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Report: Symposium on Race Relations in Billings

August 23, 2015

Photo on 8-17-15 at 3.02 PM

We went to the Symposium on Race Relations saturday at the library, and I met some old friends from the reservation. I was especially glad to see Dick Little Bear, President of the Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana. Also, I met Russell Rowland, Adrian Jawort, John Robinson, Rick Robinson, Peg Hart, lots of people.

Panelists had been well-chosen. How much I enjoyed their stories! I was hoping they would all be written. John Robinson’s life story was especially gripping, a history of the west, really, full of twists and surprises. And humor.
I got two take-home messages: first, treat people respectfully, listen to them, be patient, be kind. Try a friendly smile.
Other surprises: during the Q & A, a woman in a colorful wool sweater stood up only, instead of asking panelists a question, rambled on for 5 or maybe 10 minutes about how, maybe 20 years ago, she had helped Ted Stephens reach an agreement with Alaska tribes. Soon it was apparent to me that she would not sit down. I mean, what she had done was impressive, but not really germane to the topic under consideration. (I escaped out the back of the meeting room. It was already after 12, a few minutes into the noon recess.) Some friends were already out there.
In the afternoon a gentleman at the back of the room with a southern drawl suggested the need for some sort of conversation between Indians and non-Indians. The man said most of the Indians he sees on the streets are drunks.
These remarks puzzled me, because, as a panelist noted, the meeting we were having was precisely what he said was needed, and that dispelling racial stereotypes, such as he voiced, was the duty of everyone. I was surprised by the generous, kindly way the panelist spoke to the guy with the s. drawl, who did not seem to want to give up the floor to anyone else.
At last, Adrian simply walked to the other side of the room with a microphone, saying that he wanted to give some other people the opportunity to speak. I don’t know what became of Mr. S.D. because I had not turned to look at him. I don’t know that anyone had been put down in the exchange I noted.
Following a speech by another of the panelists, one who is an expert on the mandate to teach about Indians in Montana, another woman stood. This one also didn’t ask a question. She delivered what started as a polite defense of currently used textbooks, but evolved into quite a long-winded monolog that seemed to be more of a demonstration of her great knowledge. She listed from memory specific textbooks and authors that she said she believed delivered United States history accurately. She also suggested there be mentors to help the Native American women teachers to act in a more authoritative manner. She spoke for perhaps 8-10 minutes without stopping. Unfortunately she didn’t seem to be converting anyone to her way of thinking. Just the opposite. I saw annoyed expressions.
Well, the authoritativeness of the (stereotypically quiet and shy) NA teachers had not been called into question by any panelist, who instead discussed the glaring omissions from school history textbooks, vis a vis indigenous people in North America. The panelists said NA history is marginalized in school texts. Additional books are necessary.
Fortunately, another woman from the front of the room interrupted the apologist’s diatribe. She pointed out that less than 10 minutes remained of the day’s symposium. Could others have a chance to ask questions? People looked at each other with relief evident on their faces.
My second take home? To win an argument or get someone else to see your point of view, a rant about your credentials may not help.

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