Quist at Democrat breakfast

Congressional candidate Rob Quist meets with members of the Yellowstone County Democrats at the McCormick Cafe in Billings on Wednesday morning.

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

American Indians are too often left in the dark by federal government campaigns to raise public health awareness, a Billings ad firm told U.S. House candidate Rob Quist on Wednesday.

Federal agencies spend into nine figures to alert the public about basic health dangers like unsafe sex or tobacco use, but messaging to American Indians is often underfunded, the co-owners of G&G Advertising said. They asked Quist, a Democrat, to do something about it, if elected.

“The FDA has a $600 million campaign to combat smoking throughout the country. Who has the highest rates and who gets the least amount of money? Indian Country,” Michael Gray said. “Drugs, alcohol, seatbelt usage, everything about that. It’s like a constant battle for us to get to the table.”

G&G is a full-service advertising and public relations agency that specializes in populations that are hard to reach, like American Indians. Gray’s father is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks are vying to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as Montana’s only Congressman. Zinke resigned last month after being appointed to his cabinet position. Absentee ballots for a special election will be mailed April 28. Voting ends May 25.

The upcoming 2020 U.S. Census is a major concern, Gray said, because so much of what the federal government does is based on population. American Indian communities are usually under-counted.

After the 2010 Census, the federal government estimated that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations had been under-counted by 4.9 percent.

“We’re one of the hardest groups of people to count,” Gray said. “But we’re one of those communities or areas that depends so highly on an accurate count.”

Quist said he is committed to helping American Indians in Congress. He was meeting with G&G to discuss Indian small business issues.

“I really feel like this is going to be a top priority for me because throughout my whole life I’ve really studied Native cultures and history and it’s just been a fascination of mine,” Quist said.

A Cut Bank native, Quist grew up on the edge of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where his mother was a teacher. American Indians were a focus of his days in southcentral Montana. Earlier in the day, Quist spoke with Western Native Voice, a nonprofit social justice organization serving American Indians.

Quist said his priority would be getting assigned to the House Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, which is part of the House Natural Resources committee. In the U.S. House, the subcommittee oversees all federal issues affecting 1.9 million enrolled members from 566 federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native corporations.

“I know there are so many problems that have to be dealt with in terms of the meth situation, and alcohol fetal syndrome and health care,” Quist said. The candidate outlined ideas for addressing nutrition and housing problems on reservations and expressed support for getting federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe and getting qualified doctors onto reservations.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.