Missoula City Councilwoman Ruth Ann Swaney announced her resignation Monday night, saying she will move back home to North Dakota over the next month.
Swaney was appointed to the council in January to fill a vacancy left when Ward 2 Councilman Harlan Wells took a state government job in Helena.
She was the first Native American woman to serve on the City Council. Swaney is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
She is currently the University of Montana’s Native American natural resource program coordinator, in the College of Forestry and Conservation. In North Dakota, she plans to work for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in the tribal education department.
Her announcement Monday night drew praises for her service, eloquence and heartfelt perspectives and regrets for her leave-taking from Swaney’s fellow City Council members.
“Liberty and justice for all is an aspirational statement,” said Ward 2 Councilman Jordan Hess, but one embodied by Swaney. “I am so grateful for the last year working with you. I learned so much from you.”
“I value the perspective you brought to the council,” said Ward 4 Councilman John DiBari.
“I really appreciate all you have done,” added Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins.
Ward 1 Councilman Bryan von Lossberg hailed Swaney’s service and courage, Ward 1’s Heidi West talked about her eloquence and composure.
In her nine months on the council, Swaney highlighted the accomplishments of Native Americans at UM and in the community during her weekly comments at council meetings, and co-sponsored the council’s move to divest city funds from Wells Fargo.
The resolution, proposed by Swaney and West, called out Wells Fargo both for its nearly $4 billion involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline and for unscrupulous and predatory banking practices.
Swaney also challenged the city and its tourism entities to show more diversity in their marketing brochures and campaigns.
“As a person of color – as a Native person – when looking at those materials, there aren’t many people of color in any of the images,” Swaney said earlier this year. “In thinking about the history of this place, there are comments on the roots, the deep history, but reading through the materials, there’s one statement about this space being originally Salish and Kalispell people, but that’s it.”
In August, she led her fellow council members in denouncing the racism, bigotry and hatred exhibited by white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Va.
She took the next step as well, suggesting ways Missoula citizens could take action locally to address discrimination and support inclusion.
“I want to say that racism, bigotry and discrimination exist in our country, state and even locally,” Swaney said. “But so does love, and I believe love is here in Missoula.”
On Monday night, she spoke out against the evil exhibited by the mass shooter in Las Vegas Sunday and the bigotry and anger directed at Native American and white protesters at a Festival of the Dead event in Missoula.
She told council members that she has enjoyed her time in Missoula, “a beautiful city.” And she reminded members that while the council will not meet next Monday because of Indigenous People’s Day, all should remember that the Missoula Valley is the tribal homeland of the Salish and Kalispell tribes.
Swaney received her associate’s degree in 1997 at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in Environmental Science and her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1999 at the University of North Dakota. In 2010, Swaney earned a master’s degree in organismal biology and ecology at UM, followed by a Ph.D. in forestry and conservation sciences.
Because Missoula City Council appointments are only valid until the next general election, Swaney is on the ballot in November’s municipal election. Initially, she was being challenged by Jack Metcalf, but he withdrew on July 25.
On Tuesday, Missoula County elections administrator Rebecca Connors said Swaney’s name will remain on the Nov. 7 ballot because the deadline for withdrawing a candidacy was Aug. 14. Ballot printing was completed last Friday.
November’s vote will be conducted by mail-in ballot.
“She will likely win her race,” Connors said, “and the City Council will move forward with replacing her, similar to the appointment process she went through.”
It’s also too late for a write-in candidate to file for the seat, as that deadline was Sept. 5, Connors said. The 2017 Montana Legislature changed that deadline from October to September.