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Chamber pulls tourism campaign due to concerns about insensitivity to Native Americans

Billings Chamber of Commerce is removing three billboards
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Posted at 10:17 AM, Dec 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-18 12:20:48-05

BILLINGS — The Billings Chamber of Commerce is removing three billboards in south-central Montana that were designed to attract tourists after a blogger raised concerns they were culturally insensitive toward Native Americans, using language associated with the taking of tribal lands in the old American West.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the Chamber wrote that its "Forge Your Own Path" campaign was intended to celebrate those with a "perspective on life that is uniquely Montanan," but officials say they now recognize the campaign reads insensitively. The campaign was launched by Visit Billings, the tourism arm of the Chamber.



The action comes in response to a Monday post on the website East Of Billings , written by Alexis Bonogofsky. In her post, titled "Onward Pioneers: Visit Billings's Manifest Destiny Tourism Campaign," Bonogofsky took issue with language on the billboards, particularly "Onward Pioneers," that had historically been used to justify white settlers' cruelties toward Native Americans in the territorial days. Click here to read the complete article.

"The language being used by Visit Billings is the same language that was used to justify the genocide of Native Americans: onward pioneer, conquer, take, it’s ours. Words have definitions. Words have histories. Those words in this geographical place cannot be used without putting them in this context," Bonogofsky wrote.

She added that the history section of the Visit Billings website included no profiles of Native American historical figures and contained key inaccuracies about the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations a few hours east of Billings.

The three billboards were placed more than a year ago along the interstate: one in Garryowen on the Crow reservation, one in Lockwood, and one between Billings and Laurel.

Chamber officials said they are also removing insensitive portions of the campaign from the VisitBillings.com website and the visitor guide. They are also contacting the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development and its tribal tourism officer for guidance on how to move forward.

Alex Tyson, director of Visit Billings, told MTN News on Tuesday that she also plans to contact representatives from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes. "It's our top priority," she said.

She added that Visit Billings had tried to submit a comment on the blog that wasn't posted, and she also spoke with Bonogofsky on Tuesday morning.

"We're very grateful for (her) perspective. We're very humbled for the perspective," she said.