University of Montana students, faculty and the Missoula community braved cold weather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day with various events throughout campus, alongside a call to action and rally in front of the Missoula County Courthouse on Monday.
Organizers of the day’s events pushed for awareness of the Indigenous children who were lost to boarding schools and the destructive nature of Columbus' legacy, and called for Montana to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day statewide.
The day started at UM with a welcoming ceremony in the Branch Center, guided tours at the Ethnobotany Garden in the Payne Family Native American Center and a performance by the Pacific Islanders Club on the Oval. The day ended with virtual featured speakers from various tribes — including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes — and a Zoom discussion of the book “Elatsoe” with the All Nations Health Center.
Those passing by the Oval this afternoon had the opportunity to see or take part in the Every Child Matters March, meant to bring awareness and healing to Indigenous people affected by boarding schools. Attendees wore orange to represent the Indigenous children who lost their lives and cultures when they were forced into boarding schools.
The event, which started in front of Main Hall, featured speakers who shared their families’ history and experiences with the boarding schools, including stories of physical abuse as punishment for speaking their native tongue.
The speakers encouraged other Indigenous attendees and students to continue learning about their culture and maintain their language.
“Maintain your ways, maintain your culture, be resilient,” said Red Cloth Girl, a Nakota woman from Fort Peck, to UM students.
Those in attendance, including members of the Pacific Islanders Club who represent the highlands, marched and sang around the Oval and ended in the center of campus where students and faculty participated in a Round Dance, or community dance.
“Everyone who is a part of this community is invited in to come and celebrate unity, working together, embracing our strengths and our own identities,” said Joseph Grady, Montana 10 scholarship program academic adviser at UM. “We all have a place in the Round Dance.”
The Indigenous Peoples’ Day Call to Action and Rally event, hosted in front of the Missoula County Courthouse, featured speakers from the state legislature, local high school students and members of Montana tribes urging the state of Montana to embrace and recognize the holiday.
In Montana, the day is recognized by the Missoula city government and other communities, but not by the state government.
The first speaker was the chair of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Shelly Fyant.
“Every day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day to the people who are Indigenous to this land,” she said.
Fyant added this was a happy day — “a day of celebration” — and it is Indigenous peoples’ job to care for those who do not have a voice, including nature, and to respect all human beings.
Organizers of the rally included Montana Sen. Shane Morigeau, artist and activist Ben Pease and Kristina Lucero.
Morigeau sponsored a bill this past winter that would replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it was not supported by enough lawmakers. During the rally, he said he and other Missoula City Council members would continue fighting for statewide recognition.
Alishon Kelly, a 16-year-old member of the Blackfeet tribe, spoke against Columbus Day and the legacy that follows the holiday, including genocide and the “ultimate destruction” of Indigenous people.
“This legacy is why our ancestors were forced into boarding schools, leaving us to discover tens of thousands of their bodies years later,” she said. “The way America continues to recognize Columbus and this legacy year after year has not allowed things to end. It has only continued to celebrate them.”
By federal proclamation, the second Monday of October is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a national holiday honored by President Joe Biden, but it is also the federal holiday of Columbus Day.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors Native American history and the contributions and value of Indigenous peoples and their Tribal Nations.