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Savvy readers of Montana Free Press will notice that, week after week, whatever new tunes reporters sing to explore current events in this state, there’s an old bassline ringing beneath the cover: the Constitution. of Montana in 1972.
What gave the university system the status of challenge the Legislative Assembly’s “carrying without a license” law on college campuses? How will be the Attorney General’s edict banning the teaching of “critical race theory” accord with the guarantee of Indian education for all for every student in Montana’s public school? On what basis could a law firm in Sidney sue the statearguing that non-discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status prevents the company from providing its employees and customers with a “clean and healthy environment”?
The short answer to all of the above is that 50 years ago a tractor salesman, car dealer, graduate student, beekeeper, housewives, lawyers, ranchers and ministers were elected by their neighbors to meet at Helena’s Capitol to write a new Constitution. And over the past few months, reporters and editors from the Montana Free Press and myself, along with a cameraman provided by Montana State University, have conducted oral history interviews with delegates. and the staff of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention as well as Charles S. Johnson, the reporter who covered “Con-Con” for The Associated Press. These interviews will be free to anyone who can view them in perpetuity — in person or online — in the MSU Library Archive.
Please join MTFP Editor-in-Chief John S. Adams and me on Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. in person at MSU in Bozeman or via live broadcast as we reveal a moving excerpt from those interviews and discuss the 1972 Constitution and its legacy with delegate Mae Nan Ellingson, convention executive director (and former U.S. senator) Max Baucus, former governor Marc Racicot, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and the aforementioned Mr. Johnson – although we’ll call him Dr. Johnson after the veteran journalist receives his honorary doctorate from MSU This can.
Number of Montanans who filed for the state legislature this year, out of 100 open House seats and 26 open Senate seats. We broke down that number earlier this week with an interactive chart showing how many of these constituencies are likely to see competitive primary and general elections (hint: not all).
—Eric Dietrich, journalist
For Matthew Bell, engaging with his Aaniiih and Nakoda heritage has become an indispensable part of his identity and sense of belonging to the world. But his academic focus on Native American languages and culture went far beyond the tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. As a student at the University of Montana, he took classes in the Salish, Nakoda, Blackfeet, and Arapaho languages and focused his graduate studies on revitalizing Native American languages. And in recent years, Bell has passed on his knowledge to students in Missoula as an English and Native American Studies teacher at Big Sky and Willard Alternative High Schools.
In January, Bell joined the ranks of the Montana Office of Public Instruction in a new position as Language and Culture Specialist, in which he will help guide how public schools teach and reflect the heritage of indigenous peoples of the state. Bell will also play a key role in overseeing the transition of the Montana Indian Language Preservation Program from the Department of Commerce to OPI, a move the Legislature proposed and approved last year. Responding to questions emailed by MTFP last week, Bell wrote that he would focus on developing native language teaching materials for teachers and school administrators across the state.
“We seek to help teachers of language and other content areas better understand Montana’s heritage languages and cultures through online and in-person connections,” Bell said of her division’s role more broadly. “We hope to be a promoter of cultural knowledge and ways of knowing in appropriate and respectful ways in collaboration with the tribes of Montana.”
This mission is important to Bell both professionally and personally. As an educator, he said, language teaching provides students with not only greater cultural awareness, but a deeper understanding of the natural world in which languages were developed. And from personal experience, Bell feels that recognizing and promoting the languages of Montana’s tribes, including his own, is of “utmost importance” to young Montanans developing their own sense of self.
“There are many other people who can benefit from reconnecting to their language that has survived on this earth since time immemorial,” Bell said. “Given what we know about current mental health trends in the United States and in Montana in particular, it is imperative to give students the best access to a positive identity.”
—Alex Sakariassen, journalist
“Speaking of the Ides of March, anyone with a sword under their cloak right now, let it go.”
— Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton
Bedey made the quip while chairing a joint meeting of the Montana Legislature’s interim education and education budget committees on March 15. The Roman-themed moment of levity punctuated a dark conversation about a unfunded preschool special education mandate. Under federal law, school districts are required to provide services to preschool students with disabilities. But state law prohibits districts from claiming per-pupil public funding for those students. Bedey told fellow lawmakers they needed to address the issue, adding that if districts are legally required to do something, “we should have money following that.”
—Alex Sakariassen, journalist
It’s time to test your listening skills on Season 2 of our Shared State podcast.* Anyone who correctly answers the three questions below will be entered to win Loot MTFP: hats, mugs, sweaters and more. Let’s start.
Episode 2: Water is for Fighting
1. How much of the city’s water supply does Butte get from the Big Hole River?
2. Name a physical characteristic of an arctic grayling, as described by Montana FWP biologist Jim Olson.
3. What animal does journalist Shaylee Ragar mention for its ability to naturally support water storage?
Submit your answers using this form before 5 p.m. MT on Monday, March 21, and we’ll randomly select a winner from the correct entries to send them MTFP gear. Special shoutout to Archie and Merry from Corvallis, winners of last week’s quiz contest!
*Yes, we know there are transcripts available to simply search for the answers. We trust you to listen first and check later. Enjoy!
On our radar
Amanda Eggert – When I looked at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wolf Dashboard on Tuesday, at the end of the 2021-2022 wolf hunting and trapping season, I was surprised to find that the total number of wolves killed was down from last season, when hunters killed a record 329 wolves. This year, the total was 272, even as the Legislative Assembly extended the trapping season and legalized snares, bait hunting and night hunting on private land. Journalist Helena Independent Record Tom Kuglin takes a look.
Mara Silvers — For anyone concerned about the situation of minors in the criminal justice system, this ProPublica collaborative reporting project on the detention of minors in Louisiana could shed new light on the problem. For those who don’t yet have the question on their social and political radar, this article is well worth the time and attention.
Alex Sakariassen — Fifty years ago, the Montana Constitutional Convention directed public schools to promote the heritage and culture of the state’s tribal nations. But after all these decades, what does Indian education for all look like in today’s classrooms? The Missoulian offered an example this week with a report on the students of Chief Charlo Elementary learn about the intricacies of Indian Sign Language, the Salish language, and the history of the Missoula area’s Indigenous peoples.
Eric Dietrich – Partly because the 2020 U.S. Census was taken amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s plenty of room to wonder how accurately it captured U.S. demographics. National Public Radio has a good connection here on count quality statistics released by the Census Bureau last week, numbers that indicate the 2020 census likely undercounted Native American residents.
* Some items may be behind a paywall.