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Creating tribal leaders, directing political change

Group aims to make tribal voice heard in government

By Lailani Upham

During the Get-Out-The-Vote campaign across Montana, two young men on the Fort Peck Reservation register to vote for the first time. Monroe says the campaign is an example of a community action to vote project that can happen with NGC. However, with NGC a follow-up will be ensured that issues the candidate’s stand for in Indian Country is carried through, he explains. (Courtesy photo) During the Get-Out-The-Vote campaign across Montana, two young men on the Fort Peck Reservation register to vote for the first time. Monroe says the campaign is an example of a community action to vote project that can happen with NGC. However, with NGC a follow-up will be ensured that issues the candidate’s stand for in Indian Country is carried through, he explains. (Courtesy photo)

MISSOULA — A new grassroots organization is launching in Indian Country across Montana to bring accountability in state and federal electoral seats to influence change in communities in the next generation.

According to founder and Executive Director Dustin Monroe, Native Generational Change emphasis is to encourage change in social and economic conditions for Native Americans both on and off the Reservations by forming a unified voice.

NGC is headquartered in Missoula.

“A movement is happening in Indian Country from Arizona to Montana. Tribal members are questioning both state and tribal governments and becoming actively involved in the discussions that are made. Every Council and Native leadership body strives to fix a commonality in problems but yet it seems like the problems are not fixed just handed down to the next generation,” Monroe stated.

The two main strategies to move change ahead in communities is to promote a large turnout for voting in Indian Country; and community action projects that are tailored to the need of a community.

One goal that coincides with both getting out the vote and community action projects with NGC is to help students at tribal colleges and universities with their needs to insure they graduate. “If they (students) need to know how to seek funding, hire a tutor, or build a budget, or whatever it is they need to make sure they graduate, we want to make it happen,” Monroe said.

Monroe says NGC was birthed out of awareness that there is a huge generation gap with legislative leaders and upcoming Native leaders. “Most leaders are 50 and over. The younger leaders are living with two concepts of living in two worlds. One person put it in perspective when they explained our young college students rising up in leadership have to wear one shoe on one foot and a moccasin on the other.” Monroe said young leaders rising up in Indian Country want to see change for their generation but need to be educated, yet remain who they are culturally.

“There is hope with this generation because of a generational resiliency that voices out against the cycle. Change is happening from language revitalization to tribal governments modifying their constitution to fit their cultural identities. State policies though are often over looked in Native Country when we think avenues of change. Policies made by state legislations can have devastating effects on tribal governments and cost thousand of dollars to fight legal battles in courtrooms. But there is an opportunity because of the rising electorate in Indian Country and shear number of voters in Native dense states like Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana,” stated Monroe.

Monroe says the political parties have reached out in the past few elections in Indian Country with a parachute approach to turn out the Native vote. However, says the approach has built ineffective infrastructure and after each election the groups have pulled out and left nothing in place to build upon.

The “Get-Out-To-Vote” approach has been focused on heavily, he says, yet, little focus has been applied to the policy development side of politics in Indian Country.

“Political parties rely on the Native Vote to either win/lose elections based on if the Native Vote turns out. What Native governments and Native voters lose hindsight of is holding those candidates accountable to Indian Country. This must change if Indian Country is to move forward.”

Monroe says NGC understands each Native community and tribal government is different and collar a number of various issues. One of the goals of NGC is to aid those failed Indian policies at a state level that often use “cookie cutter” approaches for tribes. However, the good news is that he says a change is arising in the next generation to take stand against it.

“Tribal members are taking action in different forms from taking office at state governments to running for state government positions. Scott Davis of North Dakota and Jason Smith of Montana both hold the position of Director of Indian Affairs for their state and have been influential in instrumenting their governor’s plans to include Native American Agenda. In Montana Denise Juneau was reelected to OPI in Montana and is the highest held position among Native Americans in the country and in South Dakota Senator Kevin Killer of the Lakota Nation has represented his Native issues in the South Dakota legislation. Not all states with large Native populations have people key positions and often state polices are developed without their input.”

With NGC community action programs, the organization will invite leaders and tribal college student leaders to get folks talking in circles to come up with their own project to tackle an issue or problem they feel strongly about. NCG efforts will be to guide and help fund group projects once a project is agreed upon.

The requirement for the assistance is for the community action leaders to later become alumni of NGC and make a commitment to “give back through volunteer or donation of funds,” Monroe explained.

“In 2014, there will be state elections in all three states, there is an opportunity for Native Americans to turn out to the polls and be the deciding vote in these states,” Monroe said.

Monroe says the focus then should remain on progressive state policies that will contribute to sustainable Native community development.

“Nonnatives are also seeing the threat of the Native Vote in their states, so they are trying to divide and conquer the approach that they have always used in the past, but this time are being met with community resistance. Tribes who unite on issues will progress further than those tribes who chose the individuality approach, he added.

“Change is possible in Indian country and this generation has opportunity to make that change in 2014. Be bold and be a part of something special.”

Recruitment for partnerships in Native communities on and off the Reservations will begin in Late February. For more information on donation or how to get involved, contact Dustin Monroe at (406) 493-5198; or email at dustin@nativegchange.org. Or join Native Generational Change on Facebook.

Dustin Monroe, Blackfeet and Assiniboine, is the CEO & Founder of Native Generational Change, is a decorated Army Veteran of the Iraq War. Monroe worked to help bring in a record turn out in the 2012 election and was lead advocate for Native Americans in the 2013 Montana Legislation. He is currently working on his Masters in Tribal Government Development from the University of Montana.

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