Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - During the kick-off celebration of Native American Week at Stone Child College, voices were quieted, eyes were lowered and the mood was somber. At a panel discussion on racism Monday, festivities were put on hold in favor of serious discussion.
One instructor and three students shared their thoughts on the subject "Is Racism Alive in Montana?" A small group of people listened carefully to what the speakers had to say, sometimes nodding and at times appearing close to tears.
The panel quickly departed from the stated topic, agreeing that racism is alive in Montana, and went on to discuss the forms in which racism appears and how it should be handled.
Computer instructor Gerard Vandeberg began with a list of questions he hears from his grandchildren, who Vandeberg said are multiethnic, with Native American and African American ancestry, and live in Havre.
"Grandpa, how come these people watch us and follow us when we go to the store?" Vandeberg asked, mimicking his grandkids.
"Why can't we Indian kids get good jobs in the summer like so many of the white kids?" he added.
Vandeberg's list of questions covered the gamut of experiences he said his grandchildren face, including exclusion from group activities and puzzlement at a world that doesn't always accept them.
He also shared two testimonials he said he found while researching the topic of racism. Both involved the rediscovery of Native American heritage.
In the second story, the speaker had been sent to boarding school and experienced only the negative side of life on a reservation. The speaker went on to follow a destructive pattern of alcohol abuse and alienation from family. At the end of the story, the man was healed by following traditional practices.
"You need to connect or reconnect with your tribal ceremonies. These things remain with your elders," Vandeberg told the audience.
Student panelist Coby Stump said that Vandeberg's second story resonated with him.
"White people get put down as much as minorities do," panelist Sherman Alexander said. "You can't use hate against hate."
Alexander said he thought education was the best weapon against racism. "Maybe if more people were educated they would see skin is just skin."
Panelist Bryson Meyers said he has been caught between the cracks of racism because of his light-colored skin.
"I know myself. I'm Native American, even though I don't have dark skin. It makes me proud to say to myself, 'I am Native American.'"
Educator Lloyd Top Sky, who led a discussion on Native American beliefs earlier in the day, stayed for the panel discussion at the request of one organizer. Afterward, Top Sky was asked to speak.
"I think things are getting better in Havre. More people are saying hello ... they want to understand us," Top Sky said.
Where racism exists, Top Sky said, it should be talked about.
"We'll take it in stride. We're tough. But there's a lot of challenges ahead for us," he said.
Native American Week events at Stone Child College include an archery demonstration, a poetry reading and a language discussion today; a turkey shoot Wednesday; a teepee demonstration Thursday; and a parade at Rocky Boy Agency Friday.
Community celebrations include a health fair today, as well as games and races at the Chippewa Cree Housing Authority. Wednesday, a diabetes prevention walk is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. at Duck Creek Road. The reservation will celebrate the completion of the Bonneau Dam Enlargement Project at 10 a.m. Thursday at the dam site. A moccassin relay race will also be held at 10 a.m. Thursday. A horse race at Mitchell's field will follow a 1 p.m. parade Friday. The Boys and Girls Club of the Bears Paw will hold a dance Friday night.