Melinda Gopher, 44, a descendant of the Rocky Boy’s Band of Ojibwe and member of the Blackfeet Tribe is seeking Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives currently held by Rep. Denny Rehberg. Gopher most recently was a student in Paralegal Studies at the University of Great Falls. She is currently a writer. Gopher volunteers in both organizing tribal restoration efforts on behalf of the Chippewa nations of Montana, and in supporting the public option in health insurance reform efforts. She is an occasional blogger on the health care debate for the Huffington Post. Campaign inquiries can be made to Glen Gopher, 406-761-4871, Brock Conway,406- 728-1055 and Mary Gopher-Parenteau, 231-7578.
A formal announcement will be held October 3, 2009, at 3:00 pm, at the Family Living Building, Montana Expo Park; one year to the date of the death of her late mother, Dorothy Gopher. The Chippewa and Blackfeet nations will be holding a memorial for Dorothy and Jane Gopher on that weekend. Gopher and her family welcome supporters from across the state to the event. She is only one of a handful of Native American women to seek national office; others before, including Mary Kim Titla (D-AZ), Diane Benson (D-AK) have been unsuccessful in winning their races. If elected, Gopher will be the first Native American woman to serve in Congress. She believes women are an emerging force in state and national races; although she looks to the “Hillary factor” in the 2010 race, she plans to work for every vote. Gopher is a traditionalist Ojibwe.
Gopher has been a civil rights advocate; she helped initiate fair housing in Montana in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She worked alongside her father on environmental justice causes and is in midst of attempting to restore the Chippewa nations’ sovereign status. She is currently assisting in the health care reform effort. “In all of the battles we have fought as a family, I have never been involved in such a tough fight as to keep the public option in health care reform,” Gopher states. She supports the Community Choices Act for long term care needs.
Gopher comes from a storied Native American family in U.S. history and political life. Her Ojibwe ancestors received a 13 star flag, a Revolutionary artifact that has become synonymous with tribal dispossession over two centuries. The flag, cloaked in mystery; has endured as long as the nation. In 1933; Montana legend Frank Bird Linderman asked the question; “Who was the Soldier Chief?” to try to ascertain which historic American figure bestowed the flag upon the Ojibwe nation. At the close of the Revolution; the Ojibwe nation was the only tribal ally of the fledgling U.S. Their peaceful allegiance was a crucial factor as the war could not be logistically won in the interior, or western frontier. The first treaty between the Ojibwe, Wyandot and others and the U.S. was signed in 1785; other Great Lakes tribes disputed the terms of the treaty. This resulted in the Northwest Indian Wars which lasted until 1795, with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville.
Gopher’s grandfather, Jim Loud Thunder Gopher, organized the state’s first Native American voting block after tribal people gained citizenship in 1924. He led these efforts until his death in 1946. Her late Father, Robert Gopher, and other Ojibwes from Hill 57; hosted Sgt. Schriver in 1965 during the establishment of Opportunities, Inc. Mr. Gopher led the effort to include Native American culture in the revamping of the state constitution in 1972; resulting in Article X Sec. 1 (2) “the cultural integrity clause.” He was instrumental in framing the environmental struggle of the Zortman Landusky mining operation; his work helped galvanize opposition to cyanide heap leach gold mining in Montana. Montana voters ultimately passed I-147 in 1998.
Gopher sees numerous challenges facing the state of Montana and the nation. She believes the long term solution to resolve the federal deficit will lie in the effort to successfully implement a broad energy policy and the inclusion of green and technology jobs. Broadening the tax base and a strengthened domestic policy to create a more inclusive society is a challenge now that is the key to future prosperity. She also believes Montana will be at the forefront of federal energy policy; and Montana is uniquely poised to develop an energy and high tech corridor in the Pacific Northwest. Gopher sees obstacles and believes Montana is lacking in access to technological investment. It is at the bottom regionally in technology capital access.
Gopher points to a changing Montana demographic; the average age in Montana is 39 years old. “The good old boy approach to government is not working for us. Current wages cannot support the average Montana family.” Gopher is encouraged by efforts to keep women, youth and racial minority voters engaged in the process. Yet, she believes, if she carries the Democratic party nomination; the state party must tweak and rebrand its image to keep its voters engaged in the future. Gopher wants the party to take on a more progressive hue to maintain its voting base. She calls for an expanded agenda customized to specific constituencies and renew a sense of “we are in this together.” She believes the Democratic Party must have party chairs from all tribal groups in the state; similar to the county based party chairs. “This is an exclusion, as tribes are sovereigns based on federal treaty doctrine.” she says.
In terms of the Native American voters; Gopher points out this voting group feels that not enough is being done to help resolve persistently high unemployment on the reservations and to resolve the federal recognition crisis affecting the Little Shell and lineal Rocky Boy bands. Urban Native Americans also face high unemployment.
“These persistent problems must be higher on the state party agenda, as well as effecting changes that are long overdue.” Gopher is concerned about the combined federal and financial industry disinvestment on reservation lands; “now, 70% of Native Americans reside in urban areas nationwide; for lack of jobs, housing and economic prosperity. The public and private sectors need to do more to ensure tribal nations remain sovereign and economically viable to provide a standard of life for their tribal members.”
She notes the tribal experience is part of a larger problem of growing rural economic disparity; as well as historic inequities women have faced. “This is a challenge that requires cross cultural solutions and an end to the “us-versus-them” mentality. I see a real need to coalition build at every level. We are a great nation, we are greatest when we work together.”
To that end, Gopher will work to pull independent and Republican voters. “My heart is in both parties; the Chippewa people have a direct historic connection to Republican Frank Linderman. He is to Montana state politics what President Lincoln was to the nation. Linderman is a historic great. The Rocky Boy Reservation would not exist without his efforts. Now, we need a fresh set of eyes to tackle the many issues we face. I will work to reach across the aisle and mediate to find common ground. I would consider it an honor to represent Montanans of every political stripe.” Gopher is in Washington D.C. this week on health care reform efforts.