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Civic leaders and students celebrate American Indian Heritage Day

Posted at 6:46 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-25 12:01:51-04

HELENA — On Friday, Montana leaders highlighted their commitment to teaching tribal culture to the state’s next generation. They marked American Indian Heritage Day in Helena, by celebrating with students at the State Capitol.

“Today is about celebrating the stories, oral histories and lived experiences of all Montana Indians, past, present and future,” said Zach Hawkins, director of the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s Indian Education for All program. “Today, we honor your legacy in the Treasure State.”

During a ceremony Friday morning, Governor Greg Gianforte, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, and others highlighted the importance of sharing native culture – including in schools, through the Indian Education For All program.

“While today is a day of great celebration, our commitment to celebrating this heritage is not limited to one day,” Gianforte said.

Mike Jetty, an Indian education specialist for OPI, performed an honor song for students, teachers and leaders in attendance. After the ceremony, he and other educators introduced about 35 students from Helena’s Project for Alternative Learning to a variety of traditional games, including hoop and arrow, ring the stick, and run and scream.

“Young people just like them have been doing these games all across Montana for thousands of years,” said Hawkins.

In 1997, the Montana Legislature set the fourth Friday in September aside as American Indian Heritage Day, encouraging Montanans to commemorate the state’s tribes and their cultures.

While much of Friday’s event was about celebration, leaders also touched on some of the challenges still facing Indian Country, including economic development, mental health, and the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people.

“American Indian Heritage Day is more than just celebration; I submit that it’s also about remembering those we lost throughout the generations, those we’re still losing,” said Misty Kuhl, director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs.

Montana OPI has put together resources to help share American Indian cultural heritage, available on their website.