Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 30, 2023

“We are all connected,” said Smokey Rides at the Door (Niitsitapi) during his enlightening presentation at the recent Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration atop Peets Hill.

The theme of “connection” ran throughout the event that brought as many as 500 community members together on a beautiful October evening.

The celebration included a dedication of GVLT’s soon-to-be complete Medicine Wheel and Mountain Range Finder. GVLT worked with Indigenous consultants to design an installation that will connect people to place—helping us all deepen our understanding of the landscape through history and geography.

At the beginning of the event, GVLT Associate Director EJ Porth opened with moving remarks about the importance of “your heritage, your story, and your culture,” setting the stage for a meaningful opportunity to honor Indigenous peoples, the day, and the land, and creating a sense of welcome for all—whether new to the area or a longtime resident.

“To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about honoring history and celebrating heritage. But history and heritage don’t just live in the past. We can follow the lead of Indigenous peoples and use this space to listen to the land, grow new roots, and build new connections. We come from many different places, but the land is our literal common ground,” said EJ. (Read full remarks below.)

Attendees were then invited to join in a blessing from Darnell Rides at the Door (Niitsitapi) and hear stories of Indigenous history and culture from honorable speakers including Smokey Rides at the Door, Dr. Shane Doyle (Apsáalooke), and Marsha Small, Montana Indigenous Peoples’ Day co-founder. Fellow Indigenous Peoples’ Day founder and artist Ben Pease returned to Peets Hill to create an interactive teepee display that served as an impactful backdrop.

As the sun began to set, everyone joined hands to form a circle that stretched around the entire upper loop at the top of Peets Hill and participated in a traditional round dance. Moving to the beautiful sound of the Montana State University Bobcats Singers’ voices and drumming, a feeling of connection to the community and the land was undeniable.

GVLT was honored to co-present the event with Mountain Time Arts, Western States Art Federation, and the City of Bozeman.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration Opening Remarks
EJ Porth, GVLT Associate Director

Here we are on Indigenous Peoples Day. I was asked to share remarks about my heritage to illustrate that we’re all indigenous to somewhere. It got me thinking about a loaded question in the Gallatin Valley right now, “Where are you from?”

I’ve seen a lot of finger-pointing at “those” people who are moving here and “ruining” this place. I, too, catch myself sometimes wishing the door closed behind me. But that’s not how this works. The door was open to me when I moved here 15 years ago, and I imagine it was open for you when you came here, too. I have people introduce themselves to me and preemptively apologize that they’re from California, New York, Texas, or Colorado. It makes me sad that where they’re from—their story—is something that excludes them from feeling like they belong here. The fact that people have to hide where they are from says more about us, the people who have lived here, than it does about them.

I’ve been reflecting on this to prepare for today and believe now that where you’re from matters. Your heritage, your story, and your culture guide how you engage with your neighbors and how you connect with the land. Perhaps we can start asking the question, “Where are you from?” with genuine curiosity and a welcoming hand. This isn’t OUR place to gatekeep. To think we get to decide who gets to be here and who doesn’t is inherently contrary to the Indigenous peoples we are here to celebrate today. This valley was never owned and didn’t belong to one group of people.

If you were to ask one of the tribes that consider this valley part of their ancestral homelands, “Where are you from?”—you’d hear stories passed down through the generations about their connection to the Valley of the Flowers. They know where they are from, and they celebrate it. During this project, GVLT has had the opportunity to humbly listen and learn from our Native neighbors and friends. Each tribe has different stories and connections to this place, but one does not negate the other. This valley was generally regarded as a peaceful and abundant place. Through stories, it is clear that Native cultures revered this land, the flora, and its fauna with a profound level of respect and gratitude.

That brings us to our installation. We’re here today to dedicate the space and set the intention for its use into the future.

How many of us have brought visitors to Peets Hill to look at the view and orient them to the landscape? After the land [for the Peets Hill expansion] was secured, we solicited feedback on potential improvements. The feedback was clear, maintain the natural beauty of the park and ensure that all people can experience it. During a brainstorming meeting, a dear friend Dr. Shane Doyle shared his idea of incorporating a Medicine Wheel into the design of a proposed mountain range view finder. He shared that the Medicine Wheel was a symbolic cultural icon used as part of ceremony in many Northern Plains tribes to connect people to each other and to the land.

Our mission at GVLT is just that, to connect people to each other and the land.  What better way to do that than to create a space that deepens our understanding of this landscape through history and geography? When completed, you’ll be able to stand in the middle of this installation and learn the names of the mountain ranges and notable peaks. The backs of the benches will be metal silhouettes of the mountains 360 degrees around. Also, around the circle will be the names of tribes recognized in Montana and their position will generally reflect the location of the eight reservations in the state. While the wheel has Native roots, it is a symbol and space that welcomes everyone for their own life moments, big and small. It is our hope that through deeper understanding and connection with the land, we’ll have a stronger sense of shared responsibility for its future.

In a time where we can easily focus on what divides us, this park is an example of what we share and the power of what we can do together. To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about honoring history and celebrating heritage. But history and heritage don’t just live in the past. We can follow the lead of Indigenous peoples and use this space to listen to the land, grow new roots, and build new connections.  We come from many different places, but the land is our literal common ground.