Conference to explore MT race relations 

Activists from around the state will gather in Helena next month to discuss issues surrounding Indian and non-Indian relations. The Montana State Conference on Race: Partnering Indians and Non-Indians for Change is sponsored by several government agencies, tribal leaders, and various nonprofit organizations in an effort to “promote understanding and ultimate respect” between the two cultures, says co-organizer Denise Juneau, who works as an Indian affairs specialist with the state Office of Public Instruction.

The conference was originally to be sponsored by Gov. Marc Racicot’s office, but a disagreement over the agenda resulted in the governor temporarily withholding his support, says Chief of Staff Mick Robinson.

“We were concerned with what we were signing on to,” Robinson says. “We backed off a bit. Now [the agenda] has come back to where we’re comfortable with it.”

According to Robinson, Racicot will speak at the event and the governor’s office will also provide some funding.

The conference kicks off at 9 a.m. on Aug. 8 and concludes at noon on Aug. 9. Keynote speakers include UM School of Law professor Ray Cross, University of Washington professor Luana Ross, and Peggy McIntosh, who is deeply involved with diversity issues at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Panels of other state and tribal officials will also be featured, and several films will be shown. All events will take place at the Carroll College Student Campus Center. The major goals of the gathering, organizers say, are to “create an environment in which an open, cross-cultural dialogue can occur” and to direct focus on some of the “unique issues of race relations in Montana.”

Already, Juneau says, issues of sovereignty, educational equity, economic development, access to health care, mental health needs and political empowerment for Indians have heightened profiles in Montana.

“As a result, new skills and knowledge are required in such fields as community planning, human resource management, education, communication and conflict resolution,” organizers say. The conference will include discussions on “white privilege” and the way many non-Indians view Indians, tribal sovereignty and its interweaving with state jurisdiction, and an exploration of ways in which more positive relationships can be built between Montana tribes and the state.

Registration for the conference is capped at 200 participants. A $20 registration fee includes all events, as well as one lunch. On-site registration will cost $30. Statewide political candidates have also been invited to meet with tribal representatives as part of the second day’s activities. For more details or to register, call 444-3013.

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