitol, has been a successful strategy in keeping the Indian
legislators together on issues, Juneau says. A key issue for the
2005 caucus is “Indian Education for All,” a Supreme
Court ruling requiring Montana schools to recognize and preserve
American Indian culture and heritage in state classrooms, she
“Support for the concept is there, but the money
isn’t,” Juneau says. “We want the public school
system to provide instruction on contem-porary Indian
issues.” Juneau is a realist, and she understands that this
year, in her final session in the House, not all issues of
importance to American Indians will make it to the floor.
“My sense of hope is dwindling. I had greater hope that
we’d have additional resources, but already three of my
bills have died in committee,” she says. “Even though
we have a budget surplus, there are so many issues, so many
cutbacks in the past. We’re trying to make some programs
The journey from UM classrooms to the floor of the Montana
House of Representatives was a short one for freshman legislator
Margarett Campbell. Just one year ago, she was finishing her
class work in Missoula on her way to earning her doctorate in
educational leadership and technology management.
Today the Poplar resident serves on the House taxation,
legislative administration, local government, and education
committees. “Each time I walk into the House of
Representatives, there’s this incredible sense of
responsibility. It’s almost breathtaking to think I will
push a button to create a law or keep it from being
created,” Campbell says.
The fifty-year-old Campbell, who served as president and
academic dean of Fort Peck Community College for twenty-two
years, today works as the vice president for the Department of
Community Services on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. She comes
from a long line of American Indians who served their country.
Before her father became a U.S. citizen and earned the right to
vote, he fought in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war
following the Bataan Death March. Both her father, now deceased,
and her mother believe in giving back to one’s country and
Holding political office was not part of any childhood dream
or goal for Campbell, however. After redistricting, Senator Frank
Smith came to her and said he had approached every leader in the
community. “He told me that if they didn’t come up
with someone soon there would be a problem,” she says.
Campbell laughs to think of what a spur-of-the-moment decision
she made to run for the vacant seat. But she was not altogether
unprepared. In 1992, Campbell worked as a program coordinator for
the ‘Discover the Indian Vote’ campaign and she also
had registered voters in the past.
Campbell, an Assiniboine, laughingly describes the learning
curve for new legislators as “steep.” She says she
had great teachers at UM, but even her doctorate level work
didn’t prepare her for her new job.
“It’s complicated, but not impossible. I do spend
all my time reading rules and doing lots of research,” she
says. “The information from the Tribal Leaders’
Institute has helped me so much. That program gave me a running
start, and the only complaint I have is it didn’t last long
enough,” says Campbell, who admits to feeling some pressure
to accomplish much for her district.
The chance for significant legislation aimed at helping the
state’s tribes is greater this year than ever, she says.
“Indian people have been absent on taxation issues, and
that’s been a concern to me. It’s essential we
understand the bigger picture of taxation, and I can provide a
voice for Indians.” The growing number of Indian
legislators has resulted in the need for more understanding of
Indian issues on the part of non-Indian lawmakers, and there also
is a disconnect between rural and urban Montanans, Campbell says.
“What I find is an absence of thought from people in urban
areas for those of us in eastern Montana,” she says.
“Montana is like two states, and I feel a responsibility to
educate other legislators. That is a humbling and incredible
Joey Jayne of Arlee admits that her honesty can occasionally
get her into hot water.
“I feel like I have good judgment, but I’m not
afraid to stand up for what’s different,” she says.
“Some people just sit around and don’t want to make
waves; some people don’t even read the bills before they
vote on them. I think a lot of legislators are narrow-minded and
think it’s too much work.”
The 1993 graduate of UM School of Law, who owns a law firm on
the Flathead Reservation, is no stranger to hard work or plain
talk. She says she pursued a legislative seat because statutes
are unclear and she “wanted to be the one that was making
laws.” When she reads the bills under consideration at the
2005 legislature, Jayne says, “I feel a huge responsibility
and weight on my shoulders.”
A forty-eight-year-old Navajo, she represents newly created
HD15, a huge expanse of land stretching from Missoula and Lake
County north to Heart Butte and East Glacier. In her first two
terms, before redistricting, the New Mexico native represented
It was her education at UM’s School of Law and her
experience as an attorney that she says prepared her for the
legislative debates and a leadership role in state government.
She is the sole female attorney currently serving in the Montana
A familiarity with federal Indian law and an understanding of
how the law works—along with a high comfort level when
debating bills before her peers—helped ease Jayne’s
transition from private practice into the very open process of
making law, she says. “My biggest concern is that bills are
being passed that limit people’s rights and narrow their
opportunities,” Jayne says. “What I feel deeply about
is that we do not take liberties away from people.”
She spends time breaking down barriers between Indians and
non-Indians. “We have to educate legislators who are naive
or who don’t accept Native Americans,” she says.
“They learn there’s unemployment of over
seventy percent [on some reservations], and it’s very
powerful. I am reaching both Democrats and Republicans. I have
felt the responsibility to educate others, and I work pretty well
with both sides of the aisle.”
Although Jayne admits that the atmosphere for Democrats at the
2005 Legislature is “happier” than in the
past—due to the 50/50 Montana House, and the
Democrats’ majority in the Senate—if she had her
druthers, the members would do their jobs with little
consideration of party affiliation.
“There are people on both sides who will not budge on
party lines,” she says. “When parties fight and when
one party wants to be superior to the other, who’s going to
win here? It’s challenging, but if I can make it easier for
someone [in Montana] to go to bed at night, then it’s worth
it to me.”
Beth Britton, M.A.’99, is a freelance writer and
journalism teacher at C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls.
She covered the 1999 Montana Legislature for the UM Community
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