Montana Native Americans worried about legislative influence

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Bills that sought to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day were tabled in committee. Funding for two state positions dedicated to Native American communities were cut. The only Native American member of Montana's human rights commission wasn't retained.
HELENA, Mont. —

This year's state legislative session in Montana — where Republicans hold at least a two-thirds majority in both Houses and have a GOP governor for the first time in 16 years — has triggered concerns from some Native Americans and their allies who fear they are losing influence and representation.

Democratic Sen. Susan Webber of Browning said she sees discrimination and racism in the actions.

"Legislators, including the Indian Caucus, make every attempt to be civil. However, it's hard when the Indian people are attacked over and over, day after day," she said.

Republicans pushed back against any suggestion of discrimination.

"The insinuation that the Legislature is using legislation to discriminate against Native Americans, including Senate GOP members' own constituents and a member of the Senate Republican caucus, is absurd," Kyle Schmauch, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, said in an email.

Dylan Klapmeier, a spokesperson for House Republicans, said any suggestion that there is legislation aimed at discrimination "is unbelievable and has no basis in fact."

Native American lawmakers are also concerned about several election-related bills that members of the American Indian Caucus argue will make it more difficult for Native Americans, low-income residents, disabled people and rural Montanans to vote.

Montana is among at least 43 states considering legislation aimed at restricting voter access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The effort was prompted by former President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud.

The concerns in Montana come during a historic moment for Native American representation in government as U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico gets ready to become the first Native American to lead a U.S. Cabinet agency as Interior secretary. Descriptions of her as "radical" by white, male Republicans has raised questions about whether she is being treated differently because she is a Native American…
AMY BETH HANSON, Associated Press
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