New Young Native Leaders in Southeastern Montana
It was my pleasure to meet and interview three native American leaders and it should give us all hope that these three leaders give S/E Montana’s native Americans their best chance for improvement on both the the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne reservations.
Joining me in studio was newly elected Senator Jason Small from Senate district 21 of Busby, Montana. Also in studio was Chairman of the Crow Tribe A.J. Not Afraid and calling in from his home was President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Jace Killsback.
All three gentlemen told us they were eager to work together and have decided to keep their lines of communications open and continue to encourage their peers to get involved with their communities and reach higher in life.
Jason Smalls told us that the life expectancy on the two Indian reservation is 15 years lower compared to off reservations towns. He said “The difference of 11 miles in the state of Montana can cost you 15 years of your life.
Stories on the reservation are heart wrenching and sound more like a third world countries, like the story of the man who died after facing a bleak decision: spend his money on trips into town for dialysis, or buy food for his family.
From isolated reservations across the state to urban pockets around Billings and Great Falls, Native Americans are dying at higher rates than a decade ago, at a time when most people in Montana are living longer, healthier lives.
A recent state Department of Health report showed that the march against cancer, heart disease and infant mortality has largely bypassed Native Americans.
In 2006, the latest year studied, Native American men were dying at the highest rate of all people, with little change since the early ’90s. Their life expectancy was 71, the lowest age of all men, and six years lower than that of white men.
The news was just as grim for Native American women. Their death rate had surged by 20 percent in a 15-year period, while the overall death rate had decreased by 17 percent.
But the starkest health disparity was among babies. Native American babies were dying at a rate 44 percent higher than a decade ago, while the overall rate of infant deaths had declined.
“American Indians are an unheard-of political group, and that’s why many are excited about these three young Montana leaders. “I think I can get some stuff done in Helena” Says Small “Health Care and the drug problems on the reservation must be addressed.”
Jace Killsback is a strong proponent of mental health and drug rehabilitation services on the reservations but says they are almost non existent. He says “Instead of the judicial system locking someone up they should try to help that person out of his addiction.”
Many tribes also struggle with high obesity and diabetes rates. Experts say the tradition of eating high-fat, low-fiber, government-assistance food has rippled through generations, and that fruits and vegetables are out of reach for many people on food stamps.
A statewide shortage of rural doctors is another barrier to health care, compounded by un-reliable transportation and a huge methamphetamine epidemic on some reservations.
Its good news though that three young native leaders are planning on collaborating with one another on behalf of all the native and non-native people that live in their districts.