Voices Of Montana Makes “Media History” By Interviewing Three Native Politicians In Public Forum Discussing Common Issues
Tribal Leaders Featured on Montana state-wide radio program
BILLINGS, MT – In December, 2016, three new and young Native political leaders from the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes made Montana media history when they were featured on the hour long Voices of Montana radio talk show. It was the first time that native politicians joined forces in public media, discussing issues of common concern. The show aired across some 23 stations in Montana by the Northern Broadcasting Association, Billings Montana. Streamed live on the internet, the show is widely available to listeners in many other States.
“There are seven reservations in Montana and we have many Indian friends and neighbors and common concerns” said Taylor Brown, Northern Broadcasting owner when agreeing to feature the show which was themed Young Native Leaders. “To the extent that we can promote a better understanding of tribal issues and concerns, the better things will be for all of us. We are all citizens of the State.”
The first episode aired on December 21, 2016 featuring President L. Jace Killsback, Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Chairman A.J. Not Afraid, Crow Tribe and Montana Senator Jason Small, Senate District 21 which includes both the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations. The educational program focused on collaboration and unity between the three leaders, close and active cooperation between the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribes, a relatively new development. “We were all elected with a mandate for change,” President Killsback noted. “Tribal and State relations need to promote a greater understanding. We don’t have time for nonsense. There are too many critical needs including economic development, health, law, state and federal funding.”
Chairman Not Afraid concurred saying “The issues on our reservations are similar and we need to strategize to address them. We’re coming together and President Killsback is a great proponent for all Tribes.”
Senator Small also agreed. “It might take some time to develop a working relationship, but we will not step backwards. We are going to work together. The Tribes need the State and the State needs the Tribes. We’ve got to continue with current programs, add on some new ones and address unemployment issues.”
The wide-ranging discussion was historic in that the three young leaders, representing a significant swath of southeastern Montana, all spoke of the need for collaboration and working together to improve the economy and opportunity, including employment, housing and health for native people and low-income people in the state.
Senator Small who will serve on the State Health and Human Services Legislative Committee mentioned a fact which shocked Jon Arneson, talk show host and initiated a discussion of health problems. “If you live in Hardin (non-Indian community bordering the Crow reservation) as opposed to Crow Agency (Crow reservation community) your life expectancy is 15 years more. And that’s a distance of 11 miles.”
Small’s comment prompted a dialogue about health disparities between Indians and non-Indians in the State. However, the hour long discussion touched on many other issues: the economic impact of the reservations on the overall area economy; drug problems in the area; law enforcement; state services and economic development ideas. Arneson then invited the leaders for a return appearance to address issues in more detail, suggesting that such discussion from tribal leaders is important to the State. “There is so much ground to cover,” he said. “This merits more than one discussion on the show.”
To that end, President Killsback was a solo guest on the December 29th Voices of Montana show in which he primarily discussed Treaty Rights and sovereignty. He reminded the audience, “Treaties are signed by two nations to establish peace, a supreme law of the land. Concessions are made by both sides, establishing permanent contractual obligations. The Tribes gave up a lot of land and resources, but in our case, these treaties have often not been ratified, fulfilled or only partially honored. That is why you see ongoing efforts by the Tribes to have treaty obligations upheld.”
In response to questions, Killsback also explained tribal rights to hunt and fish on off-reservation ceded lands; the Dawes Act and its implications and sovereignty. “Nobody gave us sovereignty – we have always had it, governing ourselves,” he said. “We are nations within a nation.”
With a degree in Native American studies from U.C. Berkeley, Killsback draws upon a broad knowledge of history, American Indian law and contemporary native issues. He has accepted the invitation to be a guest of the Voices of Montana show on a regular basis over the next year to continue the educational dialogue.
After the radio exchange Brown commented “It is exciting to see these three young, well-spoken and sharp young leaders talking about issues that affect the whole state. We were thrilled to have them on the show and look forward to more opportunities to learn about tribal and native issues, needs and problems from them.” Clara Caufield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Today correspondent