HELENA — On Friday afternoon, Montana leaders gathered at the State Capitol to celebrate the state’s tribal cultures.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction held its annual celebration of American Indian Heritage Day.
“The goal of that is just to have all Montanans stop and reflect on the indigenous history in this state, and celebrate the richness that it brings to our state, both in a historical sense and in a contemporary sense,” said Zach Hawkins, OPI’s director of Indian Education for All.
During Friday’s event, Mike Jetty, an Indian education specialist with OPI, performed a Lakota flag song, before giving a talk on the symbolism of each of Montana’s eight tribal flags – flown in a pavilion at the front of the Capitol.
“It’s all about unity and a message of love – how we’re all in this together; we stand underneath the U.S. flag, the Montana flag and the flags of the sovereign indigenous nations,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras said her family ranches within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation, and that being exposed to the Blackfeet people and culture had enriched her life. She encouraged all Montanans to take time and learn more about the history and culture of the tribal nations.
“Understanding that will enrich us and help us to understand the importance and the value of the knowledge, the culture, the practices of our first peoples that affect all of us on a daily basis,” said Juras.
After the event, those in attendance tried out some traditional native games.
Montana stands out from other states because its constitution and state laws call for all students to receive education about tribal nations and their cultural heritage. OPI leaders say it’s an important responsibility.
“For me, it's just getting to work with great people – both at the OPI, but our tribal friends and neighbors all across the state,” Hawkins said. “I just want all Montana students, and all Montanans, to celebrate our tribal heritage and just recognize how fortunate we are to have such a rich history in Montana. And like I said, it's just an honor and a privilege to be a part of that.”
Because of a quirk in state law, Montana schools celebrate American Indian Heritage Day on the fourth Friday of September, but it’s the last Friday of the month for the rest of the state. This year, those fall on different days, so OPI celebrated the occasion twice.
“We get to do Indian Heritage Day 2.0 this year, so that's cool,” said Hawkins.
You can find more information about the Indian Education for All program on the OPI website.