This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes.
Billings Gazette editorial, Nov. 16, 2001
What We Do
On a fundamental level, Northern Plains is about environmental protection, economic justice, rural self-determination, democracy, and government accountability. These principles show up throughout our work, though the issues themselves change over time.
To achieve these principles, we use a range of strategies that include:
- Community organizing, research, and public education to help us elevate public understanding of the issues and people’s desire to be part of the solution;
- Trainings and leadership development to help us strengthen the voices of Montanans;
- Legislative lobbying, litigation, and agency work to help us hold public officials accountable.
We aim to balance the relationships of power among citizens, corporations, and government so that Montanans’ voices are heard when decisions are being made that affect their lives.
Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montana citizens to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.
Our mission is to protect Montana’s greatest assets: the quality of our natural resources, the character and viability of family-based agriculture, and the ability of citizens to shape the public policies that affect our land, our water, and our lives so that we may pass them on, unimpaired, to future generations.
What We Believe
Northern Plains speaks with a clear and consistent voice about issues affecting our land, air, and water.
- We believe in good stewardship of our water and land, and in using natural resources responsibly.
- We believe in always looking to the next generation.
- We believe in family-based farming and ranching.
- We believe in keeping Montana a good place to live and work.
- We believe in shining a light on the true costs of fossil fuel development so that people, land, water, and wildlife don’t unfairly bear the burden of those costs.
- We believe that our long-term future depends on using the sun and the wind to replace fossil fuels.
- We believe in building strong citizen leaders to stand up for justice in Montana.
- We believe people can still make a difference in this country.
Paul Hawks is a Melville, Montana, rancher and past Northern Plains Chair. He gave this speech at Northern Plains’ 20th Annual Meeting in November 1991
There are many of us in this room, including our founders, who never dreamed Northern Plains would be here 20 years later. We thought we would have the problems solved and we could go back to our private lives. Many of the issues have evolved, but still remain, and new ones continue to arise. But, Northern Plains is still here because people continue to give of themselves to protect the values we hold in common, values that have united us for 20 years and will for the next 20. We believe there are things that are more important than money, than the accumulation of material wealth. There are things of “intrinsic worth” and these things are worth fighting for.
Democracy: We believe that people here, living in Montana communities, should make the decisions that affect our lives; that decision-making should be democratic. And, because we believe that for society at large, we believe it should hold true in our organization as well—that decisions should be made democratically by the membership. This is the strength of Northern Plains, and this is the membership’s commitment. Is it any wonder we are strong? People come to Northern Plains because alone they can be isolated, but together they can win.
Participation: Connected to the idea of democracy is participation in public life. We believe we can make a difference in decisions made about the future of our communities and our state. We believe that we have a responsibility to participate, to try and make changes. All across the country we hear about alienation with public life, that people “hate” politics and politicians. Why bother? It doesn’t matter anyway. But, people who say this willingly give up their power. We will not give up our power. We aren’t alienated from the political process because we know that by being organized, we can make a difference. We expect to meet our legislators eye to eye, and to have our voices heard. We know that you CAN fight city hall, but it also takes perseverance (twenty years of it so far!).
Stewardship: We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward for future generations. Someone is going to use this place after we’re gone, and we must sustain the resources that will sustain them. In the early days, we used to say we believed in looking beyond our own fence lines. We still do.
Fairness: We believe in responsibility and fairness and justice and in treating our neighbors as our own. We take on issues because we think individuals and corporations should pay their fair share. We believe taxes and environmental and social costs should not be shoved off on someone else for a profit. We believe it is unjust to dump garbage on our neighbor’s land. We believe misusing power to shove costs or pollution onto someone else is fundamentally unjust. For the same reason, we fight misuse of monopoly power—by utilities and meatpackers—because monopolies are unjust and unfair.
Equality: We believe in equality. And, within our organization, this means that everyone’s contribution is important. Everyone should have a chance to contribute, to lead, to have his or her ideas heard, and to be part of deciding the direction of the group. And, equality means we tolerate differences among us and don’t shun those who don’t agree 100% with everyone else on everything.
Family and Community: We do what we do to protect and preserve, and to be part of our families and our communities. These are the ideas we live for, not gross national product or status or accumulated wealth. And, because we all believe in family and community, Northern Plains has become a big family, a community of its own—for some of us a 20-year-old family, for others, a new family we joined just this weekend. Northern Plains is a community even though we’re scattered across the state and even across the country. We’re a community of common values and common purpose.
These are the values that have guided us for 20 years now. They guided Boyd Charter and Bob Tully. They will guide us for the next 20 years. So, go from here knowing that there is a strong organization behind you, that you are part of a family. Know that as we organize around issues that we care deeply about, these values bind us together. And that makes the battle worth fighting and renews our determination to win. We can pass on a land, a community that enriches our children’s souls.
NOTE: The late Boyd Charter and Bob Tully, cattle ranchers in the Bull Mountains, were two of Northern Plains’ founding members.
How We Work
Northern Plains is made up of dues-paying members. Our elected member leaders govern the organization, speak to the press, and testify before public bodies. All members are entitled to submit policy resolutions to our Annual Meeting, and to vote on policy resolutions there.
Northern Plains members are well informed. They receive our quarterly newsletter, The Plains Truth, along with other periodic information and alerts on issues and legislation. Our members are provided with opportunities to make their voices heard on important issues facing Montana.
Staff support and trainings are made available to members engaged in our issues. During legislative sessions, Northern Plains maintains a full-time citizen lobby in Helena.
What Northern Plains has accomplished over the years, we have accomplished because of our members.
Our Local Groups
Northern Plains has affiliate organizations in 13 communities across Montana, from Helena to Glendive and Gardiner to Circle. Roughly half of our members are active in their local affiliate groups. The affiliates are part of Northern Plains, but they also work on important issues in their local communities.
Each affiliate has a voice on the Northern Plains Board of Directors. Each affiliate receives staff support from Northern Plains. Affiliates sometimes collaborate with one another on issues they have in common.
Most of Northern Plains’ task forces are organized to exercise leadership on specific issues. We currently have task forces working on:
- Agriculture/Local Foods;
- Homegrown Prosperity;
- Clean Energy;
- Oil & Gas;
- Good Neighbor Agreement.
Western Organization of Resource Councils
Northern Plains is a member and co-founder of WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils. We joined forces with citizens groups in other Western states to form WORC in 1979. as a vehicle to help us collaborate on issues affecting the entire region (e.g., energy development). WORC is based in Billings, Montana, and shares space in Northern Plains’ office building. WORC maintains a field office in Washington, D.C.
Today, WORC has seven member groups, located in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon. Western Native Voice, based in Billings, also is a member. Each member group is represented on the WORC Board of Directors.
Every year, we recognize our member leaders who stand out for their conviction and commitment with the Mary Donohoe “Tell It Like It Is” award and the Bob Tully “Spirit” award.
2019 Winners: Sue Beug and Gilles Stockton
Bob Tully Spirit Award
Bob Tully was a founding member of Northern Plains. His fighting spirit, strategic mind, and sense of humor guided us through many tough fights. Bob passed away 1989, yet his inspiration and wisdom live on in the spirit of Northern Plains. This award recognizes members for outstanding and committed service.
- 1989 – Tom Schneider
- 1990 – Helen Waller
- 1991 – Eileen Morris
- 1992 – Wally McRae
- 1993 – Bill Gillin
- 1994 – Anne Charter
- 1995 – Richard Parks
- 1996 – Nick Golder
- 1997 – Tom Breitbach
- 1998 – Cecil Weeding
- 1999 – Jack Heyneman
- 2000 – Paul Hawks
- 2001 – Steve & Jeanne Charter
- 2002 – Gilles Stockton
- 2003 – Art & Marilyn Hayes, Jr
- 2004 – Julia Page
- 2005 – Dena Hoff
- 2006 – Ellen Pfister
- 2007 – Jeanie Alderson & Terry Punt
- 2008 – Mark Fix
- 2009 – Beth Kaeding
- 2010 – Jerry Iverson
- 2011 – Janet McMillan
- 2012 – Nellie Israel
- 2013 – Ed Gulick
- 2014 – Connie Keogh
- 2015 – Lana and Charles Sangmeister
- 2016 – Walter Archer
- 2017 – Cindy Webber
- 2018 – Jean Lemire Dahlman
Mary Donohoe “Tell It Like It Is” Award
Mary Donohoe was a founding member of Northern Plains affiliate Stillwater Protective Association. She exemplified the kind of leadership that has come to characterize Northern Plains and encouraged us (and others) to “tell it like it is!” We have recognized and honored strong leadership with this award since 2002.
- 2002 – Norma Bixby
- 2003 – Roger Muggli
- 2004 – Jerry Iverson
- 2005 – Walter Archer
- 2006 – Beth Kaeding
- 2007 – Clint McRae
- 2008 – Mary Fitzpatrick
- 2009 – Brad Sauer
- 2010 – Nick Golder
- 2011 – Jeanne & Steve Charter
- 2012 – Julia Page
- 2013 – Kate French
- 2014 – Alaina Buffalo Spirit
- 2015 – Wade Sikorski
- 2016 – Becky Mitchell
- 2017 – Seth Newton
- 2018 – Dena Hoff