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Montana Racial Equity Project objects to Vigilante Parade floats

The Montana Racial Equity Project objects to the racially insensitive floats in the Vigilante Parade that took place in Helena, Montana on Friday, May 12, 2017.

Last Friday, the City of Helena experienced its annual Vigilante Parade. The public Parade has been fielded by its two high schools for years. Though misrepresentation of Native Americans has been complained about for years to varying degrees, this year, one particular Facebook post objecting to particular Native American themed floats went viral.

It was correctly pointed out that students on the float were wearing scantily-clad stereotypical “squaw” clothing. Faces were painted red. Teepees bore gibberish symbols. And even stereotypical “whoops” were heard from the float itself and/or engendered by the floats from the crowd. That was not careful nor accurate representation; it was neocolonialist, culturally-appropriative and racist. MTREP believes that breakdowns in education and communication led to these inappropriate floats. Most of the pushback on the original post is reflective of a lack of understanding of how prejudice, bigotry, and racism reveal themselves in our society. It is very mistaken to insist that those objectionable portrayals of Native Americans were just fine.

The mission of the Montana Racial Equity Project is to advocate racial equity and justice. We know that educating and promoting awareness of the many factors that can produce insensitive actions that are very damaging to our whole society, is essential before we can even begin to change that within ourselves and our society that promotes them. Sadly, the original poster has received multiple online threats and attacks that are only reductive and harmful to any positive action. We encourage Helena Public Schools to carefully examine its Indian Education policies and institute strong changes in order to prevent such future offensive parade floats.

Judith Heilman is the executive director of The Montana Racial Equity Project in Bozeman.