The Missoula Urban Indian Health Center has asked UM officials and the Board of Regents to ban alcohol from the Payne Family Native American Center on campus.

This issue arose during a conference entitled 'Walking Well With Historical Trauma', and a letter from Conference Director Lydia Silva and Conference Presenter Lida Running Crane was sent to the Native American Studies Department and the Board of Regents on May 10th.

The letter reads:

Dear Native American Studies Department and Board of Regents,                                    5/10/16                                                                                     

RE: Request for Policy Change for use of Building                                                               

A few weeks ago, the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center was conducting a conference entitled Walking Well with Historical Trauma at the Payne Family Native American Center in an effort to inform our Missoula Native community about historical and intergenerational trauma within Indian Country, the devastating power of its current and continual impact, and shared stories of resistance, resiliency, and cultural empowerment.

This conference was created to help start that healing process and was dedicated to those courageous people who have conquered their addictions and sustained sobriety for the good of their children, their families, and their people.

As each of us walked upstairs to the conference, we passed by a large table of alcoholic beverages to be served at a social gathering for the law school that ended up being held all around us. Alcohol serves as a symbol and a constant reminder of its historical use to undermine and conquer Native peoples and to ensure the loss of tribal land through one-sided treaties benefiting non-Native parties. Alcohol has and continues to destroy Native individuals, families, and tribal communities and this incident serves as an example of the daily choices that are made that continually disregard and disrespect the rights of Native people, especially in a setting of peace and safety for our whole Northwestern Native community.

Almost every person that attended the conference walked through the door dismayed and outraged by the presence of alcohol in a building they honor as a sacred place that stands as a testament to their ancestors and their people’s enduring courage and strength in the face of hundreds of years of oppression, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. The building, to our conference members, is a safe place to gather and “a home away from home” where each wall, picture, and architectural design has meaning and value. This building serves as a symbol of honoring our ancestors, our tribal communities, and the overall ongoing strength and resilience of Native peoples.

The presence of alcohol on this sacred site was and remains an insult and sat heavy on our hearts as we spoke about the pervasive destructive impact alcohol has made on Native families. It was a sobering reminder that the needs of others can and do take priority over our own, even in a building built to honor us. As clear evidence of this, even the young non-Native women whose job it was to serve the alcohol expressed reservations about doing so and felt it went against their conscience. If the caterers had the presence of mind to know that something was wrong, our hope is that you and the entire University of Montana administration will as well.

If we had known alcohol was going to be present during the conference, we would have moved it to another location. However, as this building is dedicated to Native peoples, we feel this space should remain our first choice to gather the members of our community. We feel strongly that the presence of alcohol should be banned from this building as a sign of respect for the people it was built for and on whose ground the whole of this university campus stands. We are prepared to get petitions signed as a sign of support of this request but respectfully ask prior to such action that changes be made without us having to do so. We ask for your help in making sure that when Native people, both students and community members alike, enter into the safety of their Missoula home, the presence of alcohol and the traumatizing reactions it causes within many of us, does not slap us in the face.


The Missoula Urban Indian Health Center Walking Well with Historical Trauma Conference attendants; community members; Lydia Silva, Conference director; and Lida Running Crane, Conference presenter

(emphasis added)

photo by Peter Christian
Royce Engstrom

On Tuesday, Vice President of Integrated Communications, Peggy Kuhr, said UM President Royce Engstrom had not seen the letter until it was forwarded to him by KGVO News.

"He had not received any complaints about the serving of alcohol at any of the events where there has been alcohol served in the past," Kuhr said. "So, this was new to him. The dean of the law school had not received any complaints either, so the president is happy to respectfully consider the request for a policy regarding alcohol at the Payne Family Native American Center, and I'm sure he will be following up, now that he has a copy of the letter."

Kuhr said she was personally moved by the letter.

"When someone has a concern and I felt it was very heartfelt in expression," she said. "I know that the president wants to respectfully consider that and have a heartfelt conversation."

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