BILLINGS – The Montana Legislative House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Committee heard testimony on House Bill 241, Tuesday, February 9th. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Joe Read (R) from Ronan and seeks to revise hunting laws related to tribal boundaries.
Legislators heard opposition from Western Native Voice, tribal leadership, tribal members, legal counsel, the ACLU-MT, and numerous other concerned organizations. In addition to the impressive number of in-person opponents, there were over 20 online opponents who also voiced their displeasure with the bill.
Along with Rep. Read, supporters framed HB 241 as a private property issue or a conservation issue. A real estate broker, David Passieri, said that he “lives and breathes property rights,” as he attempted to persuade lawmakers to vote in favor of this bill.
Sen. Jason Small (R), a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, said, “This bill is a quagmire. If this passes, it will be a never-ending legal process.” Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D) of House District 32 also rose in opposition to the bill.
Jestin Dupree, a Fort Peck Tribes Councilman, noted that the right to hunt and fish on our lands are “rights we have fought and died for.” That sentiment was echoed by Marzha Fritzler, legal counsel for the Crow Tribe, when she recalled her childhood, “Growing up on the Crow reservation when things were tough, we survived on deer meat. We wouldn’t have made it, had it not been for our right to hunt on our land. We can’t take that away.”
WNV Political Director, Keaton Sunchild, also testified saying, “There were supporters of this bill saying that they were multi-generation Montanans, so they should be able to hunt these lands. If that’s the argument they want to make, that’s fine, because Native Americans will win that debate every time. The treatment of the Indigenous people in Montana is proof that being here first doesn’t mean that you are entitled to anything.”
In his closing statement, Rep. Read admitted he had learned a lot and that he left the fate of the bill up to the committee.
Western Native Voice is a non-profit, non-partisan social justice organization working to inspire Native leadership through community organizing, education, leadership, and advocacy. With 7% of Montana’s population being Native American living almost evenly split between reservation and urban areas, WNV organizes in rural and urban communities using a culturally tailored community organizing and citizen education model to build Native leadership.