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Push for Indigenous Representation as MT Redistricting Enters Next Phase


Tuesday, December 14, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. -- Redistricting in Montana has moved on to a new phase, with the state's commission now tasked with drawing lines at the state level.

An organization representing the interests of Native Americans in the state wants to ensure the commission keeps their interests in mind.

Ta'jin Perez, deputy director of the group Western Native Voice, noted drawing lines for state lawmakers is a more complicated process than congressional redistricting.

"The legislative districts will require that kind of level of detail and examination," Perez explained. "Because whereas the congressional map really only looked at two districts, they're going to be looking at well over 100 districts."

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission approved the congressional map last month. Because of a growing population, Montana gained a House seat and will send two representatives to Congress for the first time in three decades.

Perez contended it is important to keep together communities of interest, such as native communities on reservations, to ensure political representation. However, he pointed out commissioners consider a number of priorities equally, such as existing political subdivisions. Perez added in the past, the approach has cut up tribal reservations.

"Where county lines are prioritized over reservation lines, and so there will be some debate on that, I'm sure," Perez recounted. "There will be reminders that our organization will make about ensuring that communities are kept intact, especially communities of interest."

Perez emphasized factors such as an undercount of Native Americans in the 2020 census will also affect district lines, but he believes the Montana redistricting commission generally has done a good job because of its unique setup.

"Some states have their legislature create a subcommittee based on partisanship and the breakdown of majority versus minority in those state houses," Perez observed. "So we're very fortunate to have an independent process here."

The commission will finish its legislative district map in 2022.

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