Democrats face the end tomorrow of what has been one of the most arduous primary seasons in memory. I am, in particular, eager to see what will happen in my home state of Montana. At this point, Obama is far ahead of Clinton in the polls.
Similar to Oregon, Montana is often forgotten in national politics. With a sparse population and a few small cities, we Montanans never really felt like we counted. I remember clinging with pride to the fact that we were the fourth largest state in the nation…we sought out distinctions where we could find them. Raised on a farm, my parents taught my sister and me what to do if we encountered a bear, or a mountain lion, or any assortment of snakes. We were taught how to break the ice on the trough in order to water the cows, and what to do in a particularly fierce snowstorm. We took the power of nature very seriously.
The people of Montana, like Oregonians, should not be considered insignificant. The state is filled with those who live according to the near-religion of self-sufficiency, with daily devotionals of back-breaking hard work, long hours, and creating order amid the seeming chaos of nature. It is a lyrical place, with a sky as big as mountain-men legends and a disdain for the easy life. Many in Montana still feed off of a pioneer spirit, bred before mini-malls and latte stands. As Raymond Carver wrote, much of Montana is not the West “as in West Coast; cities like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle; these cities…may as well be on the European mainland.” Let’s not even talk about Obama’s Chicago.
With seven Native American reservations, it is impossible to consider the history of Montana without also considering the tragic and oppressive realities of the past and present. The battlefield at Little Bighorn is a reminder. Not as well known was the Marias Massacre, in which nearly 200 Piegan Blackfeet, mostly women and children, were killed by US troops in 1870. Montana’s Native Americans today comprise just 6.4% of the population and face high rates of infant mortality, poverty and unemployment in what is already a poor state.
In the frenetic pace of the campaign, it would have probably been easy, an efficient political calculation, for Barack Obama to disregard Montana’s Native American population entirely.
Well, he hasn’t. He has personally visited a number of Native American reservations (let me tell you, they are not on the beaten track), and has promised to appoint an advisor on Native American issues to his senior staff. He has met with Native people in nearly every major city he’s visited, not only Montana’s, and has promised to hold a significant, public event with the leaders of major tribes during the general campaign. Native leaders call his efforts to show them respect “unprecedented.” They have rewarded him, with the Crow Nation adopting him into their tribe.
Tomorrow, I hope that my home state of Montana grants Obama a well-earned victory. This often-forgotten state, with its often-forgotten people, deserves someone who will remember them.