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Dead ahead: With the Festival of the Dead approaching, Missoula takes an uncomfortable look in the mirror

By Jason Begay, The Missoula Independent

October 26, 2017

Remember that time when Qwest, the regional telecommunications company that owned the 30-foot-high reflector panel on Waterworks Hill, threw up its hands and stopped trying to remove the hand-painted peace sign repeatedly tagged on its face?

That panel is gone now, though the peace sign lives on, tattooed directly into the hill, significantly larger. Missoula has changed in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways it hasn't.

It's not hard to trace that Missoula spirit to the heart of the town, the University of Montana, the liberal arts institution that has fostered generations of artistic ingenuity, compassionate rallies and general weirdness.

Let's just say Missoula loved the '60s, man.

But nothing loved the '60s more than the '90s—the decade, it seemed, when mainstream America caught up with the counterculture and political awareness melded with political correctness. It's no surprise that the passionate children of the '90s became PTA warriors waging against oppressiveness in all its forms: bullying, exclusivity, marijuana laws...

This was highly evident in Missoula. If you remember Missoula in the 1990s, you remember the causes, the protests, the bumper stickers, the hacky sacks and sandals.

The Festival of the Dead seemed to fit perfectly with Missoula. This was well before the city's craft beer boom, back when sweet, earthy incense wafted onto the sidewalks from so many downtown shops. It was an era in which Missoula reveled in its countercultural identity, a politically precious blue dot in an imposing red sea. Missoula had no problem taking its stand, drawing lines in the organically composted soil.

So it makes sense that in the early 1990s Missoulians would create a festival in its own embracing image, simultaneously a multicultural invitation to the world beyond Missoula and a creative outlet for Missoulians.

The festival germinated in a conversation between two Missoula artists, Michael de Meng and Bev Beck Glueckert. Meng was still enamored of a trip he'd taken to Oaxaca, in central Mexico—especially a Mexican national holiday called Dia De Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a visually vibrant celebration centered on the confrontation and comprehension of death. The pair thought: Wouldn't it be cool to do here what they do there?

The difficulty was obvious.

"We couldn't do a Dia De Los Muertos, we didn't have a significant Latino population," says Glueckert, co-creator of the inaugural 1993 event. "We thought, we need to do a Missoula version and label it as a 'multicultural celebration of life, death and the arts.'"

The idea was not to bring the Day of the Dead to Missoula, but to create a new and independent event in which people could participate in their own ways, reflective of communities throughout Missoula and Montana. For several years after the event's launch, organizers invited speakers, lecturers and artists from the state's varied cultures and religions to talk about life and death and art.

The event evolved, as events do, and because of the name, and because the parade falls on Nov. 2, the final day of the multi-day Dia De Muertos in Mexico, the Day of the Dead influence loomed larger every year. This year, Missoula's 25th annual iteration of the festival, the parallels have become too close for comfort.

"Ask anybody on the street, what are they going to call it? They're going to call it Day of the Dead," says Rosalyn LaPier, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana. LaPier is also a volunteer spokeswoman for community members and advocacy groups throughout the state that are challenging the festival as an appropriation of Mexican culture that has airlifted elements of the authentic Day of the Dead celebration and placed them in Missoula without appropriate acknowledgement of context, cultural evolution or impact.

"One of the main issues is that this does appropriate an indigenous religious practice with its own traditions," LaPier says. "A vast majority [of Montanans] see it as Halloween Part 2, a day to have a parade, dress up, paint their faces, listen to live music and drink."

The debate has shaken the event to its foundation. It has also shaken Missoula's self-conception as a wellspring of good intentions. As the language of appropriation matures and social media enables access to shared concern and dismay, what was once considered progressive and inclusive is now under fire as oppressive.

It was probably just a matter of time before communities of color would confront the cultural norms of a majority-white town like Missoula with their concerns, whether Missoula was ready or not.

Race matters. Missoula lacks the ethnic diversity that so many Missoulians are eager to celebrate. According to 2016 U.S. Census estimates, or any cursory glance out the window, Missoula is mostly—92 percent—white. The Census reports that just over 3 percent of Missoula County residents identify as Hispanic, which is an umbrella designation that doesn't necessarily refer to strictly Mexican or even South American heritage. Even so, that 3 percent is more than 3,300 people, making Hispanics the county's largest minority group.

In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization added Dia De Los Muertos to the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity." The event is a carefully thought out occasion that requires sensitivity in preparation, according to the UNESCO designation: "Great care is taken with all aspects, for it is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity or misfortune upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed."

Such sensitivity is lacking in the Missoula event, critics say. "Because people are not learning the history of the event, it becomes a caricature," LaPier says.

Nobody (outside of social media blasts) is dismissing critics' concerns about cultural appropriation. Festival organizers have in fact been receptive to the issues raised by LaPier and others. Festival coordinator Tarn Ream says the festival's organizing committee has worked to definitively distinguish the Missoula festival from the traditional Day of the Dead. At the same time, Ream says, organizers have a responsibility to the Missoula community that has embraced the festival.

This year, the organizing committee canceled a long-running workshop inviting people to create sugar skulls, the colorful decorations that are perhaps the most iconic symbol of Mexican Day of the Dead observances. Last year, in response to similar concerns, the committee canceled festival-sanctioned face-painting booths prior to the procession. Organizers have also discussed moving the event, the procession in particular, to a different date, so as to distance Missoula's Festival of the Dead from Mexico's Day of the Dead, but ultimately decided not to.

Ream says there is a need for an event through which people can address death, and that fall is an appropriate time to do that.

Indeed, multiple cultures worldwide feature ceremonies commemorating death in late summer and fall, among them Halloween in the United States, the Hungry Ghost Festival in China and Chuseok in North and South Korea. "Fall time is a good time, it's an introspective time, things are dying all around us. There's definitely an agreement we need to keep it in the fall," Ream says.

 

In its original incarnation, Missoula's Festival of the Dead focused on art, via death, and while it might have been a myopic hope, Glueckert says she envisioned a Montana-centric festival.

"We had an invitation to participate in any of the events, 'Please come and bring your own expression, share with everyone,'" she says. "There was absolutely no control or jurying or censoring, no one was standing there to tell someone who can participate or not."

By the same token, there was no oversight to keep the event from becoming derivative of its inspiration, which is where the appropriation debate comes in.  

The Missoula Festival of the Dead encompasses a month of activities, most of which have no direct ties to traditional Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Among them are writing workshops that invite participants to pen their own obituaries, art shows and a class in which participants can create their own urns.

To that extent, Glueckert's vision of a Missoula-centric event is on full display. Then there is the procession, which is the Missoula Festival of the Dead's most iconic event. This year's procession is scheduled for Nov. 2 and is expected to feature dozens of community groups who have been welcomed to participate in any way that they choose. There is no entry fee, and aside from a general request that participants be culturally respectful, there is neither any authority nor mechanism for approving entries or messages.

"If anyone's participation is offensive to another, I don't know how to control something like that," Glueckert says.

Cultural appropriation—the dynamic by which dominant cultures adopt and adapt ideas or practices from a smaller, more vulnerable culture for any type of gain—is a difficult concept to pin down, and a thorny point of contention in contemporary identity politics. If you're unaware of the terms of the debate, it could take a week of phone calls and interviews with at least half a dozen experts and passionate community members to even start to get an idea. If you don't accept those terms, it's likely that you've already dismissed the concept as an invention of the overly sensitive and politically correct.

And that attitude is among the things that make appropriation so harmful, says Judith Heilman, executive director of the Montana Racial Equity Project, based in Bozeman.

"They can do it and be seen as just so wonderful and brave and creative, with no reference back to the culture that actually created it," Heilman says. "Meanwhile, those people who have been appropriated are vilified and subject to discrimination and oppression for [making their concerns public]."

"The way we deal with lack of diversity is to simply make things more colorful, as if everyone were on a flat playing field," says Tobin Miller Shearer, an associate professor of history and director of African American Studies at the university. "We divorce the conversation from power dynamics."

Granted, it's not hard to find a Missoulian of Mexican descent who genuinely appreciates the Festival of the Dead, procession and all, because it taps into the familiarity, even if removed by distance and practice, of home and family. It's just as easy to find another who is uncomfortable seeing a family tradition replicated by people in a country that just voted to "build the wall."

"If you went to a hundred people in Mexico and told them that they celebrate Day of the Dead here, I guarantee you most of them would say 'Wow, that's so cool,'" says Juan Hudorovich, who grew up in Mexico City and moved to Missoula about a decade ago. Hudorovich is also a parent of students at the Missoula International School, which offers a Spanish language immersion program and Day of the Dead presentations and activities during the week leading up to the holiday.

Hudorovich is a firm believer in the evolution of cultures. Appropriation happens naturally, he says, and can often help strengthen identity. In Mexico City, for instance, it's more common for people to celebrate American Halloween than Day of the Dead, he says. And many Day of the Dead displays, in which favorite foods, drinks and toys of deceased family members are arranged, now include Americanized symbols of the fall season, like pumpkins.

Hudorovich, whose wife, Lynn, grew up in Ronan, says Missoula's Festival of the Dead has little in common with traditional processions in Mexico. Even so, he appreciates and welcomes the influence.

"Doing it is more a show of respect than not doing it at all," Hudorovich says.

Hudorovich recognizes the good intentions behind the event. But intent is not always the same as what's received. Hudorovich draws a number on a piece of paper and hands it over. "I'm going to give you a 9," he says, "but what do you see as you take it? You see a 6. That isn't the same to you."

Missoula's Festival of the Dead was created to generate awareness, Hudorovich says. Call this the 9. If what we see is 6, we need more context. "Then we have to raise awareness by asking questions."

There is no doubt that Missoula's Festival of the Dead is steeped in the good intentions of the artists who participate, the procession-marchers holding candles and portraits of loved ones, and even a portion of Missoula's Mexican population, as slim as it is. However, absent a continuous reconsideration of the festival's events and constant re-evaluation of its evolution and purpose, Missoula may find that a dynamic of appropriation, if not outright racism, has been embedded into the festival, says Heidi Wallace, executive director of Empower Montana.

Empower Montana, a local nonprofit that seeks to give voice and leadership training to diverse Montana communities, attempted to facilitate a solution to concerns leveled at last year's Festival of the Dead with a sparsely attended public forum. Wallace says she doesn't want to see the festival end, but she does recognize concerns about some of the imagery it traffics in.

Wallace says the debate surrounding the festival should be considered healthy, and should happen regularly to help keep concerns at the forefront. Failure to communicate consistently could result in the creation of systemic oppression, she says.

"Systemic is when something is historically embedded, pervasive and seeped into our systems," Wallace says. "We're set up to see it as normal. That's why it's hard to peel the layers off."

Peeling those layers is harder for some than for others. Pushback to criticism of the festival has grown heated. LaPier says her concerns have been met with harsh criticism. Facebook commenters registering disagreement with her stance are frequently dismissive of her concerns, and sometimes worse.

"This is a huge issue online," LaPier says. "We, who are bringing up our concerns, have become targets for death threats and racist comments. This is not bringing out the best of Missoula."

Ream, who has been organizing the Festival of the Dead for about a decade, reports similarly heated reactions from protesters.

And this is where the conversation about cultural appropriations tends to get thrown off-track. The language used to describe the issue—"racist" and "oppressive" are commonly deployed in descriptions of appropriation—is harsh and can seem especially unfair to people accustomed to seeing themselves as allies in the fight against racism and oppression.

Ream has extended an invitation to any Hispanic volunteer to sit on the Festival of the Dead coordinating committee. She says she fully supports conversations about ingrained racism in the Missoula community, which she knows exists—"no doubt about it."

That isn't enough for critics. The two current Hispanic and Latinx festival committee members have been dismissed as "tokens," Ream says. And Heilman, with the Racial Equity Project in Bozeman, is quick to describe the invitation for people of color to join the committee in no uncertain terms.

"The oppressor is demanding the oppressed come to them, tell them how they are being oppressed, being subject to disbelief," Heilman says. "That is oppression."

Similarly, she stands firm in calling the festival and its organizers racist. The term, she says, is not restricted just to radicals who actively seek to exclude or harm people of color.

"Most people who are racists are great people," Heilman says. "'Racist' is a very broad term. People get defensive because in their minds, they have a single image that racists are avowed members of the Ku Klux Klan. Then they get defensive, because who wants to be seen as that?"

"If you're being called a racist," Ream says, "it makes it difficult to hold a conversation."

Amid the muddle, it seems abundantly clear that the good intentions that animated the founding of the Festival of the Dead are due for reconsideration. The pushback that has bubbled to the fore this year is apparently overdue. Good intentions aren't always enough. And sometimes they aren't even good.

"If we place it in the historic framework of white liberalism, people have always hidden behind good intention," says Shearer, the university's African American Studies director. "It's as if they are saying, 'The results don't matter, because we didn't mean for it to happen. As long as I had good intentions, the results would be fine.'"

But results do matter, Shearer says. Cultural appropriation is real, and it's not just a matter of hurt feelings. "It's a matter of blithely using [appropriated culture] to pursue your own cultural ends," Shearer says. And those cultural ends contain an economic element.

The Missoula Festival of the Dead is financially supported by a small group of donors, including individuals and local businesses that contribute anywhere from $50 to thousands of dollars. In total, the festival brings in about $9,000, Ream says. A big chunk of that is used to pay for art supplies and artists who teach the 18 different workshops (not including the canceled sugar skulls class) that are held throughout the month. The revenue is also used to pay for traffic barriers, the $150 parade permit and insurance for the procession, which can cost as much as $2,000. Any remainder goes to Ream, the coordinator, who otherwise volunteers her time.

As if to underscore the complexity of the racial conversation in Missoula, Shearer is a white man leading an African American Studies program. He speaks about issues of race and racism with confidence, using terms like "liberal arrogance" to describe the defensive reactions to expressed concerns of racism.

"They are much more reactive, because they felt they had solved that problem," he says.

Still, this doesn't sound like Ream, who emphasizes that neither she nor the committee wants to deny the concerns of any person in Missoula. She's led the Festival of the Dead for years, sometimes forging partnerships with organizations that contribute talent and labor. Today, she says, she can't think of another person lined up to take over coordinating duties without her.

During an afternoon interview, Ream was visibly conflicted, and exhausted.

"There's a lot of indecision here," she said, extending another invitation for community members to join the festival planning committee. "We all see that change has to happen, and we're all looking to see what that has to be."

As far as coordinating the festival moving forward, she said, rubbing her eyes and releasing a sigh, "I have some decisions to make."

Bozeman’s hidden history with the Ku Klux Klan

By Gail Schontzler, Chronicle Staff Writer

In the summer of 1926, the weekly Bozeman Courier published a mid-sized advertisement inviting the public to a picnic at Bozeman Hot Springs put on by the Ku Klux Klan.

The ad promised a public lecture by Dr. Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard of the KKK, its national leader, at the picnic on Monday evening, Aug. 9.

“Bring your lunch basket and your family and friends,” the ad read. “Dr. Evans will enlighten you as to the purpose of the Klan. Everybody Welcome.”

klan flyer.png

 

Robert Rydell was surprised when he happened across the Klan ad, while searching for something else in microfilm of old newspapers.

“I’d never seen mention of the Klan in Bozeman before,” said Rydell, history professor at Montana State University and head of the American studies program.

Rydell knew the Klan had been active in the 1920s in Oregon, the Midwest and eastern Montana. But this seemed new.

“The very fact the Klan was here trying to recruit indicates the leadership thought there would be a receptive audience,” he said.

Ninety years after the Klan recruited members in Bozeman, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and nine years after the election of America’s first black president, the Ku Klux Klan is seeking a comeback in American public life.

About 50 Klan protesters rallied in July in Charlottesville, Virginia, opposing removal of a large statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on horseback. Then in August, hundreds of Klan members, neo-Nazis and white nationalists joined in a “Unite the Right” torchlight parade and protests that ended with the killing of one woman counter-protester and the deaths of two police officers.

Congress this week passed by unanimous consent a resolution that called the woman’s killing “a domestic terrorist attack” and denounced “White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups.” President Donald Trump signed the resolution Thursday.

The fact the Klan came to Bozeman doesn’t surprise Christine Erickson.

She has done decades of research and is writing a book, “Fraternity on the Frontier: The Ku Klux Klan in Montana during the 1920s.” Raised in Missoula, Erickson is an associate history professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

In the archives of the Montana Historical Society, Erickson found reports on Bozeman Klan No. 10.

The Feb. 14, 1924, edition of The Imperial Night-Hawk, a national Klan newspaper, printed a glowing report from Bozeman, along with brief news of thousands of new Klansmen joining in Iowa, an armory filled with recruits in Muskegon, Michigan, and the beating of a Klan salesman in Columbus, Ohio, by a gang of Italian and Irish Catholics.

“Bozeman, Mont., Klan Hears Grand Dragon” read the story’s headline. The report said that Montana’s Grand Dragon — Lewis Terwilliger of Livingston — “emphasized the fact that ours was not a gospel of hate.” He upheld Protestantism and advised members that “their greatest strength was in secrecy” and education in Klankraft.

“There was an unusually large crowd present and they received the messages of the Grand Dragon with deep-seated joy,” the report said. It concluded with the news that the Bozeman Klan gave generously to the needy at Christmas and sent “a lovely pot of flowers” to a Klansman’s daughter in the hospital with a “cheer-up card.”

At the same time the Klan presented itself like any benign, secretive fraternal organization, it held cross-burnings across Montana.

Dramatic cross-burning ceremonies, led by Klan members wearing white pointed hoods and robes, were often held for initiations of new members in the 1920s.

Erickson found reports on cross-burnings on Prospect Hill in Great Falls, Square Butte west of Laurel, Cemetery Hill in Anaconda and the Rimrocks in Billings.

“Burning crosses were certainly meant to intimidate the Klan’s enemies,” she wrote, “but they were also a signal, a reminder, that the Klan had arrived in the community.”

Nationwide the Klan reached the height of its membership in the 1920s, as the champion of “100 percent” Americans — native-born, white Protestants.

At its high point, the Klan had between 2 million and 5 million members “and the sympathy or support of millions more,” wrote Joshua Rothman, chair of the University of Alabama history department, in a recent article for The Atlantic magazine, “When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets.”

“The Klan advocated the restoration of ‘true Americanism’ and offered members a platform that demonized blacks, Catholics, Jews, Mexicans, Asians and any other non-white ethnic immigrants,” Rothman wrote.

In the wake of World War I, the American economy slid into recession, and people were looking for scapegoats, Rydell said. “Who do you blame? How do you account for economic failure? You blame immigrants.”

The Klan was against Communism, alcohol and bootlegging, birth control and teaching evolution in schools. It was in favor of public schools as an antidote to parochial schools.

It flourished, Rothman wrote, “with the promise that energetic white nationalist and traditional morals would hold back the tides of modernity and … forces scheming to undermine the authority of native-born white Americans.”

One month after the Bozeman Klan picnic, Imperial Wizard Evans led an estimated 15,000 Klansmen wearing hooded robes, both white and colored satin, marching in disciplined rows in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13, 1926.

Yet the 1926 turnout was less than half the 30,000 to 50,000 hooded Klansmen who had marched in Washington the year before at the peak of its popularity.

By the end of the decade, Klan membership fell off drastically. Yet its anti-immigrant, white supremacist ideology never entirely went away.

“I’d never be so naïve as a historian to think that the ideas of the Klan in the 1920s would go poof and disappear,” Rydell said. “Why would we imagine that ideas that were so commonplace and widely shared would, as if by magic, disappear?”

The Klan reborn

The rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s can be traced to a blockbuster film, “The Birth of a Nation.”

Today the film is viewed as racist, advocating white supremacy and opposing voting rights for blacks. But in 1915, it was a hit, the first feature film ever shown at the White House and to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rydell said.

The silent film played in movie houses accompanied by dramatic organ music, ending with the thrilling ride of hooded, gun-shooting Klansmen on horseback coming to the rescue of beleaguered settlers, Rydell said. “White audiences would stand and cheer.”

The Ku Klux Klan originated after the Civil War in the defeated South. In the 1860s and 1870s, it was a Southern terrorist organization, Rothman wrote, that tortured and murdered blacks, sending hooded night riders to strike fear into former slaves and undermine their efforts to vote and exercise political and economic freedom.

The original Klan had been defunct for decades, Rothman wrote, when an Atlanta man, William J. Simmons, inspired by the silent movie, decided to revive the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. On Thanksgiving night 1915, he and more than a dozen men lit a wooden cross on fire at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

By 1920, the Klan had attracted just a few thousand members. Then Simmons hired publicity agents and promoters, Rothman wrote. They divided up the nation into sales territories and sent out 1,000 recruiters to sign up new members, whose $10 Klectoken membership fees paid commissions to the recruiters.

Despite investigations of vigilante violence by newspapers and Congress, the Klan had signed up 1 million members by 1922. That year, Evans, a dentist from Texas, ousted Simmons as Imperial Wizard.

Klan members in the 1920s were largely middle-class — small business owners, ministers, professors, clerks, farmers, doctors and lawyers.

The Montana Klan started in Harlowtown in 1921 and was headquartered in Livingston in 1923. It was welcomed in 46 Montana communities, including Billings, Missoula and Helena, Erickson wrote. More than 5,100 Montanans joined. The short-lived Montana Klansman newspaper was published in Belgrade.

The one city where the Klan wasn’t welcome was Butte, home to large numbers of immigrant miners, Irish Catholics and committed drinkers.

“Our men have orders to shoot any Ku Kluxer who appears in Butte,” Sheriff Jack Duggan said, as Erickson reported in the spring 2003 edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Still, nearly 200 men joined the Klan chapter in Butte between 1923 and 1929.

Imperial Wizard Evans visited the Montana realm of the Invisible Empire twice, in November 1924 and July 1930, Erickson wrote. She found no evidence he attended the 1926 Bozeman picnic.

She did, however, find in the archives a flyer entitled “How to Tell a Klansman,” written anonymously by a “Bozeman Klansman.” It portrays the Klan as being as American as apple pie, and reveals the group was fighting a negative image.

“He is a White Man. He is a Protestant. He is a Gentile. He is a Christian. He is Anti-Nothing. He is a loyal American….

“He believes in freedom of worship and hates nobody. He upholds Public Schools. He is a law-abiding citizen. He upholds virtuous womanhood. He opposes immigration of the undesirable alien. He defends the American home. He stands for America for Americans.

“He has no fight with the Yellow or Black man, but stands unalterably for White Supremacy in America.”

The flyer concludes that the Klansman believes in the Constitution, law enforcement, the flag and “Liberty for All.”

“He believes in free speech, and free press as long as it speaks the truth, and does not try to tear down our government and its institutions.

“He is your best friend. Why kick him?”

Last gasp

The Klan viewed the Immigration Act of 1924 as a great victory, Erickson wrote, but ultimately it would eliminate one of the Klan’s “main rallying cries.”

Congress passed the act to limit the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States through quotas based on national origins. It completely banned immigrants from Asia, and increased visas for people from Britain and Western Europe.

The Klan counted other political successes in the 1920s. It ran hundreds of candidates for local and state offices. Voters elected Klan members as mayors, school board and city council members, sheriffs and lawmakers, Rothman wrote.

Gov. Edward Jackson of Indiana and Gov. Clifford Walker of Georgia were Klansmen, as were U.S. Sens. Earle Mayfield of Texas and Rice Means of Colorado. The Klan controlled the Oregon and Indiana legislatures, Rydell said.

But the Klan ran into trouble when David Stephenson, the powerful Grand Dragon of Indiana, was convicted in 1925 of the kidnapping, brutal rape and murder of a young woman, his secretary. The scandal shocked members who thought the Klan was committed to high morality. In addition, Rothman wrote, Klan leaders ran local and state chapters like dictators and some stole money.

By the end of the 1920s, Klan membership had fallen drastically.

The Klan had one “last gasp” effort to attract members, Erickson wrote, when New York Gov. Al Smith, a Catholic, won the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1928.

“The violence instigated by the Klan, especially in the Deep South, as well as the intimidations, arson and cross-burnings, helped lead to the Klan’s demise,” Erickson wrote in the Autumn 2014 issue of Montana magazine. “So, too, did the pretense of championing American principles while inflicting terror on those who failed to meet the Klan’s narrow definition of what it meant to be American.”

And the Klan was expensive – members had to pay dues, taxes and buy robes and hoods, Erickson wrote. Many decided to drop the Klan, while keeping membership in the Masons, Odd Fellows or other fraternal organizations, which also offered secret rituals and business contacts.

Another self-defeating factor in Montana, Erickson said, was that Terwilliger was such a stickler for Klan rules that he kicked out some prominent members in Harlowtown for being born in Canada.

Progress

Though the Klan faded in Montana, the prejudices it championed survived.

In 1950, a famed opera singer, Dorothy Maynor, came to Bozeman to perform. Maynor, daughter of a black minister, had performed with the New York Philharmonic and Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia symphonies, according to documents found by Rachel Phillips of the Gallatin History Museum.

Esther Nelson, then a member of the Bozeman Community Concert Association, wrote that she took Maynor to the Baxter Hotel, “only to be told by the desk clerk that no blacks were allowed.” Nelson asked to speak to the owner, who affirmed, “no blacks allowed.”

“I was extremely embarrassed,” Nelson wrote. Maynor “withstood the insult gracefully,” she wrote, and stayed at the home of the university’s vocal director.

Today Montana has come a long way in fighting bigotry. Martin Luther King Day is a recognized holiday. School children celebrate Native American Heritage day. Indian Education for All is part of every school’s curriculum. Godfrey Saunders, a black educator, was Bozeman High’s principal for 13 years.

White supremacists, a tiny but persistent minority, still make headlines from time to time. In 2004, Bozeman residents awoke to flyers headlined “Missing” with a picture of a white girl, sending a message that the white race is dying out. In 2005, white separatist candidate Kevin McGuire of the National Alliance ran for the Bozeman School Board, receiving 157 votes out of more than 4,000 votes cast.

In 2009, eight white supremacists masked their faces with bandanas and sunglasses to protest on the Gallatin County Courthouse steps, giving Nazi salutes and yelling “White power!” Three weeks later, an outpouring of hundreds of Bozeman residents responded with a march for tolerance and diversity, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, all this hate has got to go.”

Erickson said we need to be careful about drawing straight parallels between the Klan of the 1920s with the “so-called alt-right of today,” because the times and context are so different.

“Certainly the anti-immigrant sentiment is there,” she wrote, “although for the Klan of the 1920s, Catholics were the enemy, and for the white supremacists today, it’s Muslims.”

This week MSU brought in speaker Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim scholar, to talk on “Islamophobia: A Threat to All.”

One Muslim woman attending the talk was Shadmani Amin, who has lived in Bozeman 28 years, is a U.S. citizen and wears a headscarf.

Amin has been active in the Bozeman Interfaith Forum for eight years, and has seen it grow dramatically. Muslims are treated better in educated college towns like Bozeman and Missoula, she said.

“There were a couple occasions people screamed at me, ‘Go back to Iraq,’” she said, smiling because she’s from Bangladesh. “But I get more positive comments than negative comments.”

On Friday, the Montana Racial Equity Project held an all-day forum at the Bozeman Public Library to discuss race and justice in Montana and to confront “our nation’s legacy of racism and the ways it persists.”

“We have certainly reached a point in American history where racism is not going to go unchallenged,” Rydell said. “The KKK, the alt-right, is not going to go unchallenged. It no longer has the podium. What’s worrisome is that it has any podium at all, or any adherents, in the 21st century.”

Our Community First: Montana Racial Equity Project

By Missy O'Malley - MTN News

For this month’s COMMUNITY FIRST recipient, we recognize the Montana Racial Equity Project. In the past two years, they have been advocating social and racial justice issues through education, information, workshops, rallies and much more.  Here's a look how they are making a difference in the valley and state. 

Flyers promoting anti- Semitic messages pop up again

May 21, 2017, KBZK-TV

BOZEMAN -

Saturday, anti-Semitic pamphlets were dropped in one of Bozeman's neighborhoods, this is the second time this has happened to those residents in 10 days.

Sunday, anyone that opposes these types of ideals was asked to march to the Bozeman Library. 

The Montana Racial Equity project and the Montana Human Rights Network organized the walk and rally to spread the word of unity among Bozeman residents.

To raise awareness to the community as a whole not only that this terrible thing has happened but that we will always resist it and oppose it and stand together as a community." Said Dan Lourie, a victim of the anti-Semitic literature.

Around 30 people marched down Main Street holding signs expressing love and equality.

STATEMENT FROM ORGANIZATIONS REGARDING HELENA VIGILANTE DAY PARADE

May 18, 2017

As organizations who work tirelessly to combat racial discrimination in Montana, we share the concerns of the Indigenous community regarding the racially inflammatory costumes and behavior displayed during the Helena Vigilante Day Parade. The perpetuation of Native American stereotypes exemplified by the Buffalo Jump float in the parade is unacceptable. We are calling on the Helena Public Schools administration to review and update their approval policy for floats in order to provide for adequate vetting.

While student participation in a tradition that is meant to honor Montana’s history is laudable, it is the responsibility of the school district to ensure that the parade does not marginalize or misrepresent Native communities, heritage, or contributions to this state. Most importantly, the controversy that has erupted illustrates the need for a dedicated community conversation about race, discrimination, and what honoring the history of our Indigenous friends and neighbors actually means. We encourage Helena Public Schools to begin facilitating these conversations with the community and to join us in taking responsibility for providing and seeking further education regarding racial equity, Indigenous history, and the appropriate way to honor both.

Signed,

Montana Human Rights Network

ACLU of Montana

Extreme History Project

Sweetgrass Society

Montana Women Vote

Montana Racial Equity Project

Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance

Montana Hate Free Zone

Montana Racial Equity Project objects to Vigilante Parade floats

May 17, 2017, Helena Independent Record

By Judith Heilman

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. 

Message of love, respect highlight Bozeman anti-hate rally

May 5, 2017 | Bozeman Daily Chronicle

By Whitney Bermes Chronicle Staff Writer

Photos by Rachel Leathe, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bozeman’s religious leaders, community activists and law enforcement wanted to make one thing absolutely clear.

Bozeman is a hate-free zone.

That was the message of an event Thursday evening at Soroptimist Park in downtown Bozeman, where more than 100 people gathered in response to anti-Semitic fliers that were dropped at homes in Bozeman neighborhoods over the weekend.

“We are a welcoming city and an accepting city,” said Bozeman Mayor Carson Taylor at the event, which was hosted by the Montana Human Rights Network and the Montana Racial Equity Project. “The only thing we are intolerant of is intolerance itself.”

Taylor commended the outrage of the folks who received the fliers, saying the city would use any means it could to protect citizens from hate crimes.

“The city of Bozeman supports, celebrates, encourages and benefits from its diversity,” Taylor said.

Bozeman Police Chief Steve Crawford said the fliers sent an alarming message, one that hits to the core of citizens’ sense of safety.

“This is a community that doesn’t stand for that,” Crawford said.

And the police department “is committed to keeping all members of our community safe,” Crawford said.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said regardless of religious or political beliefs, hate messages are not what this community is about.

“Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right,” he said.

Religious leaders encouraged a response of love, of acceptance, of respect.

“We need to treat each other with dignity,” implored Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Kaisy said that the Muslim community of Bozeman stood in solidarity with its Jewish neighbors, condemning the “trash literature.”

“We all together will return hatred with love,” Al-Kaisy said.

Jody McDevitt, co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church and moderator of the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association, said “it feels like a stink bomb was set off in our community this weekend.”

But McDevitt said that “goodness is stronger than evil” and if the community sticks together, the air will clear.

Rabbi Ed Stafman of Bozeman’s Congregation Beth Shalom wondered why the person or people who left these fliers behind did it in the anonymous darkness of night.

“He knows his message of hate would be flatly rejected here in Bozeman,” Stafman said. “Bozeman is a hate-free zone.”

Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network told the crowd that events like Thursday’s were the perfect response to hate.

“We come together and stand together as often as we need to,” he said.

In addition to speakers, organizers passed out posters proclaiming, “This is a hate free Bo-Zone.”

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Organizers: Women’s march in Helena draws 10,000

January 22, 2017

by Cole Grant, UM Community News Service

HELENA — Organizers of the Women’s March on Montana estimate there were 10,000 people gathered at the Capitol in Helena on Saturday.

“I just want to put that in perspective, because when we first started thinking about this, we were wondering if we could get 500 people,” said Rebecca Weston, one of the organizers of the march.

People travelled from all over the state to show their support, from Florence to Billings.

By noon, the streets were filled with supporters. Men, women, and children marched around the Capitol building holding colorful handmade signs of all shapes and sizes -- signs with the sign for female power or “fight like a girl” or “respect” or “all people are equal” or “no hate.”

After a few blocks of marching, supporters gathered on the Capitol steps to hear a slew of speakers and performers, including Montana’s First Lady Lisa Bullock, Judith Heilman, the director of the Montana Racial Equity Project and Sen. Jon Tester, who joined via phone.

“We walk and stand together today to recognize that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us,” Bullock said.

Co-organizer Deb O’Neil, who shared MC duties with Weston, talked about rape culture.

“We need to shut it down. Dismissing this as locker room talk is demeaning, insulting, and does not belong in a caring, compassionate society,” O’Neil said.

A number of Native Americans also took to the steps of the Capitol, like Lauren Small Rodriguez, who sits on the board for Native American students at the University of Montana, and was the first Northern Cheyenne woman to join the Coast Guard.

“We are no longer here to just be happy to sit in the room. No we’re not. We’re going to sit on this table and we’re going to have a chance to say something and speak out. That is what we’re here to do,” Small Rodriguez said.

Weston said although there is no organization affiliated with the march, she’s planning to organize meetings in communities around the state, “so that people can use a lot of this energy, use a lot of this sense of solidarity, to then start doing things locally in their communities, then all the way up in the state.”

According to WomensMarch.com, the Montana march was one of more than 650 marches organized across the globe in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Helena Police Department reported no counter protests.

Montana Women's March draws an estimated 10,000

January 21, 2017

by Marga Lincoln, Helena Independent Record

The spirit was jubilant, as thousands of marchers gathered in the streets near the Capitol Saturday as part of the Women’s March on Montana: Human Rights for All in Helena.

Initial estimates put the size of the crowd at 10,000 people. 

When the crowd stepped off at noon, it was to the lively beat of the Bozeman marching band, Chicks with Sticks, whose drums were flamboyantly colored plastic buckets.

There were yells and whoops and also chants -- “My body, my vote!” and “This is what -- democracy looks like!” and “Women’s rights are human rights!”

A line of marchers was already wrapped around the Capitol, and more and more marchers kept pouring up Washington Street.

The crowd far exceeded the expectations of organizers, who had hoped that 4,000 would show, based on Facebook responses.

They danced, they chanted, they sang and they cheered.

Some came wearing their brilliant pink, hand-knitted, cat-eared 

“pussyhats” to call out President Donald Trump on one of his more infamous comments about grabbing women's genitals. 

But this particular march was never billed as an anti-Trump rally, said one of the organizers, Deb O’Neill.

“We said this is nonpartisan from the get-go. Anyone is welcome despite who you voted for, so long as you support human rights for all.”

And speak out, they did -- for women, for the planet, for Native Americans, for refugees, for diversity and for the LBGTQ community.

Judith Heilman, director of Montana Racial Equality Project, reminded the group “racism is real” and yes, it does occur in Montana.
Her organization trains people in how “to interrupt racism whenever it is encountered.”
Calling your legislator is another way to interrupt racism, she said.

It was a call for action in the coming years, not just one day.

“The march is just day one of this group,” said O’Neill. “This is not the end, it is just the beginning.”

Similar marches were held in more than 600 other cities and towns around the world, including 30 other countries.

In Chicago, New York and Washington, the marches drew hundreds of thousands of people -- once again, far exceeding planners’ expectations.

***

A reason for every marcher

Volunteer Yvonne Field of Helena, who was sporting a bright pink "pussyhat," said she got involved with the march because she works with children with special needs who have cognitive disabilities and others who are English learners. “I’m also the mother of a multi-racial kid. I want this to be a safe place for us. Some people told me that after Trump was elected they could tell me how they really feel.”

Noah Jacobs of Great Falls was carrying a sign, “We all come from immigrants.

“I just want to support all the women and immigrants in the country because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Everyone has the same rights as all our neighbors. We just have to support women -- their rights are my rights as well. What affects them affects me.”

Walt Luebeck of Missoula showed up carrying a U.S. flag and a diversity flag.

He decided to march because “there’s so much partisanship. There’s starting to be discrimination against everybody -- against blacks, Hispanics, just everybody.”

Laura Barta of Polson, wearing her hand-crocheted "pussyhat,” was dancing to music with her partner Dylan Gomes of Missoula.

“We all have to stand together,” she said, “and hope together. Revolutions start with hope.”

“I’m here to support Laura,” said Gomes, adding that the most important issue to him is climate change. “I’m a biologist and the evidence is clear,” that human-caused climate change is happening.

For every marcher, there was a reason.

Twenty-three buses came in from across the state, said O’Neill.

And according to some of those on the bus, like Paula and Eric Nielsen of Bozeman, the traffic headed to Helena stretched for miles behind them.

As they waited for the rally to start, they were talking to friends via cellphone who were inching along in a traffic queue that stretched to Townsend.

Riding on their bus were a number of people from their Universal Unitarian Church in Bozeman, who broke into singing a hymn from their church.

“I think it’s our duty to speak out about rights. ... We have to use our voices,” said Paula.

“As a man, I saw it as a people issue, not just a women’s issue," Eric said. 

***

A call to action

That was also the spirit of the speeches given on the Capitol steps.

“This is amazing!” said O’Neill as she greeted the crowd, telling them there were so many people marching that they needed to delay the beginning of the rally to allow all the marchers to arrive and hear the speeches.

It took an hour for the huge crowd to pour up through adjoining streets and circle the Capitol.

Among the speakers was First Lady Lisa Bullock, who told the crowd "we stand together in solidarity with our partners and our children."

She noted that it was civil disobedience by strong women that resulted in women finally getting the right to vote.

She also recognized the strength of her mother, who was her role model. “She accepted everyone into our home.” There was no exclusion, no hatred.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., spoke to the crowd via phone from Washington, D.C. "Keep marching," he said. "Our country's counting on you."

SK Rossi, director of advocacy and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, asked for a shout-out for all who were showing up at a rally for the first time -- drawing a loud response.

Rossi admitted it had taken a long time, “as a queer person,” to find courage to speak out.

“Your elected officials work for you,” Rossi told them. “If you don’t ask -- you’ll never get a yes.”

“This is the first step for many of you to find your voice. You can’t go home and turn on Netflix” and forget about what’s happening around you.

Rossi urged them to visit the ACLU website, aclumontana.org, because the group “is going to be working our ... butts off for you.”

Montana Women’s Chorus gave a joyous musical break, singing “A Women’s Voice,” about the power of women’s voices raised and also a tribute song in honor of suffragist trailblazer Jeannette Rankin, a congresswoman from Montana. 

Towering above the chorus on the Capitol steps was the rainbow-colored street puppet, Synnovai, a modern Scandinavian goddess.

Rachel Carroll Rivas, director of the Montana Human Rights Network, told the crowd “I fight white supremacy for a living.”

Her life is one of privilege, of having a bed to sleep in and feeling safe and loved, she said. “I know this is not the case for all people.”

“You are the schemers and the dreamers that will make tomorrow a better day and human rights a reality for all.”

She urged the crowd to draw inspiration from the people of Whitefish, where people have stood up against the threats and harassment of white supremacists.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the local group Love Lives Here," she said.

She quoted a Whitefish friend who said “we might not have much say nationally. But we can make Whitefish a better town. And if we do that all around the country, I think the national narrative can change.”

O’Neill spoke of being raped and how the victim gets blamed.

“Rape culture needs to end,” she said. “We can change culture and victim blaming.” She urged the crowd to reach out to elected representatives so that the Violence Against Women’s Act continues to be funded.

Michelle Mitchell, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and an Academic Achievement Coach for American Indians at Great Falls High School, spoke of the importance of education and also of how prevalent racism is on the Flathead Reservation.

“Education is about making tomorrow better,” she said. She also praised former Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau’s championing of the Graduation Matters program and the importance of the Indian Education For All program that teaches all Montana schoolchildren about the unique culture and heritage of American Indians.

Lauren Small Rodriquez Tsitsistas, who is the first Northern Cheyenne woman in the U.S. Coast Guard, spoke of the importance of protecting clean water and to support the protesters at Standing Rock. “Do not be afraid to stand up now,” she said. “We must unite to protect the future of our world.”

Bree Sutherland, a trans and queer advocate and activist, talked of the pain and struggles of being transgender. “I got angry and I got active. I became an activist because I do not want to be a statistic,” Sutherland said, adding that the suicide rate of transgender people can be over 45 percent.

“Hello, nasty women!” said Laura Terrill of Planned Parenthood of Montana, referencing a comment Trump made about former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Terrill spoke on behalf of the thousands of women who come through the doors of their clinics. “Patients don’t come to make political statements, they come for health care.”

One in five women will come to Planned Parenthood sometime in their life for health care, she said. “We are going to fight like hell to keep our doors open.”

Mary Poole, director of Soft Landing Missoula, which works to find homes in Montana for refugee families, spoke of looking out for each other.

She recalled her experience as a rafting guide, where each guide not only looked out for their own boat, but pointed a safe way for the raft behind it. Rafters call it “point positive.”

The river ahead may be rough. “You will point me positive. I will point you positive and we will make it through stronger on the other side.”

Judith Heilman, director of Montana Racial Equality Project, reminded the group “racism is real” and yes, it does occur in Montana.

Her organization trains people in how “to interrupt racism whenever it is encountered.”

Calling your legislator is another way to interrupt racism, she said.

The rally concluded with a call to action by Kellie Goodwin McBride, director of the YWCA Helena.

She asked people to listen to each other, for them to find their voices and call their representatives, and to take action one hour a week on an issue that’s important to them.

O’Neill told the crowd that the Women’s March website, womensmarchmontana.com, will be posting announcements of meetings, gatherings and calls to action.

“The march went very, very well,” she said in a follow-up interview. Not only did it draw a huge, enthusiastic crowd, but it was peaceful.

There were a few counter protesters, she said, but they saw the huge crowd and left.