Tranel says Zinke 'turned his back on tribal nations long ago'
Battle for Native American vote heats up in western Montana ahead of midterms.
WASHINGTON — On the heels of Alaska Native Mary Peltola’s historic win yesterday for Alaska’s at-large U.S. congressional seat, Monica Tranel, the Democratic candidate for Montana’s western congressional seat, is drawing contrasts with her Republican opponent’s credentials on Native American issues.
Tranel, noting two critical reports this year from the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), says that her GOP adversary, former Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from 2017 - 19, is not fit to honestly serve in the U.S. Congress on behalf of Montanans and Native Americans.
“It's clear from his trail of corruption, we can't trust Ryan Zinke,” Tranel tells Indigenous Wire. “Multiple incriminating investigations concluded Zinke abused his official position, wasted tax dollars, and repeatedly lied to a Trump-appointed and Sen. Steve Daines-confirmed Inspector General in an attempt to cover up his unethical and criminal behavior to enrich himself and appease powerful special interests and their lobbyists."
Regarding Native Americans specifically, Tranel says Zinke “failed” them, especially in Montana, during his “short and corrupt tenure” as Interior Secretary.
“He sold out to lobbyists and special interests, sold off a historic amount of land to special interests, and is responsible for the largest reduction of public land protections in U.S. history, including illegally revoking Bears Ears Monument in Utah,” she says.
“In Montana, Zinke blocked the transfer of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe, failed to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from industrial oil and gas development for the Blackfeet Nation, and failed to adequately address the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis in our communities,” Tranel further tells Indigenous Wire.
“Zinke also told Montanans he would have voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will help provide broadband and internet access to rural areas and tribes, fostering much needed economic development opportunities.
“Zinke turned his back on Native Americans and our tribal nations long ago.”
Tranel says that on the campaign trail, she has heard from numerous voters and tribal leaders that they can’t trust Zinke.
“Zinke's party has attempted to suppress the Native American vote in Montana by passing numerous laws that limit participation and make it harder to vote,” Tranel says.
To Native voters, she suggests: “If you do one thing this election cycle, make sure you are registered to vote, request an absentee ballot, and vote early. Tribal communities and Native Americans can change the outcome of this race by having their voices heard when they vote in this critically important election.”
Tranel is a Montana-based lawyer who has competed twice in the U.S. Olympics in rowing. She unsuccessfully ran as a Republican in 2004 to lead the Montana Public Utilities Commission.
Zinke’s campaign has not responded to requests for comment, but his lawyers have previously called the OIG reports a “political smear,” and he has said that one of the reports related to his role in tribal casino dealings should not have been released before the midterm elections.
However, the head of the OIG in question is a Trump administration appointee, so the veracity of Zinke’s political claims has been questioned.
Tranel, meanwhile, earlier this week attended a community forum at the Salish & Kootenai tribal college that Zinke was invited to attend, but he did not show. Libertarian candidate John Lamb did attend.
“On the trail, I’ve listened to and worked with Native Americans from both the Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai communities,” she said after that event. “I will ensure Native American priorities in Montana are elevated and addressed in Congress by working together. It speaks volumes that my opponent doesn’t even bother to show up.”
Tribal leaders and citizens have offered statements of support for Tranel, which her campaign is highlighting:
“Monica is a wonderful candidate and a great fighter for all the people of Montana. We need her in Congress to represent us, and keep our country the great country it is,” said Joe McDonald Confederated Salish and Kootenai citizen and retired Salish Kootenai College President.
“Monica Tranel is the right candidate for American Indians in Montana. She will listen to us and advocate for our interest unlike her opponent Ryan Zinke, whose record of abuse at the Department of Interior will not be forgotten,” said Anna Whiting Sorrell, a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
“She’s the right person for the job and for the Blackfeet Nation,” said state Rep. Marvin Weatherwax Jr., a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation.
“I've met with Monica and know that she wants to do right by all Montanans. She's thoughtful and considerate and will be a great partner for us in Congress," said state Sen. Susan Webber, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation.
If elected, Tranel says she promises to work for Native Americans in Montana by respecting tribal sovereignty and democratic participation; increasing the federal response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis; supporting economic development and internet access; and ensuring fair treatment.
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