Gianforte in Crow

Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte stands during the flag song with Miss Crow Nation Shaunita Nomee and Junior Miss Crow Nation Nai Nai Wyles. Gianforte was endorsed by Crow Tribal Chairman A.J. Not Afraid and former chairman Darrin Old Coyote during a tribal meetings Friday. 

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Crow Tribal Chairman A.J. Not Afraid threw his administration's support behind the Republican candidate for Montana's Congressional seat during a Friday meeting in front of residents.

The candidate, Greg Gianforte, was on hand and appeared at two events in Crow Agency. One was a tribal government meeting; the second was a more informal barbecue held by former tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote.

At the first event, held in the Crow multi-purpose building in Crow Agency, Gianforte briefly ran through a number of policy points, including the creation of a west coast coal port to serve Crow exports.

"The Crow people and all of Montana need a strong voice in Washington, D.C.," Gianforte said.

Coal resonated through Not Afraid's endorsement on Friday. The Absaloka Mine is a major revenue source for the tribe, and the slowdown in industry-wide coal production has hit the Crow as well.

He said that he felt Gianforte's voice would have the best chance to carry the Crow's concerns, which include resource development. Despite gloomy market conditions, the resurgence of the coal industry has been the topic of speeches by President Donald Trump, Gianforte and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Vice President Mike Pence declared the "war on coal" is over before stumping for Gianforte last week in Billings.

Another priority issue for Not Afraid is health care, and he said he hopes to see funding for more services at the local Indian Health Service facility.

"Those have been cut over the course of time," Not Afraid said. "Health care isn't fully provided at this time."

There have been concerns over what Trump's federal hiring freeze would have on the already understaffed IHS. There is also concern about the preservation of Obamacare subsidies for tribal health, which are attached to expanded Medicaid funding.

The Quist campaign says a Medicaid rollback could affect as many as 9,000 Native Americans in Montana.

Gianforte spoke generally on Friday, saying that he was in favor of protecting those with pre-existing conditions and keeping premiums low. The candidate has previously offered ambiguous views on the Trump-backed Obamacare replacement legislation.

Not Afraid said Friday he shares the concerns about system funding but felt that Gianforte was the best choice.

He also said that the Democratic candidate, musician Rob Quist, didn't get his vote in part because he didn't get to meet him.

"Without a discussion on what's needed in Indian Country, we haven't had an opportunity to touch base," Not Afraid said.

Quist was on the Crow Reservation on Wednesday but didn't meet with the tribal chairman. A campaign spokeswoman said it was part of his "hands off our health care" tour of the state, which included John "Bowzer" Bauman of the musical group Sha Na Na.

A campaign spokeswoman said that Quist met with tribal members alongside state Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Democrat from Crow Agency.

He said in an April appearance in Billings that he would make it a priority to get assigned to the House Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee.

The election is May 25, which is the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. 

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Reporter for The Billings Gazette.