Ruth Swaney takes her leave, leaving City Council with an appointment to make 

Two years ago, citizen Ruth Swaney stood before Missoula City Council and urged the city to stop recognizing Columbus Day. Doing so, she said, would have lasting significance for native residents, including her.

Two years later, on Oct. 2, Swaney sat behind the council table reminding her peers and the public that Oct. 9, the newly recognized Indigenous Peoples Day approaches. Earlier in the meeting, Swaney had knelt during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in solidarity with nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.

And then she announced her departure, from City Council and from Missoula. It was an aside, more or less, before she circled back to the holiday she had fought for.

"I will be relocating out of Missoula and returning home to North Dakota," Swaney said. "So I will be making a transition over the next month. I have really enjoyed my time here in Missoula, and also want to acknowledge that our beautiful city is in the traditional homelands of the Salish and Kalispell people, so as we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, please keep that in mind."

Councilmembers thanked Swaney, Missoula's first Native American woman on council, for her contributions. "You've brought things in front of us that we need to listen to and take action on," councilmember Jon Wilkins said.

Swaney plans to take a job in the tribal education department of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nations, of which she's a member, the Missoulian reported.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan

Swaney's announcement comes barely a month before the November municipal election, in which she's running unopposed. It's too late to remove her name from the ballot, elections administrator Rebecca Connors says. Ballots have already been certified and printed. And because a state law enacted this year pushed forward the deadline for write-in candidates to register, no other candidate is eligible to stage a last-minute campaign. That means Swaney is guaranteed to keep the seat to which she was appointed in January, even after she's moved out of state and become ineligible to serve.

Once Swaney submits a resignation letter, council will begin yet another appointment process for the Ward 2 seat, City Clerk Marty Rehbein says. Whoever is chosen will fill the seat until the next municipal election—in 2019—leaving the ward without an elected representative for three years running.

The timing is particularly unfortunate for Jack Metcalf, who recently withdrew his candidacy for the seat. Metcalf has been eyeing elected office, having vyed with Swaney for the earlier appointment, but didn't want to challenge his friend Swaney in an election. She had a job application pending as the filing period closed, Metcalf says, so he decided to file in case she dropped out. Swaney didn't get that particular position, and he withdrew.

Metcalf isn't sure if he'll seek appointment again.

"I think I'd have a better chance at an election than City Council appointing me," he says.

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