Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Round dance kicks off Indigenous Peoples’ Day events

The round dance, the first event of the three-day long festivities celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrated unity. President Waded Cruzado kicked off the Monday, Oct. 10 event with a speech emphasizing two concepts important to MSU: diversity and unity. “[The round dance] is a beautiful ceremony. It talks about diversity and it talks about unity,” she said.

Fitting, considering how many groups at MSU and in the Bozeman community unified through the difficult process to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to Cruzado. She also mentioned the multiple groups and community members that banded together last year to petition to make the second Monday of every October a celebration of the Indigenous Peoples across America.  

The scene was indeed diverse as people from all walks of life joined to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and participate in the round dance. Students made the majority of the crowd, along with local community members and faculty members from the Native American Studies Department.

Walter Fleming, the head of the Native American Studies Department, said, “The circle is a sacred symbol of strength and unity.” The sentiment echoed Cruzado’s speech.

This dance was performed by clockwise side-stepping in a large circle. Members of the circle held hands with one another, and followed the beat provided by the musicians in the middle of the circle. The musicians, called “drum groups”, kept tempo with hand drums, and sang melodies the circle could dance along to. The round dance, according to attendee Roberta Bird, is part of everyday life for American Indians. “We grow up around it,” she said. “It’s a social dance.”

This event was only the first of several, and was a great start to Bozeman’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration.

Dr. Walter Fleming presents to the City Commission

“This is a place you probably know well but don’t recognize,” Walter Fleming, Ph.D., the Native American Studies department head, said as he began his presentation to the City Commission on Monday, Oct. 10.

The audience seated at City Hall looked to see an aerial view of land. The greens, browns and mountains gave no clues, and confusion registered in the commissioners’ faces. “If I add some borders, the forty-ninth parallel and a little bit further south the forty-fifth parallel … you know where you’re at. You are home.”

His presentation, about “our neighbors,” the American Indians of Montana and the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, was presented to the City Commission as part of a specification in the Mayoral Proclamation issued by Mayor Carson Taylor. Fleming said these maps are just “artificial lines” as he showed a map of the city lines in Montana. “We sometimes think of Bozeman as the most important city in Montana, as well we should, so we give it the most prominence on maps,” he said. However, Fleming went on, “There was a time where it was simply home to a number of Indigenous Peoples. We are talking about Montana “B.C.”: before Columbus, before Custer and before Costner.”

The Three Forks of the Missouri River used to be shared hunting grounds “as if people got together and said let’s just use this area in common.” According to Fleming, a more accurate label for that area would be “disputed territory.” However, that doesn’t mean Bozeman is without an Indigenous People. In fact, the Flathead came through to hunt buffalo on the plains, the Crow to collect rocks for their sweat lodges and various other Northern Plains tribes gathered plants and other materials for cultural uses. Bozeman was a “hotbed of communities crossing out of and into Montana,” said Fleming.

Fleming also gave the audience a tour of the twelve tribes on seven reservations in Montana: the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Reservation, the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in the Flathead Reservation, the Crow Tribe of the Crow Reservation, the tribes of Fort Belknap Reservation and the various tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day officially replaced Columbus Day in Bozeman on March 21, 2016, after a year of meetings, petitions and presentations between both university and city governments. The City Commission, Faculty Senate and ASMSU all supported the effort. Fleming ended his presentation on a note of gratitude: “We feel like we’ve now become a part of the Bozeman community.”

Exit Gallery highlights contributing Native artists

There is a portrait, familiar to most, in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, allegedly depicting Christopher Columbus. Painted in Rome by Luciani in 1519 (13 years after Columbus’ death), the portrait shows a serious, pensive and even astringent man, peering with gray eyes. But this well-known portrait is just the base for artist Ben Pease’s work, “Peoples’ Champ.”

Pease is one of six artists on display in the Exit Gallery for the inaugural Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bozeman. In the series, titled “Our Place Before U.S.,” Pease contributed five of the 18 pieces, yet “Peoples’ Champ” is the most immediately captivating. In Pease’s rendition, Columbus appears just as stern, albeit covered in scrawled words imitating tattoos on his face. Words like “lost,” “murderer” and “lie” on Columbus’ visage are accompanied by a trail of tears. Emanating from Columbus’ eyes, the tears continue down his neck and trail down from his sleeve to the tip of his hand. A reminder of the scores of deaths Columbus initiated, the tears alongside the inked words set the tone for the exhibit; the historicity of Columbus Day as we know it is false.

ASMSU Arts & Exhibits Director Melissa Dawn first approached Pease amid discussions in spring 2016, concerning renaming Columbus Day on campus. Dawn asked if he would be interested in organizing an exhibit to coincide with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Pease obliged, and then he, along with the other five artists, applied to the gallery and were subsequently accepted.

The contributing artists, all students, sent a series of evocative works. “I personally think this is incredible … It feels refreshing to see something so passionate,” Assistant Gallery Director Kelsey Hodera said. The images are stimulating, yet brave. The series provides an essential perspective on the renaming of the holiday locally, and what the community effort means to American Indian students and Bozemanites. “Our Place Before U.S.” will run in the Exit Gallery until Friday, Oct. 28.