A lifetime of community activism.  

This month we visited with Jodi Hunter, an enrolled member of the The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Jodi is Salish Oreille from Polson, a member of Western Native Voice, and part of WNV’s Membership Committee.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Jodi Hunter. I grew up in Ronan, Montana, on a farm about 15 miles from where I reside now. After I graduated from High school, I moved to different states and explored a bit before settling down, getting married and having children. I have three children and one heavenly child and three grandkiddos.  

When did your interest in politics begin?

I attended my undergraduate degree at Salish Kootenai College focusing on Business Entrepreneurship. I was very active in politics at this time, and so I was pretty involved in the school’s extra-curricular activities, including American Indian Business Leaders, SKC Student Congress and AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium). I often went with our college president Joe McDonald to Washington DC to lobby on behalf of our college for educational purposes. This is when my interest in the political realm began, and I had noticed we needed more indigenous representation both in government sector, statewide, and county wide. Although I never ran for a public office, I have always been in the background somewhere helping others do so. I feel my role is to educate and serve as a leader in this area. I also attended Grand Canyon University for a Master’s Program for Life Coaching. I am currently in school now brushing up on some business areas, which we didn’t have when I went for my undergrad, and I’m focusing on graphic design for my own business. I own a small business helping others as a personal/virtual assistant.   

After college I went on to work in the educational field in our tribal organization, having worked with families, to High School and Job Corp Students, to students in local programs such as Big Brothers and Sisters and Boys and Girls Club.  I have always been active in our community to assist in any area to help educate. One thing I would always point out to students is they are capable of being a leader and often helping them get engaged in their extra-curricular activities.  

Jodi with her family.

What has inspired you to pursue leadership roles?

Now that I think about it, I think I’ve always had a niche to be a leader, as when I was younger, I was involved in 4H serving as the student president, and Girl Scouts serving as a leader. So it’s pretty much been instilled in my brain and heart.  

I feel there is so much that is needed for our native people, and we need our people to be more involved and speak up on matters that affect them personally, their tribes and homelands. We need people in these leadership roles who can make a positive impact and engage with both our people and the non-native people in a proactive way. I would love to see more of our youth become more involved and serve as a leader, whether it’s running for a board membership, school board or commissioner, or any role in their community to serve. I don’t want anyone to be afraid and know they can come to me for support and/or ideas. I’m filled with them!

Who are your biggest supporters?  

I think my biggest supporters are certainly my immediate family. Having gone through many struggles in my life, from being in Foster Care, to being a single mom going to college, to losing a child, it has given me that support of my family. My friends are also my family, so I have a lot of support from them as well as many of the community members, both native and non-native. 

Jodi with her family and friends.

How can people get involved in making change? Where do they start?

Change comes with ideas and motivation! You must want to see the results and be committed to making change. I see a lot of folks out there who are wise with words and have quite the talent to run for these roles or be out in Helena or DC to Lobby. Or just a simple letter to the editor or video explaining why change is needed. Share your story! Everyone has a story. I’m always down to video someone with their story or help them write a letter or be their cheerleader if they should choose to run for an office. I’m that girl who will help you get your moccasins off the ground! 

What kind of change do you want to see in your community five years from now?

In five  years, I would like to see more of our youth engaged in the political realm and more Natives in our community spotlights representing and standing up for our people and our rights. I often think the idea of being intimidated or scared and perhaps historical trauma plays a part why we don’t have the representation we so desire, but with the help of Western Native Voice, engaging with our communities and speaking up, we will be making a difference. Let’s see our Natives on these commercials, these billboards, these mailed out pamphlets, let’s get our people making those phone calls educating our people how to talk to someone running for office, and what questions to ask.  Knowing and how to read a ballot. These are areas we MUST work on and get our people engaged. But I know in my heart of hearts it will happen! Call or email me if you ever want to chat about running or how to become involved. My name is Jodi and I’m here to help you! 

Jodi Hunter, left, and Shelly Fyant, who work with Western Native Voice, spent Election Day calling voters from the Kwataqnuk Resort & Casino in Polson trying to get more people to the polls. Photo credit: Antonio Ibarra Olivares, The Missoulian