Guest opinion: Making progress for Montana and for Indian Country

2013-03-04T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Making progress for Montana and for Indian CountryBy SHARON STEWART-PEREGOY The Billings Gazette
March 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Despite progress in the state of Montana as a whole, unemployment on our reservations remains far too high.

The Montana American Indian Caucus has been fighting to continue full funding for Indian Country Economic Development, which provides resources to tribal businesses to expand operations and facilities and train and employ new workers. This is a vital program that assists tribal members with finding full-time, permanent jobs, starting their own businesses, and improving their lives.

Democrats have proposed several other common-sense jobs bills that will create jobs across Montana.

One of the most important would increase access to Medicaid. Over the next eight years this plan would bring $6 billion dollars into Montana, translating into $4 billion dollars in wages and 10,000 new Montana jobs. It will cover over 60,000 Montanans, helping children, seniors, and people with disabilities afford doctor visits so they can avoid expensive emergency room care. Working Montana families can get treatment when they are sick without risking their financial health as well.

Support jobs bills

Rep. Amanda Curtis has proposed a bill that employs a simple concept: money raised from Montana taxpayers should go to Montana workers. Curtis’ bill would increase the number of Montanans hired on projects funded by Montana tax dollars. Unfortunately, the bill was tabled by Republicans in the House Business and Labor Committee.

However, another essential bill continues to move through the Legislature. The Jobs and Opportunities by Building Schools Act will fund construction projects across Montana. It will put Montanans to work in Missoula, Butte, Havre, Helena, Dillon and Billings. It will improve the quality of our higher education facilities. Investing in a well-educated workforce is something business owners have told us is necessary for businesses to thrive.

The Montana American Indian Caucus has been working to support innovative strategies for improving student achievement in our communities. Supporting native language preservation helps improve the academic success of students caught between fluency gaps in two languages. Our language is a gift, an identity, and a source of pride. That’s why I sponsored a bill to repeal English as the official language of business in Montana. It is time the legislature acknowledge Montana is a state with a cultural history far older than European colonization with a rich diversity of native languages.

Finally, I proposed another bill to ensure sites across Montana that are significant because of their association with cultural practices or traditional knowledge and beliefs are protected. As Montana continues to develop, we must ensure future generations are still able to learn from the knowledge and practices we’ve passed down for generations.

To learn more

If you want to know more, the American Indian Caucus is holding a round-table discussion on bison and languages from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 7, at the Red Lion Colonial Inn in Helena. If you have any questions for me, feel free to email me at apsaalookewomen@yahoo.com.

Democrat Sharon Stewart-Peregoy represents Senate District 21 in Big Horn, Yellowstone, Rosebud and Powder River Counties.

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