Welcome to WPLI & the Racial Wealth Divide

SJ Howell (Montana Women Vote, Executive Director)

Howell is the Executive Director of Montana Women Vote and has served in that role since 2011. Over the last few years, Howell has worked on successful campaigns to pass Medicaid expansion, managed multiple cycles of civic engagement with low-income women, and served on ballot initiative campaign committees on several diverse issues. Before coming to MWV, Howell worked as a field organizer at the Western States Center, a regional social justice non-profit, in Portland. While not working, Howell brings their community organizer skills to outdoor recreation, enjoying a stiff drink, and parenthood.

Ella Smith (Montana Women Vote, Program Director)

Ella Smith was born in Helena, MT. She studied jazz performance and composition at the University of North Texas before returning to Helena to work as an organizer with Northern Plains Resource Council. Ella worked on numerous progressive political and issue campaigns before joining Montana Women Vote as their Program Director in 2018. In her free time, Ella writes music and goofs off with her poodle, Pippen.

Hannah Pate (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer)

Hannah is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. Hannah began organizing her junior year of high school with Planned Parenthood, and later in the year, Montana Women Vote. This led to years of working on diverse issue advocacy campaigns, including advocating for the Six Mill Levy and expanding youth civic engagement programming in rural Montana. Hannah is glad to be back in her hometown and with Montana Women Vote and looks forward to sustainable, holistic, and intentional organizing efforts in north-central Montana. When not at work, Hannah can be found spending time with her dad & dog Oliver, playing video games, or practicing the violin.


Voting Rights in Montana

Kristie Smith, Moderator (Montana Voter Project Coordinator)

In her current capcity, Kristie helps progressive organizations build the education, mobilization, and advocacy plans necessary to defend our democracy and ensure every eligible Montanan can exercise their right to vote. Prior to returning to Montana, Kristie coordinated policy efforts to defeat the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and place Virginia on a path to 100% renewable energy. Kristie has a Bachelors in Social Work from Elizabethtown College and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University.

Patrick Yawakie

Patrick Yawakie is a member of the Zuni Pueblo Tribe. Patrick is a husband and a father of 4 children. He lives and serves the tribal community living on the Flathead Reservation in Western Montana. Patrick graduated in the first cohort in Tribal Administration and Governance bachelor’s degree program at Salish Kootenai College. Patrick’s professional experience is in tribal advocacy in all levels of civic engagement. He also implements food sovereignty projects and programs to improve the tribal sovereignty and self-determination of the reservation.

Patrick is Co-Founder People’s Food Sovereignty Program, a tribal-led fiscally sponsored grassroots organization. He also Co-Founded and is Co-CEO of Red Medicine LLC, providing professional civic engagement services and political consultation for tribal nations, communities, and organizations. Patrick loves being with his family and dog. He appreciates the opportunity to work for his community in the efforts for a better tomorrow. Patrick is currently the Political Director for Indigenous Vote.

Senator Janet Ellis

Janet is currently a member of the Montana Senate and has served four sessions in the legislature—since 2015. Janet has lived in Helena for over 30 years. She is married and has one son. Janet retired in 2018 from her work at Montana Audubon, a science-based, citizen conservation organization dedicated to promoting “appreciation, knowledge and conservation of Montana’s native birds, other wildlife, and natural ecosystems to safeguard biological diversity for current and future generations.” As Audubon’s Senior Director of Policy, Janet coordinated Montana Audubon’s legislative and public policy work on behalf of Montana’s wildlife and wildlife habitat between 1983 and 2018. Before joining Audubon, Janet worked as a ranger and naturalist for Yellowstone and Zion National Parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. She has a degree in biology from the University of Montana. Among other adventures, Janet has bicycled from Missoula to Denali, Alaska, and from Oregon to the tip of Baja, Mexico. In college, she also spent four months in Churchill, Manitoba, working on a polar bear study.


Keynote – Aubrey Gordon

Aubrey Gordon started writing as Your Fat Friend in 2016. She published exclusively under the pseudonym for four years, writing anonymously about the social and cultural realities of moving through the world as a very fat person. Her work has been published in Literary Hub, The New York Times, Vox, SELF, Health, Roxane Gay’s Unruly Bodies and Jameela Jamil’s IWeigh. Her work has been covered by NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times and more. Her debut book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat was released by Beacon Press in November 2020. Today, she co-hosts the podcast Maintenance Phase with Michael Hobbes, in which the two debunk and decode wellness and weight loss trends. Aubrey lives in Portland, Oregon with her dog, Finn Diesel. Prior to working as an author and podcaster, she spent 12 years as a community organizer focused on queer and trans justice, immigrant rights and voting rights.


Climate Inequity in Montana

Destini Vaile, Moderator (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer) 

Destini Vaile is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and grew up in Browning, Montana. Her mom taught her to leave an offering every time she takes something from the earth and always keep some berries on the tree for other animals to have their share. Her dad taught her about Logan’s Run and The Kinks. Destini currently lives in Missoula, Montana, and joined Montana Women Vote as a community organizer in 2021. She believes that community education and individual emotional connections are the most efficient path to solving widespread crises such as climate change and resource disparity. She was once president of the UM Indigenous Filmmakers Club and prefers Garamond to most other fonts.

Termaine Edmo

Termaine Awanaakii Edmo is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Shoshone-Bannock of Fort Hall Idaho. Her environmental work began when she was a student at Blackfeet Community College, and she is now the Climate Change Coordinator for the Blackfeet Nation. She is also a cultural youth mentor, traditionalist, and passionate hiker. Having a Native American traditional upbringing allowed her a way of life with more respect and sincere understanding for the land. Termaine’s career allowed her to offer valuable lessons to the youth. These teachings that were passed on through what is now known as traditional ecological knowledge are still alive and well. She also worked on the Ksik Stakii project- a natural restoration project that partnered with several other local natural resource departments to pair modern day science with traditional ecological teachings.Termaine loves to spend time with her three awesome kiddos teaching them the Pikanii way of life.

Mike Durglo

Mike Durglo is a key cohesive force leading cultural and ecological conservation in western North America.  Mike led the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Climate Action Plan – the first such plan in the northern Rocky Mountain region and a foundational piece for Indigenous-led climate change response.  Mike’s long-term work with the Crown Managers Partnership, the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and most recently, the Crown Landscape Conservation Design has been critical to developing applied approaches, synthesizing Indigenous knowledge with western ecological science and leading holistic culturally-linked approaches to durable conservation. Mike recognized the existential threat that climate change represented to tribal values, identity, and culture long ago; and responded by creating a Climate Change Advisory Committee, which crafted solutions through the integration of Traditional Knowledge and western science, and through which he could welcome partners and colleagues from across the nation into this work. His has created models of engagement that center and connect Tribal Elders with the next generation of Indigenous conservation leaders across the Flathead Reservation.

LJ Bird

Okii Niistoo Niitanikoo Piitohsoowatsis. Niitomohtootoo Miisinskii Siitahtaa. I welcome you into who I am. My name is Piitohsoowatsis, in English, you can call me Leo John Bird. I come from the Blackfeet Nation and I am also Haida and Tlingit.  I use He/They pronouns. I am a graduate student at the University of Montana in Public health and I work at Partnership Health Center as a Senior Community Health Specialist Anti-Racism and Equity.

Angeline Cheek

Han Mitakuyepi chante washte napechiyuzapi, Angeline Cheek emachiyapi na lakhol chaze mithawa kin Tate Ska Washte Win. Ina waye kin Angela Snell-Cheek emchiyap na ate waye kin Clifton Cheek emachiyap. Wahcina oyate ematahan.
My relatives I greet you with a heartfelt handshake. My name is Angeline Cheek and my Lakota name is White Wind Good Woman. My mom’s name is Angela Snell-Cheek and my dad’s name is Clifton Cheek. I’m from the Fort Peck Reservation.
Angeline Cheek is a Hunkpapa Lakota and Oglala Sioux activist and community organizer living on the Fort Peck Reservation. Prior to joining the ACLU of Montana in 2019, Angeline’s track record of fighting against injustice and civil rights violations in her community includes organizing prayer walks across the reservation and in the surrounding area, community walks in opposition to drugs/alcohol, and suicide prevention. She is passionately opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Aside from the negative environmental impact that a pipeline would bring to her homelands, she warns against the effects of “man camps,” the temporary housing facilities that accompany resource development projects – like oil pipelines. Man camps often bring unwanted drug and human trafficking to rural communities and are directly contributing to a rise in violence and the epidemic of Missing and/or Murdered Indigenous Women. Angeline also works to address the education inequalities Native students face in her community. She formerly worked as a Native Student Advocate in Wolf Point Schools. As a student in Brockton schools, she organized to help students get new clothes and school supplies.
She is an alumnus of Fort Peck Community College where she graduated with honors gaining an Associates of General Studies/Elementary Education degree. She attended Black Hills State University pursuing a Bachelors of Education degree. With just Student Teaching left, she took a break from college after her grandmother passed away. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Among other positions, Angeline has previously worked with Indian People’s Action, Ft. Peck Tribes Education Department, the Fort Peck Juvenile Detention Center and at Brockton High School, Native HOPE, and was a Be Under Your Own Influence Campaign Board Member.
In all of her work, Angeline relies upon foundational Lakota cultural teachings and ways of knowing. In her journey, she thanks and appreciates everyone who has come together in a good way for the people.

 


How to Run for Office

Shane Morigeau

Shane was born and raised in Ronan, Montana, and graduated from the University of Montana School of Law. As a legislator, Shane has spearheaded legislation to make healthcare more affordable, protect public lands, protect children and students, protect consumers, and invest in educational opportunities. Shane played a leading role in passing Medicaid expansion in 2015. As a legislator in 2019, he again was a central figure in the effort to reauthorize that law. He also passed some of the strongest protections for students and child sex abuse victims that Montana has ever seen. Shane also passed Montana’s first blockchain bill to provide accountability in the tech sector, while protecting Montanans from investment fraud.

Barbara Bessette

Barbara Bessette (pronouns: she/her) was born in the wide-open spaces of Montana. She works in her community to reduce substance abuse among youth and young adults. Barbara is an avid barrel racer and runner. She has served as the chair of her county’s DUI Task Force, currently serves on a number of coalitions that help to fight substance abuse and bring the community together. She is the former Representative for Montana House District 24. She is one of the first native urban women elected to the house.


Story Telling through Independent Journalism

Destini Vaile (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer) 

Destini Vaile is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and grew up in Browning, Montana. Her mom taught her to leave an offering every time she takes something from the earth and always keep some berries on the tree for other animals to have their share. Her dad taught her about Logan’s Run and The Kinks. Destini currently lives in Missoula, Montana, and joined Montana Women Vote as a community organizer in 2021. She believes that community education and individual emotional connections are the most efficient path to solving widespread crises such as climate change and resource disparity. She was once president of the UM Indigenous Filmmakers Club and prefers Garamond to most other fonts.

Devi Cole (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer) 

Devi Cole is Little Shell, and Assiniboine from Fort Belknap MT, where she started life before moving with her parents to Missoula. Devi grew up in Missoula where she graduated from Hellgate High school, a few years after that Devi decided to start her family, and now has a 20-year-old son, & a 14-year-old daughter. After suffering an injury and developing CRPS, Devi began advocating for healthcare for all. Devi has talked to state legislators & federal elected officials on issues dealing with affordable healthcare for all. That experience led her into storytelling and helping others speak their truth by being a community organizer. She’s also a part of suicide, substance, & Depression prevention programs, and is passionate about helping others. Devi often says “If your life experience can help improve others’ lives, why not share your story”.


Navigating the Legislature

SJ Howell (Montana Women Vote, Executive Director)

Howell is the Executive Director of Montana Women Vote and has served in that role since 2011. Over the last few years, Howell has worked on successful campaigns to pass Medicaid expansion, managed multiple cycles of civic engagement with low-income women, and served on ballot initiative campaign committees on several diverse issues. Before coming to MWV, Howell worked as a field organizer at the Western States Center, a regional social justice non-profit, in Portland. While not working, Howell brings their community organizer skills to outdoor recreation, enjoying a stiff drink, and parenthood.

Hannah Pate (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer)

Hannah is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. Hannah began organizing her junior year of high school with Planned Parenthood, and later in the year, Montana Women Vote. This led to years of working on diverse issue advocacy campaigns, including advocating for the Six Mill Levy and expanding youth civic engagement programming in rural Montana. Hannah is glad to be back in her hometown and with Montana Women Vote and looks forward to sustainable, holistic, and intentional organizing efforts in north-central Montana. When not at work, Hannah can be found spending time with her dad & dog Oliver, playing video games, or practicing the violin.


Local Elections & Municipal Organizing

Ella Smith (Montana Women Vote, Program Director)

Ella Smith was born in Helena, MT. She studied jazz performance and composition at the University of North Texas before returning to Helena to work as an organizer with Northern Plains Resource Council. Ella worked on numerous progressive political and issue campaigns before joining Montana Women Vote as their Program Director in 2018. In her free time, Ella writes music and goofs off with her poodle, Pippen.

Danielle Vazquez (Montana Women Vote, Community Organizer)

Danielle is a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe, growing up primarily on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in north-central Montana. Danielle graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in social work. During her last year at UM, Danielle served as a research assistant, working primarily on projects regarding the disproportionate rates of American Indians being incarcerated in Montana. In her free time, Danielle enjoys traveling, watching horror films, and laughing at memes.


Rethinking Criminal Justice Reform in Montana

Courtney Smith

Courtney Smith is the Criminal Justice Lead at The Montana Racial Equity Project. Courtney has experience as a practicing attorney in Arkansas where she worked for a black-led law firm primarily in civil rights and discrimination claims. Upon relocating to Bozeman, Montana she continued to advocate for the elimination of racial disparities that exist within our criminal legal system. She currently serves as a Police Commissioner for the City of Bozeman. When she’s not advocating for racial justice, Courtney enjoys traveling and experiencing new places.

Amy Sings In The Timber

Amy Sings In The Timber is an advocate and community builder with 15 years of non-profit leadership experience and more than 20 years of professional commitment to advancing social and racial justice and human rights issues. Over the past two decades, Amy has developed and supported access to justice and legal aid programs designed to address disparities in our justice system and promote the rule of law. She works with communities to identify and break down barriers to equal justice, and develop solutions to complex societal and institutional challenges. Amy serves as the Executive Director of the Montana Innocence Project, a legal aid organization dedicated to freeing innocent and unjustly incarcerated people and the prevention of future wrongful convictions.

Zuri Moreno

Zuri Moreno (they/them) is a community organizer and policy specialist, who focuses on racial justice and the criminal justice system. Zuri is a student of abolition and restorative justice and believes these are essential for building systems of public safety that promote community wellbeing and health. In 2020, they organized alongside BIPOC and LGBTQ community members in Missoula to defund the police and were one of three organizers of #LetThemComeHome, an initiative demanding the decrease of jail and prison populations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Zuri is currently working as a lobbyist and legislative associate, focusing on criminal justice funding & policy and access to reproductive care. Their de-stress strategies include rye Manhattans, outdoor adventures, and cuddling their three cats, Dogwood, Milo & Sebastion.


Health Care Policy: What’s Ahead in 2022?

Jackie Semmens

Jackie is a policy analyst at the Montana Budget and Policy Center. Her primary areas of research focus on food insecurity, health care, and the social safety net. She conducts research to measure the impact of state and federal policies on the people most impacted by them. After serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, she moved to Montana and earned her master’s degree in Medical Anthropology with a Certificate of Public Health from the University of Montana. She received her undergraduate education in Virginia, where she is originally from, at the College of William and Mary. Jackie has worked as a freelance writer, and also enjoys hiking the hills around Helena with her husband and three kids.

Olivia Riutta (Montana Primary Care Association, Outreach and Engagement Manager)

Olivia Riutta is the Outreach and Engagement Manager at the Montana Primary Care Association (MPCA). She leads MPCA’s work to identify and impact the social needs of patients served at health centers. Olivia joined MPCA in 2013 and worked extensively on outreach, enrollment, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to joining MPCA, Olivia was the co-director of Montana Women Vote. She helped plan and implement Montana Women Vote’s voter registration, GOTV, issue education, and ballot initiative efforts. Her work included policy advocacy on issues that impact low-income women and families in Montana including access to health care, reproductive rights, violence against women, and tax and budget issues. Olivia has a B.A. in Grassroots Development from the University of Michigan. She lives in Missoula, Montana with her partner and son.

ShyAnn RainingBird (Montana Primary Care Association, Health Insurance Navigator)

ShyAnn attended Salish Kootenai College from 2017 to 2020, where she got her degree in Business Administration (with a minor in Pizza Hut Couponing) and developed an unfortunate addiction to Lotus energy drinks. She has recently joined the MPCA team as a Health Insurance Navigator on the Blackfeet Reservation and surrounding communities. She is a mother to one human daughter and one dog daughter. With her background in service work as a Community Organizer and Mobile Food Pantry Manager, she has been an advocate for inclusion and change within her tribal community and peoples. Aside from her work with the community, ShyAnn has pioneered many volunteer hours to her community, her biggest campaign being a diaper and formula drive for young mothers and grandparents raising grandchildren where she was able to raise over $5000 and provide to over 150 families on her reservation.


What’s At Stake in Indian Country

Jade Bahr

Jade’s primary areas of research and outreach focus on Indian Country and the impacts of state policies and budget decisions, including that of criminal justice, economic development, and education. She engages with the community to develop and advocate for equitable public policies.
She is an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne (Tsitsistas) tribal nation and Crow (Apsáalooke) descendant. Growing up in a family living on low income in Billings and spending summers on the Crow Reservation gave her a unique understanding of the challenges faced by both communities. These experiences helped shape her voice and inspired her to seek roles serving vulnerable populations. She holds a B.A. in Sociology with an Emphasis in Inequalities and Social Justice from the University of MT. She began her career in social services at a foster-care network for American Indian children and then onto group homes & day programs for youth deemed most at-risk. For eight years, she worked serving adults with disabilities in living and employment settings. She served one term in the 66th MT State Legislature representing House District 50. Jade is currently living in Billings with her two cats, Louie & Nanook.

Shelly Fyant

Shelly Fyant is a Bitterroot Salish mother of four adult sons, grandmother to 7, and great grandmother to one. She is the former Chairwoman of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Council and served on the Tribal Council for 8 years. Ms. Fyant currently serves as Chair of the State Tribal Economic Development (STED) Commission. She obtained an Associate of Arts from Haskell in 1978 and later returned to the University of Montana to earn a Business Administration degree in 1989. She is an avid UM Griz football fan, a gardener, and a beader. Her spare time is spent in the mountains with family and working on promoting food sovereignty.

Gabriella Blatt

Gabriella Blatt is a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe who grew up on Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. She is currently based in Washington DC where she works as a Legislative Assistant in Indian Affairs for US Senator Jon Tester. In this role, she develops and advances the Senator’s Native legislative priorities and acts as a liaison between the Senator and Native Nations across the country. Gabriella graduated in May of 2021 from Yale University with a degree in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. During her time as an undergrad, Gabriella was the President of the Association of Native Americans at Yale and the winner of the Nakanishi Prize, a University Prize awarded to two graduating seniors who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in enhancing racial and ethnic relationships on campus. In her free time, Gabriella can be found making Spotify playlists and reading Native Literature.