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Best-selling author to speak at Montana Racial Equity Project forum

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Judith Heilman, Executive Director of the Montana Racial Equity Project, stopped in to share the exciting news of an influential keynote speaker on Wednesday, September 19 at the Holiday Inn Bozeman.

Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based writer, speaker, and author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, “So You Want to Talk about Race.”

To learn more about The Montana Racial Equity Project’s 3rd Annual Community Forum, click here and here.

ACLU wants state to not aid feds with immigration

by Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune - July 10, 2018

NOTE: The Montana Racial Equity Project is a co-signer of this statement published by the ACLU of Montana

HELENA — The ACLU of Montana sent letters this week to several state and federal officials, asking them to have Montana stop collaborating with the federal government in immigration enforcement and admonishing some of the officials for not doing more to curb human rights violations.

The July 9 letters were sent to Gov. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte.

The missives from Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana, take a different tone, depending on the lawmaker’s stance or past action on immigration.
Whereas it thanks Democrats Bullock and Tester for past actions on immigration, it takes Republicans Daines and Gianforte to task.

“We are extremely disappointed to see a member of our federal delegation respond so weakly to one of the most egregious abuses of immigration enforcement in our nation’s history,” the Daines and Gianforte letter states. “The family separation policy implemented by the Trump administration required bold action and opposition by all members of Congress. Your tepid disapproval did not reflect the values of Montanans – your constituents – who watched in horror as children were ripped from their parents’ arms. Complacency is tacit approval.”

The letter tells them to “publicly acknowledge that the crisis of family separation was created by the Trump administration.” It also calls on them to “admonish the administration for not only tearing families apart, but utterly failing in its attempts to reunify those families …”

Daines and Gianforte are asked to oppose any immigration policy that continues to detain families and push for immigration reforms that will allow families to remain free until their hearing or removal dates.

The ACLU wants them to support immigration policy reforms that “rein in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) enforcement in Montana …”

“It is well past time to stand up for Montanans, immigrants and U.S. citizens alike,” the letter ends.

Daines defended his action on immigration and noted he is a sponsor of acts that would keep families together, expand accommodations or add more immigration judges.

“We need to put an end to the ridiculous Obama-era, open-border ‘catch and release’ policy,” he said. “I’ve introduced legislation that would keep families together and upholds the rule of law.”

Fox and Gianforte did not offer comment.

The ACLU letters are signed by 12 Montana groups: Empower MT, Forward Montana, the Montana Association of Christians, the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Montana Human Rights Network.

Others signing it include Montana Immigrant Justice, Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, the Montana Racial Equity Project, Montana Women Vote, Planned Parenthood of Montana, Soft Landing Missoula, and Trans Visible Montana.

A spokesman for a nonprofit group that supports enforcement of immigration laws and advocates for American people on immigration policy, offered a recommendation regarding the letter.

“The state leaders of Montana should ignore this type of advice from the ACLU and other groups,” said Ira Mehlman, media director with the Federation of American Immigration Reform.

He said law enforcement in Montana routinely cooperates with federal agencies and “there is no reason not to cooperate with duly empowered law enforcement agencies that enforce immigration laws.”

“It is clearly on the books that no state or legal entity can prohibit their own employees from cooperating with federal immigration authorities,” Mehlman said.

He said as a matter of policy the state should treat all requests equally.

“The ACLU is asking for a lone exception to standard procedure,” Mehlman said.

“These laws exist for a reason. Immigration always benefits immigrants,” he said. “The question is what impact does it have on everybody else. It’s not because we want to be mean and keep people out, but we understand there are societal interests at stake.”

In 2017, FAIR estimated there were 12.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Of those, 6,000 lived in Montana. Including the children of illegal immigrants raises it to 8,000.

Montana has had at least one state employee quit over immigration moves by the federal government.

In February, Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts, quit his job at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry after ICE subpoenas were served, saying he refused to follow orders.
Tester is thanked for cosponsoring the Keep Families Together Act in June and for writing a letter to Kirstjen Nielsen opposing the implementation of the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

“We have entered an era of immigration enforcement in Montana that threatens the safety and security of immigrants and American citizens alike,” Borgmann wrote. 
It calls on him to be proactive in “efforts to protect people from abuse and racism at the hands of government, both nationally and within Montana.”  

Tester is asked to oppose more funding for the wall and more border patrol agents, oppose the funds transfer request for more immigration detention capacity and follow through on his commitment to work with elected officials and local law enforcement on the Hi-Line to reduce CBP and ICE abuses.

Marnee Banks, Tester’s communications director, said he “is fighting to secure our nation's northern and southern borders.”

“He expects due process and respect for human rights, and he believes comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform is the best way to tackle these tough issues,” she said.

Bullock’s letter asks him to order state agencies to refuse ICE subpoenas, issue executive orders barring Montana resources from being used to separate or detain immigrant families and barring state expenditures for federal immigration enforcement and to work with the Legislature to introduce bills that will increase state-based protections for “Montana’s immigrant community.”

The letter also says Bullock’s refusal to send Montana National Guard troops to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico “is a step in the right direction, but more action is needed.” 
Ronja Abel, communications director for Bullock, said the governor has “made it clear recent federal immigration enforcement activities, including the travel ban and separation of families at the southern border, are atrocious.”

“There are no state resources under Bullock’s administration being used to separate or detain immigrant families and we continue to carefully review and monitor federal immigration enforcement activities in the state,” she said.

The letter to Fox calls on him to order the Montana Highway Patrol and other agencies under his direction to stop collaborating with ICE.

It also calls on him to join a lawsuit filed by 17 states challenging family separation, issue an opinion that ICE detainers are illegal, aggressively investigate incidents of racial profiling and tell state agencies that they can refuse subpoenas issued by ICE.

“The line between immigration enforcement and human rights violations has become increasingly thin since ICE was created in 2003,” Borgmann wrote. 

She noted that ICE regularly issues subpoenas to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, seeking quarterly wage reports and workers’ compensation reports for some Montana businesses, such as Mexican restaurants, that ICE assumes employs immigrants.

“The ICE subpoenas are unabashed fishing expeditions that undermine federal and state provisions outlining the right to privacy,” Borgmann said.

The ACLU has asked state agencies not to comply with ICE’s demands, but was told by the Department of Labor and Industry that it would continue to do so.

Borgmann said in a news release the Trump administration’s immigration policies have “flooded into our communities.”

“The destruction of families, abuse of state resources to hunt undocumented immigrants, violent enforcement tactics, and racial profiling are happening with alarming frequency in Montana. Montanans elected these state and federal officials to exercise fiscal responsibility as well as ensure that all individuals are treated with fairness and dignity. Siphoning local resources to carry out the White House’s cruel agenda could not be further from Montana values.”

The letter offers several examples of “aggressive enforcement actions.”

That includes the May 31 “raid” of a mushroom picking camp near Superior in which a pregnant U.S. citizen was arrested and released.

The ACLU claims that In April there were traffic stops in Gallatin County as a pretense for checking immigration status.

The letter also makes claims of “aggressive deportation actions” in Montana, such as deporting Mexican national Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, who recently settled a lawsuit over claims that he was raped in a Montana jail, and racial profiling, such as an incident involving two ladies detained in Havre after a border patrol agent heard them speaking Spanish.

Borgmann said she remains "hopeful" officials will act on her request.

She said the letter was to show immigration is a broader issue that is impacting "Montanans in a multitude of ways that go beyond family separation."

Borgmann said she hoped the letter would motivate officials to stand up and protect Montana values, which includes treating people with respect.

New Group Encourages Diversity in the Outdoors

Explore Big Sky contributor, June 22, 2018

BOZEMAN – Erasure, invisibility, inaccessibility. These are feelings many people of color face in the context of spending time outdoors. 

“So many times, when we’re outdoors, white people look at us like we shouldn’t be there. It’s weird, but it’s what we’ve come to expect,” said Judith Heilman, founder and executive director of the Montana Racial Equity Project, an advocacy group for minorities in Montana and the only black-led nonprofit in the state. 

“The outdoor industry presents itself as white,” Heilman added, describing the predominantly white presence in outdoor advertising, branding and promotions.

Tired of feeling like they didn’t have a place to belong in Bozeman’s outdoor community, a handful of recreation enthusiasts, who identify as people of color, started Earthtone OutsideMT, a group dedicated to promoting diversity in Montana’s outdoor recreation scene.

“There are invisible barriers to going outside. There’s a lot of wounding there,” said Maya León, who owns Bozeman’s concept boutique MaYarising and is one of several founders of Earthtone Outside. 

“The problem is bigger than just the hostility we face outdoors,” she added. “This is just one example of what we face every day. [Earthtone Outside] is a way to raise awareness about race. Ultimately, all humans want to be seen by other humans and that’s what we want.”

In January, the group met for the first time, with funding and support made available by Heilman and the Montana Racial Equity Project. Since then, Earthtone Outside has hosted sledding and skiing events, and several Earthtone Inside social events.

After their first public appearance in April during the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s “Our Shared Place” symposium on recreation, where seven members shared their insights on recreation and race, Earthtone Outside hosted a summer kickoff party at Hyalite Pavilion on June 10. 

Amid temperatures hovering in the 40s, and wet snow flying, 30 people turned out to hike and enjoy a barbecue.

“A group like this … it’s really needed and wanted,” said co-founder Frances Kim, who works in the Montana State University Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity. “I think there’s definitely comfort knowing you have a community where you know you won’t have to face microaggressions. … I think that’s why this group has flourished in a short amount of time.

“I feel like this group has been really healing for us, so we can have difficult conversations about these really difficult things,” Kim added. “We’ve created this community that is welcoming and isn’t hypercompetitive and it gets people outside in any way. Being a part of this group has shown me that I can embrace my culture and heritage and reflect on what I can do to make this community better.”

Vasu Sojitra, a North Face ski athlete and adaptive sports director for Eagle Mount, added to this sentiment. He said that in order to become who he is today, he had to assimilate and lose some of his Indian heritage. 

“I’m trying to gain that back through this community,” he said. “Groups like this will hopefully grow that personal identity and culture.”

In addition to creating a community for diverse outdoor enthusiasts, Earthtone Outside is seeking to change perspectives on what it means to be a person recreating outside.

David Samollow was adopted and grew up in a white household in Texas. He spent a lot of time with his family doing activities outdoors, but said that when he came to Bozeman, he realized other people with multicultural backgrounds didn’t have the outdoor opportunities that he had.

“Coming here, I realized that [white] people are into a lot of activities and they think they’re welcoming, but they weren’t aware of the issues people of color are facing,” he added.

Angelina Gonzalez-Aller, co-founder and health policy researcher for the RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, expanded on that sentiment. “You can face prejudice on the trails, in the campgrounds, in REI,” she said, adding that retail clerks in outdoor gear stores can make assumptions that a person of color doesn’t have the necessary skills.

That said, she believes Earthtone Outside has a critical opportunity.

“Bozeman is a really special place for this kind of work,” she said, adding that MSU brings in diverse student demographics and there is a strong indigenous population present as well.

She went on to say that by instilling a love for the outdoors in people of color, the environment will gain new advocates as recreation serves as an entry point into conservation. “There’s so much to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to make sure we keep these places around for everyone to enjoy.”

This summer, Earthtone OutsideMT will host weekly hikes as well as cookouts, rock climbing events and more. Contact to learn more, or check out the group on Instagram or Facebook.

  Members of Bozeman’s new outdoors club, Earthtone OutsideMT, pose during a recent hike up Drinking Horse Trail in Gallatin Valley. Earthtone Outside seeks to elevate the presence of people with multi-racial background in the outdoors. PHOTO COURTESY OF EARTHTONE OUTSIDEMT

Members of Bozeman’s new outdoors club, Earthtone OutsideMT, pose during a recent hike up Drinking Horse Trail in Gallatin Valley. Earthtone Outside seeks to elevate the presence of people with multi-racial background in the outdoors. PHOTO COURTESY OF EARTHTONE OUTSIDEMT

Explore Big Sky, June-July 2018 issue p 37.jpg

Inspirational role models

by Eloise Ogden, Minot Daily News

March 12, 2018

Two enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes have been honored by the ACLU of Montana as civil liberties leaders.

Carol Juneau, a former Montana state legislator, and her daughter, Denise Juneau, a former superintendent of Public Instruction for Montana, were recognized for their work with the 2018 Jeannette Rankin Award. Judith Heilman, founder and executive director of Montana’s only Black-led nonprofit, the Montana Racial Equity Project, also received the award.

The awards were presented March 3 at the Paris Gibson Square Museum in Great Falls, Mont.

This month is Women’s History Month, a month to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society.

Carol was born at Elbowoods and raised on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation.

According to ACLU information, Carol, a powerful advocate for education equity, served in the Montana Legislature from 1999-2010. She was instrumental in the groundbreaking passage of Indian Education for All in 1999, a long-overdue implementation of Montana’s constitutional mandate to teach K-12 students Native history and contemporary tribal issues. She has also been a tireless advocate for Native voting rights, registering many people to vote and countering gerrymandering through redistricting while at the legislature.

Carol first was a Democratic state representative in Montana and later a state senator. During her career she also was instrumental in the establishment of the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Mont., one of Montana’s first tribal colleges. She and her husband, Stan, a longtime educator, are now retired and live in Great Falls.

Denise served for two terms as superintendent of Public Instruction for Montana from 2009- 2017, according to ACLU information. She is the first, and only, American Indian woman to hold a state constitutional office. She was also on the leading edge of implementing Indian Education for All, guiding the creation of culturally relevant curriculum and professional development and training for Montana educators. As superintendent, Denise prioritized student advisory boards and lowered the Native high school dropout rate by one-third.

Denise grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwest Montana. Her career has included teaching English at New Town High School and she also is an attorney. After serving two terms as Montana’s superintendent of Public Instruction, she was ineligible to seek a third term due to term limits. In 2016 she campaigned to become Montana’s sole U.S. House seat and the first ever Native American woman in Congress, according to news reports. She ran against Ryan Zinke but was defeated in the general election. Zinke now is U.S. Secretary of Interior. Denise lives in Missoula, Mont., and is owner of Blue Cloud Consulting.

The Jeannette Rankin Award is named for Jeannette Rankin, a women’s rights advocate from Montana, who was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. She was elected to the House of Representatives by the state of Montana in 1916 and again about 24 years later. She was the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. participation in both World War I and World War II.

“Carol, Judith, and Denise are pathbreakers who have tirelessly pursued social justice in Montana, especially for Native people and other people of color. They are inspirational role models for those who want to make Montana a fairer place,” said Caitlin Borgmann, ACLU of Montana executive director.

Montana Racial Equity Project hosts Dismantling Hatred workshop

News video snip KTVH.JPG

The Montana Racial Equity Project held a Dismantling Hatred skills and strategies workshop on Saturday.

The workshop was help people to become more aware of what others may deem as offensive.

People were asked to give their opinions about a series of scenarios showed on screen and also share how they would react in real life.

The group was diverse with many people from different backgrounds, cultural groups, and racial identities. 

Participants also separated into groups and discussed worldwide racial issues.

Jessica Lahr said she walked away from the workshop with better knowledge of equality issues in the world.

"Gaining the tools to actually use when we see those things happening, that we interject and that we acknowledge that it exists because these are real issues that face a lot of people, maybe not in our own communities, but they exist," Lahr said.

The Montana Racial Equity Project is a non-profit and non-partisan organization.

To learn more about the event or the Montana Racial Equity Project, click here.


(The ACLU of Montana is) honored to present the 2018 awards to civil liberties champions -  Judith Heilman, Carol Juneau, and Denise Juneau.

ACLU awardees.jpg

Judith Heiman – For her commitment to racial equity and justice in Montana. For her unwavering dedication to working alongside others to further these goals.

Judith Heilman is the founder and Executive Director of the Montana Racial Equity Project.  MT REP works for racial equity and justice in Montana through education, training, and advocacy.  Over the last two years, Judith's work with MT REP has filled an important need in Montana and Judith has become an indispensable ally.

Carol and Denise Juneau – For their many years of work toward racial justice and civil liberties, particularly in the field of education equity. For inspiring a generation of organizers, advocates, and elected officials in Montana.

Carol Juneau served in the Montana Legislature from 1998 - 2012 and was instrumental in the passage of Indian Education for All in 1999 and subsequent efforts to fund and defend the program.  Denise Juneau served as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2009 - 2017 and was the first American Indian woman elected to statewide office in Montana.

The Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award acknowledges individuals and organizations who demonstrate the strength of character and commitment to principles exemplified by Jeannette Rankin-ACLU's first vice president in the 1920's-and embodied in ACLU's mission and vision. 

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.


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


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.