By Nicky Ouellet, Montana Public Radio
A one-word change in the Montana state Republican Party platform is leaving some tribal members confused about how the party sees them. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a clarification or chipping away at tribal sovereignty. The Native American Affairs platform plank used to say: “The Montana Republican party supports American Indian Tribal nations and their treaties with the Federal Government.” It now reads “…American Indian Tribal peoples.”
Representative Bruce Meyers, the only Republican Native American in the Montana legislature, says the change SHOULD clear up how the state sees it’s tribal citizens.
“American Indian people actually have a double status, and that’s created a lot of confusion,” Meyers said.”So we were hoping that the platform clearly outlined that we were only dealing with tribal people as citizens of the state of Montana and not citizens of the united states of America.”
A Montana GOP spokesperson added that the party wants to address the individual rather than what he calls “group identity politics.” The Montana GOP platform echoes the party’s national plank calling for tribal people to self-determine development of natural resources and create economic self-sufficiency.
But where GOP representatives see a point of clarification, others see potential for a breakdown in the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the state.
“If it represents a change in the way a Republican governor or Republican led government would interact with individual tribal citizens to the exclusion of tribal nations, then I think it could have an effect on state-tribal relations, particularly where tribal nations see a real need for government-to-government relationship with the state government,” said Monte Mills is a law professor who specializes in Indian Law at University of Montana.
In contrast, the Montana Democratic Party’s platform says it recognizes Montana’s American Indians as Montanans and members of sovereign tribal nations. The party’s national platform includes a robust “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations” section that outlines tribal sovereignty, land restoration and the federal trust responsibility.