MISSOULA — A traditional Native round dance happening in the center of campus couldn’t be missed as students walked to and from class at the University of Montana on Monday.
The performance marked Indigenous Peoples' Day and the significance of the Salish and Kalispel people who once inhabited the land now considered UM's campus.
“This place is really important for Salish people because it was the area where we came and gathered bitterroot,” explained Aspen Decker, UM’s native community and museum education coordinator.
This particular snippet of information was merely one fact Decker wanted to share on Indigenous Peoples' Day -- a day she said centers around pride, celebration, and education. This year, the education went beyond tales of bitterroot and highlighted something deeper, a movement called Every Child Matters.
With a crowd dressed in orange marching around UM's oval, passersby were reminded of the Indigenous children who lost their lives when they were forced into boarding schools -- their culture and ways of knowing stripped away as quickly as they were taken from their homes.
“There have already been like 6,500+ bodies found at these different boarding schools and residential schools, and that number just keeps increasing because we're checking all these different churches and boarding school places and we're finding more and more,” said Decker, “So we're hoping to, you know, recover these bodies and bring closure to our families.”
As the group honored children of the past, it was also a day of hope as they looked to children of the future.
“Kids need to know their identity, be able to practice their culture, speak their language, you know, something that has been taken from us throughout history after colonization and oppression,” said Decker.
“Now we're at this state where I feel like there's a lot more equality. We still have a long way to go, but that's what I see in the future -- our children will all be equal and will be able to practice and express themselves in their culture, their language, and who they are," Decker concluded.