By Alan Sorensen
Rocky Boy's Jonathan Windy Boy, along with representatives from Montana's six other Indian reservations, is attending what he calls a "historic meeting" with Gov. Judy Martz in Helena today.
Windy Boy, a Chippewa Cree tribal councilman, said he asked for the meeting to solidify government-to-government relations between the tribes and the state of Montana begun by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1993.
"This is a series of meetings we got into with the governor," Windy Boy said in a telephone interview this morning. "This initial one is just going to be based on each individual tribal nation to exercise that."
Windy Boy said Martz was very receptive to the meeting and has agreed to monthly meetings with members of the consortium of Montana and Wyoming tribes.
"Dec. 7, we had our initial meeting with the governor-elect," Windy Boy, who serves as chairman of the Tribal Leaders Council, said. "At that point in time, she agreed to meet with all the tribes in Montana. She wants to continue a dialogue with each respective tribe, both individually and collectively."
Windy Boy said that today's meeting was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. and last for approximately one hour. It is not an official meeting between the governor and the consortium of Montana and Wyoming tribal leaders, but what Windy Boy called an "individual meeting collectively."
The consortium's lobbyist, George Ochenski, is expected to attend as are several key state leaders.
"I have invited the president of the senate, Tom Beck, and the speaker of the house, Dan McGee," Windy Boy said. "And Attorney General Mike McGrath accepted the invitation, but because of scheduling problems, he may not be able to attend. He'll probably have someone in his place."
Windy Boy said he is heartened by Martz' willingness to meet with the tribes monthly and to visit each of the state's reservations.
"Last week when I was there, the policy advisor, Shane Hedges, said the governor made a commitment to visit each of the tribes individually in the next six months," Windy Boy said.
He said that Martz also made a commitment to voice support for the tribes at the national level.
"If we have any issues, that we have with unmet needs with the federal government, she said she would be glad to go to Washington, D.C. to testify on our behalf," Windy Boy said.
For now, he said, it is important for the tribes to begin cementing positive relations with state government.
"She is meeting with us on a monthly basis, and, hopefully, if the schedule permits, we are going to be meeting bimonthly during the legislative session," Windy Boy said. "A lot of the legislation at the state level affects us a great deal. This would be a good move on our part as far as moving forward positively."
He said that Martz will have a short discussion with each of the tribes that show up at today's meeting "because we all have individual needs and issues."
"I have issues with the state," Windy Boy said. "All of the other tribes have issues with the state that they want to be addressed. I want everyone to continue this dialog. It's not only a great opportunity for all of the tribes, but all of the people in the state of Montana."
"It's the beginning, hopefully, of a long dialog with this new administration. I feel comfortable. ... It is a great move for us as nations."
Windy Boy said relations between the tribes and the state have not always been good and that this is a way to improve those relations - politically, economically and as fellow Montanans.
"We need to address our needs, because we are all residents of the state, because of the economic development of the state, and to help the tribes move closer to that."