Havre Daily News
The ongoing discussions on racism in Havre will continue next week with a Monday meeting with a federal mediator and a Border Town Racism conference in Missoula next week.
Conference chair Rodney “Fish” Gervais said the conference on racism and bringing civil rights to Indian Country is “overdue.” The three-day event has been organized by the Blackfeet tribe.
“(Racism has) always been there. The evidence is overwhelming and compelling - There is no question racism exists,” he said Thursday. “We can't ignore it anymore. We need to sit down and resolve these conflicts.”
Gervais said the conference is intended to bring both sides to the table for open discussion to resolve conflict.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice and Rocky Boy tribal council member and state House Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy will attend.
Gervais said he wanted to ensure that Havre was represented at the conference. During the planning of the conference, Havre was discussed because of media coverage sparked by an article on racial prejudice in Havre, which was written by a University of Montana journalism student and published in a supplement to the Great Falls Tribune.
Gervais said towns like Havre and Cut Bank are “on the map” when it comes to racial concerns, but added that those Hi-Line communities “are not the worst.”
Windy Boy will sit on a panel at the conference to discuss the meetings with the federal Department of Justice mediator Grace Sage and racism issues along the Hi-Line.
Sage also will attend the conference as a speaker.
“These issues have been lingering on for years and decades. We need to keep plugging away at it,” Windy Boy said.
He said racism in Havre exists but “we kind of sweep it under the rug.”
“If we don't address it, it is going to continue. There is truth in what is being said by both sides,” Windy Boy said. “I am not pointing fingers at anybody but there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.”
He said he does not know of a possible solution.
“(Indians are) probably just as guilty. I don't know if we can ever take care of the issue. It's really hard to say,” Windy Boy said.
The conference planners wanted to have a cross section of Indians and non-Indians to balance the perspectives, Gervais said.
“You really need both sides to resolve it,” he added.
Rice said he was invited to the conference, which runs Wednesday through Friday, by the Blackfeet tribe and Opportunity Link.
The Havre-based organizationis sending about 30 people to the conference. Opportunity Link, which works to reduce poverty, also is helping fund the event.
Opportunity Link's executive assistant Leah Noel, who will attend the conference, said the organization wanted to be involved because the issues to be discussed are important and need to be addressed.
Rice said: “There's been a lot of controversy about racism in Havre. I felt obligated to go.”
He said he is going to the conference with an open mind.
Rice said he doesn't see racism in the city on a daily or weekly basis.
“It's not Havre. It's just some people in Havre who perpetuate it, but don't blanket coverage the whole town under that,” he said.
Gervais said one of the main goals is to have all Montana residents coexist and be treated equally.
“It's not like everyone in the border towns are prejudiced. The towns have individuals who remain hardcore racists,” he said.
Opportunity Link member and Chippewa Cree extension agent Mary Ruth St. Pierre said the race issues are a result of a lack of cultural awareness between Indians and non-Indians.
“I think if we develop a program together we can at least have an understanding and respect for each other,” St. Pierre said.
Harlem City Council member and former Opportunity Link board member Vic Miller said he is honored to be chosen to attend the conference.
Miller said he is looking at the meeting as a “complete learning experience.”
“How we can get to know each other better - I think that's the foundation,” he said
Gervais said the conference plans have taken many twists and turns and have become larger that he anticipated.
He said many speakers will be included in the conference including officials from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Montana Human Rights Commission.
George Heavy Runner, the tribal planner for the Blackfeet tribe, said he hopes the conference will serve as a catalyst to create similar forums and discussions.
“It is obviously an issue. In your community of Havre, some things came to light and brought state and federal action,” Heavy Runner said.
Sage, a mediator with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, will be in Havre on Monday.
Of the meeting with Sage, Rice said he is looking forward to getting more insight on how the residents of Havre can get along better and what he as mayor can do to improve relations.
Rice said he will likely present information he learns at both the mediator session and the conference at a town hall meeting or Havre City Council meeting.
Sage will meet with the public, along with members of a human relations committee formed to deal with racial issues in Havre, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the City Hall basement.
The conference will run from Wednesday to Friday.