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By Alex Ross 

Northern Senate, Sweetgrass Society say agreement will prevent discrimination


Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Members of the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern government, the university's Sweetgrass Society and Northern Director of American Indian Education Margarett Campbell listen to drummers before a press conference Monday.

Members of the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern Senate and Northern’s Sweetgrass Society held a news conference in Cowan Hall Monday, as members of both groups said they are committed to ensuring the university is free of discrimination.

The conference came a week after the administration at Northern and the Sweetgrass Society, a Native American student group on campus, announced they reached an agreement to resolve a discrimination complaint filed against the administration last year by the Sweetgrass Society.

Speakers at the 12-minute press conference each briefly addressed the small crowd, quoting from historic figures ranging from Chief Rocky Boy to former President Woodrow Wilson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and American Indian activist Russell Means.

Sweetgrass Society President Amy Murdock said the conference was meant to show that both groups are moving forward.

“We are gathered here today with the Student Senate because we want to tell our story of healing and moving forward in a positive way together,” she said. “Since the beginning of the process, we have always focused on bringing change to our MSU-Northern campus.”

ASMSU-N President Collin Miller said his group stands with both the administration and the Sweetgrass Society.

“At Montana State University-Northern we stand together, despite all the negative connotation portrayed by the current media articles. We are reaffirming our commitment to ensure that there is no place for racism on the MSU-N campus,” he said.

Last week, the administration and the Sweetgrass Society said they reached an agreement that resolved a complaint filed with the Montana Human Rights Bureau.

The ACLU of Montana represented the Sweetgrass Society.

The agreement includes the development and implementation of a diversity education program for Northern students, faculty and staff; creation of a school-wide diversity training program; improved communications between the Sweetgrass Society and student organizations, improvements to recruiting and retaining Native American employees, and formation of an American Indian advisory committee made up of members from nearby reservations.

The complaint was the result of a November 2016 incident, when ASMSU-N painted over the #NODAPL logo painted by Sweetgrass Society members on the Hello Walk. The Hello Walk is a staircase that runs from the Quad between Cowan Hall, Hagener Science Center, the Armory Gymnasium and Vande Bogart Library down to the Student Union Building, where members of student organizations paint logos and statements on each step.

Sweetgrass Society members later saw that the #NODAPL message had been painted over. Then-ASMSU-N President Randy Roeber later said the decision was made to paint over the step because the walk was not intended for what Roeber called political statements, and that he did not know at the time what group had painted over the step.

Sweetgrass Society members denied they vandalized the step and asked that the #NODAPL logo be restored,

After a Nov. 28 town hall meeting, Chancellor Greg Kegel gave the Sweetgrass Society permission to restore the #NODAPL step. The step was restored April 18.

Margarett Campbell, Northern’s director of Indian Education, praised the students Monday for reaching an agreement.

The students, she said, showed great maturity in seeking a solution.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Margarett Campbell, Director of American Indian Education at Montana State University-Northern, talks during a joint press conference between Sweetgrass Society and Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern Monday. The press conference comes after the two parties had agreed on a settlement announced in late February. The settlement was over a complaint last year alleging Northern had discriminated against Sweetgrass and violated the university's free speech policy.

“Throughout it all, the MSU-N students have shown great dignity and respect to all parties that were involved,” Campbell said. “Although others may have wanted to co-opt this issue and make it a part of their agenda, the students resisted and held tight to the belief that their voices would be heard.”

Many of the students defended the environment on campus.

Ethan Partch, administrative assistant for ASMSU-N, said he has never questioned the culture and sense of community on campus.

“This university is full of bright students, caring faculty and is surrounded by a caring community, and I see no reason why anyone should not feel welcome here,” he said.

Paula Michell, a Northern student and member of the Blackfeet tribe, said she is positive about what lay ahead.

“I myself believe that we are all human beings and we need to encourage, uplift and strengthen one another, for the positive energy we spread to one of us, will be felt by all of us so that we will all be connected together in unity to move forward with healing together. to let the energy of the past go and focus on the future,” she said.


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