Opinion: Long overdue honor for Montana's Indians

"Recently the Legislature acted to recognize a minority group whose constitutional rights we have ignored for over three decades. Montana ranks fourth among the states in the percentage of population that is American Indian. An estimated 12 percent of our school-age population is Indian. In acknowledgement of our large native minority, the Montana Constitution requires that instruction in Indian culture and heritage be part of the educational goals of our state. Perhaps some introspection is required to understand why it took more than three decades to begin to implement this unambiguous and specific provision of our state constitution.

A few days after Sept. 11, 2001, I happened to be driving through Browning. On nearly every house there was an American flag. Despite being legally relegated to second-class citizenship, not even given the right to vote until 1924, American Indians have been the most vigilant citizens in protecting our freedom. Montana is among the leading states in terms of military enlistments per capita. But an even higher percentage of Montana Indians than non-Indians are veterans of the armed forces of our country.

One of the most familiar symbols of the American fighting spirit is the dramatic Joe Rosenthal photograph of soldiers erecting the flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. Perhaps the best known of them was a Pima Indian from Arizona named Ira Hayes. However heroic, the flag raising was a re-enactment. Three young GIs had hoisted the colors on the mountain top earlier that day. Soon after, all were killed in the intense fighting to secure the Japanese island fortress. One of the three who was not in the right place at the right time to attain immortality, but who gave his life for his country, was Marine Pfc. Louis Charlo, an 18-year-old Flathead Indian from Arlee and great-grandson of the historic Chief Charlo."

Get the Story:
Bob Brown: A long overdue honor for Montana Indian culture (The Billings Gazette 2/3)

Relevant Links:
Montana Indian Education Association - http://www.mtiea.org
Montana Office of Public Instruction - http://www.opi.state.mt.us

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