Three years ago, my friend Adrian Jawort and I started the Native American Race Relations and Healing Lecture Series, which meets once a month at the Billings Public Library.
In the three years since we kicked off this series, we have been striving to achieve two goals. One is to come up with a shorter name, which we have failed to do.
But it’s the second goal that is most important to us. The primary reason we started this series was that it was painfully obvious to both of us, as well as to many people we talked to, that there are serious issues in the Native American community, as well as painful conflicts still going on between Native Americans and non-Natives.
And nobody was talking about these issues in a meaningful, sustained way. There are concerned people who are doing amazing work to try to create opportunities for Native Americans to heal from the way they have been treated through the decades, and there are occasional symposiums and conferences that address these issues, and all of that is helpful and positive.
But we wanted to provide a place where people can become educated about the specifics of what’s happening around our state, and to also give people a forum where we can discuss possible solutions.
That’s why I’m particularly excited about this week’s event. We are partnering with Western Native Voice, an organization that has been doing incredible work in the Native American community, especially in promoting voter registration and helping residents of the reservations to get to the polls.
But their efforts extend much further, and this week they are going to share some of the work they’ve been doing, as well as some of the work they have planned for the future. They will also be providing a free meal for all who attend.
And finally, we will be forming small groups after their presentation to have meaningful discussions about what we all can do to help our community move forward toward a more healing place between the Native and non-Native residents.
There is still a lot of anger on both sides, and we think it’s justified. Both sides were duped into a situation that hurt a lot of people, and we believe it’s important to entertain discussion about these issues with the intent of finding a way to work together toward more creating a more inclusive environment for all of our Montanans.
The event is scheduled for 6 to 8:30 p.m. this Thursday, April 12, in the Royal Johnson Community Room in the Billings Public Library, 510 N. Broadway. We hope you’ll join us for this exciting evening of discussion.