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Montana Universities Celebrate Native American Heritage Day

Indigenous women walk an outdoor catwalk while wearing an assortment of well tailored dresses, skirts and face coverings.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio
American Indian student models showcase clothing and masks from Designs By Della during an American Indian Heritage Day fashion show on the campus of MSU in Bozeman, September 25, 2020.

Montana State University celebrated American Indian Heritage Day on Sept. 25 with a guest lecture from Henrietta Mann, a nationally recognized Cheyenne elder. It was part of celebrations on campuses across the state.

American Indian Heritage Day is meant to be a day for all Montanans to reflect on and celebrate the cultures and heritages of the first people on this land.

“The constitution says that all Montanans should have an education as it relates to the peoples that were here first,” said Henrietta Mann, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes, who spoke at MSU’s celebration over Zoom.

Mann was the first full time director of American Indian Studies at the University of Montana, the first endowed chair in Native American Studies at MSU and a founder of MSU's Council of Elders, which helps guide the university’s policies on American Indian education.

Mann commended Montana’s Office of Public Instruction for its work developing Indian Education For All and MSU’s plans for an American Indian Hall. But she said more needs to be done in education to help counter the “vanishing Indian” myth. She said mainstream America doesn’t recognize that Indigenous people are still very much here.

“Invisibility actually is a form of racism when you pretend that someone doesn’t exist and so I feel that is happening to us today. Again we have been relegated into that world of invisibleness and we don’t seem to exist,” Mann said.

Mann’s guest lecture followed a week of events on university campuses across the state.

In Missoula, at the University of Montana campus, events included “Rock your Mocs” Day, a procession of tribal flags, communal meals and a lodge raising.

At Montana State University Billings, members of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes talked about COVID-19 in Indian Country, language and culture.

MSUB and MSU also hosted fashion shows, displaying clothing and masks created by Native designers.

On the campus in Bozeman, American Indian student models showcased masks and clothes made by Native designers, like Apsaalooke artist Rose Williamson who owns Lady Pompadour Beadwork and Design based in Crow Agency.

A skirt designed by Lady Pompadour
Rachel Cramer, YPR
A skirt designed by Lady Pompadour

"2017 is when I started beading this dress. It was only this year when I just now finished it and I was not realistic about it. I thought I was going to get it done in three months," Williamson said.

Other designers included Della Big Hair-Stump, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe from Crow Agency, and Carrie Moran McCleary, a Little Shell Chippewa tribal member who lives and works on the Crow Reservation.

The first American Indian Heritage Day was held in 1997. It was fixed as the last Friday in September in 2009.