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As some Montana cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day, a push to observe the holiday statewide is still ongoing

bozeman teepees ow.JPG
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Mountain Times Arts lit teepees along Peets Hill in Bozeman on Friday. The display will be up through Oct. 17 in recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Many towns in Montana are celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day. One state lawmaker is pushing legislation to make the switch official for everyone in Montana.

Every night at dusk this week seven teepees will be illuminated on a hilltop in Bozeman — glowing reds, greens and blues.

The teepees are part of an art installation that celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day, most often observed in place of Columbus Day.

Francesca Pine Rodriguez, a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribes, is with Mountain Times Arts, the nonprofit that commissioned the installation. She says the teepees are a visual reminder of Bozeman’s Indigenous heritage.

“Bozeman is a special place and a sacred place to a lot of Indigenous peoples,” Pine Rodriguez said. “There was an Indigenous economy here before colonization for thousands of years. It was a very special place for the wildlife, the indigenous foods and medicines.

Pine Rodriguez hopes that the teepees will inspire reflections on Indigenous culture and conversations about land especially as Bozeman continues to grow.

"The decisions that we make today, the impact on our land, water, air and our society will affect your grandchildren,” she said. “And thinking about seven generations ahead you might make different decisions.” 

The teepees are on display until October 17.

bozeman teepees 3 ow.JPG
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Francesca Pine Rodriguez with Mountain Times Arts says the teepees are a visual reminder of Bozeman’s Indigenous heritage.

Bozeman is just one of a few cities in Montana that observes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, though there has been a rising interest elsewhere in the state to pivot from Columbus Day as a way to look more critically on the explorer's impacts on the Indigenous peoples of America.

State Sen. Shane Morigeau of Missoula has introduced a bill to establish Indigenous Peoples' Day statewide in the last two legislative sessions, but the bills died both times.

"As long as I'm elected, I'm going to be introducing legislation like this every session and forcing the conversation whether people are committed to passing it or not," he said. "I think we heard testimony from kids last session talking about how this was hurtful to them.”

Shane Morigeau is the 2020 Democratic candidate for state auditor.
Democratic state Sen. Shane Morigeau is calling on Gov. Greg Gianforte to issue an executive order establishing Indigenous Peoples' Day in Montana.

Morigeau is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He recalls talking to someone during the last session about the difference between Indigenous Peoples Day and Native American Heritage Day.

“She literally says, 'That's bulls**t. You guys already have your day, why do you need this,'" he remembered. "So that's the mentality we have.”

At a rally in front of the Missoula County Courthouse on Monday, the Democratic state senator called on Gov. Greg Gianforte to issue an executive order to implement Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The request comes after President Joe Biden became the first president to issue a proclamation commemorating the holiday.

“We have to change the laws in Montana," Morigeau said, "and I would encourage and challenge our governor to take efforts to implement Indigenous Peoples’ Day through an executive order."

Morigeau says he hasn’t formally asked Gianforte to issue the executive order. The governor’s office did not immediately return a request from Montana Public Radio for comment. Montana recognizes American Indian Heritage Day in September, which Gianforte celebrated.

According to Indian Country Today, Montana ranks number four in states with the largest American Indian and Alaska Native population, with more than 6%.

Alaska, New Mexico and South Dakota each have a higher Indigenous population than Montana and have previously enacted laws recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day.

Taylar Stagner covers tribal affairs for Yellowstone Public Radio.
Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.
Freddy Monares
Freddy Monares is a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio. He previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, covered the 2017 Legislature for UM Legislative News Service and interned with the station as a student. He graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2017.