BILLINGS — A local chapter of the Global Peace Foundation has been working on race relations between Native Americans and non-natives for the past 18 months.
That project will now serve as a model for others around the country. The results of the pilot project, Cross Community Reconciliation Forum, were presented on Friday.
Dancing was part of the cultural exchange at a room at Community Leadership and Development, Inc. The project was planned to last six months, but went longer because of COVID shutdowns.
The group found education and being an ambassador, were key ways to help bridge the gap across many differences.
"The more we're able to on both sides native and non-native to be able to sit down and just kind of educate each other, then from there, those two can go educate their family," said Josiah Hugs, one of the facilitators. "And then that family can educate their neighborhood. And that neighborhood can educate their community."
"It's really good to learn, you know, educate yourself behind the scenes about our history and culture," said Morgan Miller, another facilitator. "But it's so much more powerful when you're with people because you see them face to face. And you get to know them and their quirks and what they care about. And it brings a lot more energy together and you can really get to know someone."
Mike Yakawich, Global Peace Foundation director in Billings, came up with the idea for the pilot project after seeing a similar project in New Jersey that "was very successful breaking down barriers between teenagers and police."
"When you bring two people together or two cultures together and talking and listening to each other, you really find out that you're very similar," said Yakawich, who is also a Billings city councilman. "So it tries not to be as complex as it is, but it's amazing what can happen when I listen."
A group in Baltimore is expected to use the program going forward. A Global Peace Foundation International program specialist called the Cross Community Reconciliation, a beacon of hope. Yakawich said the foundation is looking into possibly launching the project in Great Falls and Missoula.