Giving Back to Montana

Heaven is littered with remarkable women who gave themselves to Montana for the love of its people and its opportunities

By Tammi Fisher

Montana’s first woman governor, Judy Martz, had a very insightful husband. When she asked her husband his thoughts about her running for governor, he responded, “You know, I love the state of Montana, and I can’t give anything back to it, but I can give you.”

Heaven is littered with remarkable women who gave themselves to Montana for the love of its people and its opportunities. Jeanette Rankin served in Congress before women were given the constitutional right to vote and as the only woman in a sea of congressmen. She delivered tough votes, and after losing a bid for a Senate seat in 1918, she left Congress undeterred, returning in 1940 to represent Montana again. She had remarkable courage and personal conviction.  After her solitary vote against entering World War II, William Allen White said of her:

Probably a hundred men in Congress would have liked to do what she did. Not one of them had the courage to do it … And its bravery someway discounted its folly. When, in a hundred years from now, courage, sheer courage based upon moral indignation is celebrated in this country, the name of Jeannette Rankin, who stood firm in folly for her faith, will be written in monumental bronze, not for what she did, but for the way she did it.

Elouise Cobell did not seek elected office to make her mark on Montana. Indeed, she did not set forth on her path for justice seeking any notoriety at all. She sought justice with patience and perseverance. She was the treasurer of her tribe, and in her fiduciary role, discovered her people had not received the money it was promised by the United States government. She was a pragmatic strategist; she attempted to remedy the issue via legislative reform and only after 15 years of no action did she turn to litigation.  And after  another 15 years of litigation, she delivered to Montana’s first residents justice. She lamented the settlement was less than the full amount owed, but in service to her people realized, “our class grows smaller each year, each month and every day, as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation.” Ms. Cobell gave of herself with no expectation of personal financial reward and notably, she did not enjoy the monetary fruits of her efforts as she died just four months after settlement checks began to be distributed.

Great Montanans set themselves apart by their sheer courage based upon moral indignation. We should foster this in our children, require it of our representatives, and recognize it when it occurs so that the work of remarkable Montanans is regularly replicated, routinely celebrated and never forgotten.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.

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