The Crow Tribe does / does not endorse…

Chairman touts Trump’s ‘agenda,’ clashes with legislature and constituents
Thursday, November 8, 2018

Photo by Andrew Turck

Camille Fritzler, a Crow tribal member who grew up in Pryor, listens to a speech by Donavon Hawk – regional director for the Big Sky Democrats – during a protest last Thursday outside Crow Tribal Executive Branch headquarters in Crow Agency. The protest was organized against Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid’s Oct. 29 endorsement of State Auditor Matt Rosendale, a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Photo by Andrew Turck

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, incumbent candidate for U.S. House (left), poses for a moment with Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid at Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. Not Afraid gave Gianforte a buffalo robe as a gift and endorsed the candidate on Friday before a crowd of about 100.

Sounds of car horns punctuated a gathering of about 40 people last Thursday afternoon as those attending gave speeches and waved signs in support of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) outside Crow Tribal Executive Branch headquarters in Crow Agency. Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid Jr., in the meantime, kept away from the protest and remained in his office.

At issue was Not Afraid’s endorsement of State Auditor Matt Rosendale – the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and Tester’s opponent – on Monday, Oct. 29 at the Megahertz Building in Lewistown during the final days of the Nov. 6 general election. Before a crowd of about 200, Not Afraid had wrapped Rosendale in his gift to the candidate: a buffalo robe.

Statewide, Tester defeated Rosendale in a back-andforth general election race that continued into Wednesday morning. In Big Horn County, Tester received nearly double Rosendale’s votes with an unofficial tally of 2,855 to 1,516 respectively.

With 4,497 ballots cast this year, Big Horn County residents sent out 665 more votes than at the last midterm election in 2014 and 63 more votes than at the last presidential election in 2016.

Protester BethYana Pease, who also serves as an alderman for Lodge Grass City Council, took issue with Not Afraid’s decision to endorse Rosendale “without consulting the tribe.”

“Most of this tribe backs Tester, and for [Not Afraid] to go and do that is like slapping Indian Country in the face,” she said. “We’re being called sell-outs. The Crow Tribe is being called [a sell-out] by other tribal nations and we’re not. We stand with tribal rights and tribal sovereignty.”

Before the election and one day after Not Afraid’s endorsement, Rosendale came to visit the Crow Reservation on Tuesday, Oct. 30 and meet with roughly 100 of his constituents, as shown in a photo of the crowd taken by his campaign staff at Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. Adorning the shot was a Tweet by Rosendale stating, “I’m humbled to have the support of the Crow Tribe!”

Donavon Hawk, a tribal member and regional director for Big Sky Democrats, made the four-hour drive last Thursday from Butte, Montana to Crow Agency and joined the protest outside the tribe’s Executive headquarters. There, with fellow protesters in a chilly parking lot, he disputed Rosendale’s claim of support, often using a megaphone.

According to Hawk – who said the reason for his journey was “because I am Crow,” not due to his work for the Democratic Party – Not Afraid’s Lewistown appearance irked him. If the chairman wanted to honor Rosendale, Hawk said, he should have done so on the Crow Reservation and not chartered a bus to the Megahertz restaurant more than two hours away.

“It looked like a clip from ‘Dances with Wolves,’ with the buffalo robe and the regalia,” Hawk said. “It was very, very embarrassing.”

Also voicing disagreement to the chairman’s actions, the tribe’s Legislative Branch posted a media release on its Facebook page with the heading, “The Crow Tribe has not endorsed any candidate for office.”

Among those at the protest was Crow Sen. Shawn Real Bird, who two years ago had campaigned unsuccessfully for vice chairman on Not Afraid’s slate. Citing the media release, Real Bird stated his former running mate’s actions were “illegal” and didn’t speak “for the entire enrolled membership.”

“Chairman Not Afraid cannot endorse, nor appear to endorse, any candidate without Crow Tribal Government approval,” the Legislative Branch release states. “The Crow Tribe does not endorse Matt Rosendale or Greg Gianforte.”

The day after the protest, Not Afraid endorsed U.S. Rep. Gianforte (RMont.), the incumbent candidate for U.S. House. “I’m here to tell you today,” he said, to the sounds of clapping, “that the chairman of the Crow Tribe is with Gianforte.”

Gianforte, by early Wednesday morning, defeated his Democratic opponent – Kathleen Williams – in the general election. As with Rosendale, Big Horn County continued to favor the Democratic Party, casting an unofficial tally of 2,709 votes for Williams to Gianforte’s 1,653.

At press time, the Big Horn County News has been unable to locate anything in the Crow Law and Order Code indicating the chairman’s endorsements were illegal.

Not Afraid’s support for Gianforte rang out, not in Lewistown, but from atop the stage at the Multipurpose Building – again before about 100 people. Keeping consistent to his meeting with Rosendale, Not Afraid draped a buffalo robe, given as a gift, around the candidate. Gianforte, in turn, gave Not Afraid a Pendleton blanket and fabric, offering condolences for the recent death of his mother-in-law.

“I am really honored to receive the endorsement of the Crow Tribe,” Gianforte said at the conclusion of the meeting. “I share the vision with the chairman that we want more jobs, we want prosperity and we want self-sufficiency for the Crow people.”

When asked about Thursday’s protest, Gianforte repeated that he “was incredibly honored to be recognized by the chairman and endorsed by the tribe.”

Not Afraid, at the meeting, specified that his decision to endorse any candidate was not linked to a political party affiliation. Rather, he said, “The Apsaalooke go with who pushes the Apsaalooke’s agenda.”

Tuesday morning, the Executive Branch’s Facebook page, Crow Tribe of Indians, released a list of candidates the “Crow Tribe endorses.” One person on the list was Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Democratic candidate running unopposed for Montana state representative.

Knute Old Crow, secretary for the tribe, elaborated upon the chairman’s current agenda regarding the development of agriculture and natural resources. Like Not Afraid, he took a nonpartisan stance. As someone who doesn’t identify as a Democrat or Republican, he rejected “trying to draw a line.”

Prosperity currently is reaching Crow tribal members “secondhand,” he said, and Not Afraid’s administration now “wants to be a direct recipient of the benefits from our resources.” This means that, rather than simply receiving royalties from coal mining or other activities, they intend to get involved directly in the business side of local industries.

Speaking in Lewistown, Not Afraid said, he has been attempting to “clean house” and “[back] down the budget” after decades of financial mismanagement. Through these efforts, he continued, he relates to the work of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, who aims to cut costs and regulations with the stated goal of increasing economic growth.

Reviewing “past history and transactions,” Not Afraid continued, he noticed a pattern of the federal government giving the tribe grants with “just enough” attached stipulations for them to fail.

“In order for the longevity of the tribe to surpass my life existence, we need to do something about it now,” Not Afraid said. “We can develop our own resources with or without grants. We can develop our own people with or without federal monies. That agenda fits the Crow today to side with the administration and Matt Rosendale.”

Hawk disagreed with this assessment, saying the Republican Party has “done nothing but vote against our best interests, like healthcare.” As an example, he said, Rosendale’s fight against Medicaid expansion will cause complications for 90,000 Montanans – many of whom are American Indians being treated through the Indian Health Service.

On his priorities, Tester said at an Oct. 20 rally for the Democratic Party, “I think there needs to be a focus on infrastructure everywhere – in Indian Country and all over. There are so many needs out there in housing and broadband and clean water, the list is long.

“That healthcare issue is going to take a bipartisan solution, and I’ve got a record of working across the aisle and I’m going to continue to do that.”

As a ranking member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Hawk said, Tester has “been a champion for us for a very long time.” In the realm of natural resources, for example, Tester worked with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) to introduce legislation with the intention of permanently extending the Indian Coal Production Tax Credit. Commenting on the bill in April 2017, Not Afraid stated it “helps level the playing field for Indian coal.”

“We’re not about money,” Hawk said regarding Crow values. “We’re about having a good economic opportunity for our people to create growth on our reservations.”

According to the local Elections Office, Big Horn County – whose population is about two-thirds American Indian – has not voted for a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, Senate or presidency in at least the past seven years. The cutoff, an Elections Office worker said, was because local records didn’t go back further.