Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from state to state, seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House.
Over eighty years later, Montana recognized a similar request. In 1997, the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 117- “An Act Designating the Fourth Friday in September of Each Year as “American Indian Heritage Day” in the State of Montana.” This law stemmed from concern that knowledge of Indian Country’s culture, history, and people was gradually being forgotten; and that all Montanans benefit from being knowledgeable about American Indians.
Why do we need an American Indian Heritage Day on the books? One conclusion is that it is necessary in order to remind all of us that American Indians play an integral role in our state. This includes not only having appreciation of Indian Country’s history, but also valuing the contemporary experience and contributions of tribal people.
What does this mean for an organization such as Montana Budget & Policy Center?
It means that in order to be effective we must be conscious of including a tribal perspective in our work. We must be mindful that the voice of Indian Country is regularly left out of the debates that shape our state’s policies.
This exclusion results in a lack of understanding by both state and tribal leadership, which in turn jeopardizes the ability of policymakers, advocates, and community leaders to effectively pursue policies that will provide equitable opportunity for American Indians in our state. Further, this lack of awareness makes it difficult, if not impossible, to advocate for or protect programs and services for Indian Country that are critical to reverse a legacy of ill-informed and harmful policy.
MBPC has recognized this obstacle and made the decision to be mindful of the need for careful and thoughtful analysis of the specific impacts state fiscal policies have on Indian Country. We encourage you to make a similar commitment. This year let American Indian Heritage Day serve as a reminder to consider how your work impacts Indian Country, not just on one day of the year, but as a necessary step to making long-term progressive change for all Montanans. Check out MBPC’s work on state-tribal issues here.