MISSOULA — Montana has eight recognized tribal nations, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes here in Western Montana.
Four reservations are in northern Montana, including the Blackfeet Nation. The Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes are both in southeastern Montana while the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe became federally recognized in 2019.
Back in 2019, The city of Missoula changed the second Monday in October to be recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day from the formerly known Columbus Day. Many cities in Montana still recognize it as Columbus Day, but a rally at the Missoula County Courthouse on Monday was about changing that narrative and showcasing the truth.
“We are all one people, we are all one race, you know, but with different ethnicities and backgrounds, and being respectful of those different things,” said Benny Lacayo who participated in the rally.
“Our global effort has been to really create a holiday that recognizes everybody, you know, all Indigenous people, recognizes a rich cultural heritage that we all have to offer in Montana, because we all come from somewhere, right? We're all indigenous from somewhere,” notes Montana State Senator Shane Morigeau (D-MT).
Morigeau’s mission is to not participate in culture cancellation but to teach the whole history and have proper inclusion of all parties at play. When we dive into that, Morigeau says, we find that Christopher Columbus is not worth celebrating.
“What we're trying to say is let's talk about full history, let's talk about real history. And when you do, I don't think you can genuinely come to terms of saying, this guy's a person we're celebrating and honoring,” Morigeau said.
“I believe truth is very important, even if it's hard, you know, and the biggest thing about people, is we hide from each other when there's hurt and when there's pain, you know, and it's time that we start looking eye to eye." - Benny Lacayo
Morigeau draws on his own heritage to enact this change. As a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, he recalls learning about the holiday.
“When I think about this issue, I often think about a kid, hunched over a book reading a history book that glorifies somebody yet, leaving out all the bad and and leaving out the fact that that person probably was killing people and murdering people and trafficking people that look just like them. And that makes me very sad to think that there's a kid somewhere reading that just like I did.” - MT State Senator Shane Morigeau (D-MT).
The Biden administration declared this day, Indigenous People’s Day last week. The rally drew in many people from the community, including other members of Montana’s legislature, as they showed their support and celebrations of Indigenous People’s Day.
Harlem, Helena and Bozeman have joined Missoula and recognizing the day as Indigenous People’s Day, the rally organizers just hope that the rest of the state follow suit.