Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition: A Beam of Light
Written by Maggie Plummer, supporter of FRHRC
For 28 years, the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition (FRHRC) has been shedding a calm, steady light into the shadows cast by hate groups and others.
Like a strong candle flame, the human rights coalition keeps the light of awareness shining on the issues.
Groups like the FRHRC are needed now more than ever, with the wild pendulum swings of national politics and the deepening divisiveness in our communities. It takes plenty of courage to keep shining that light into the face of hatred and fear. Through the years, the coalition’s focus has widened to include not only racism but also gender stereotypes, bullying, suicide prevention, discrimination against gay people, and much, much more.
The FRHRC began in 1989, in the face of intensely anti-Indian groups setting up shop on the reservation. The idea has always been to celebrate diversity on the Flathead Reservation, and to support tribal sovereignty. Because the human rights folks were here to counter racist anti-Indian and white supremacist rhetoric with positive presentations on diversity, various hate groups have had short lives on the reservation. Through the years, the local coalition has worked closely as an affiliate of the Helena-based Montana Human Rights Network.
In those early years, Tribal member Lucille Otter faced significant opposition to her efforts to register tribal members to vote. That just made her dig in and work harder. She set up voter registration tables everywhere, and carried extra registration cards in her car. The story goes that once Lucille was out fishing, and registered a young woman on horseback. Over time, Lucille Roullier Otter registered more than 1,000 voters on the reservation. Lucille was a beacon of light for those who organized for Human Rights here on the reservation.
The local human rights coalition has seen a series of racist groups set up shop on the reservation. According to Cathy Billie, key FRHRC organizer, while some new groups have formed on the reservation, it’s been the same old players with a few new ones thrown in. “We’ve had pipe bombers, gun-wearing racists, creationists and radical constitutionalists show up at our pro-diversity events,” she says, “but we try to remain pro-active and educate.”
That they do. The network sponsors workshops on everything from “Sex-Role Stereotyping of Women and Men” to “Creating Inclusive Communities.” They offer a free annual Native American Film Series as well as Montana Humanities Speakers and the Hate-Free Zone Project in the reservation’s schools.
There are FRHRC presentations on domestic abuse, alcohol/drug use, risky behaviors, meth use on the reservation, and how to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Local teens have attended coalition meetings and formed a group focused on LGBT and other youth issues. Last year FRHRC sponsored a “Pre-New Year’s Eve Resolution Party” for youth on the reservation. Forty youth and 16 adults showed up for inclusivity training, art projects, hip hop, and lots of food.
Over many years, the coalition has sponsored Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations and art/essay contests as well as cultural fairs. Recent informational events have included one on “Sex Trafficking and Sexual Assault in Montana” and “Perspectives on Islam.” In the summer, the FRHRC has tables at local powwows and festivals up and down the Mission Valley, where they give away Hate-Free Zone wristbands and stickers, make Peace kites with kids, and talk to folks about human rights issues. The coalition responded to a 2016 incident at Polson High School, as well as one at Frenchtown High in 2017, and stands ready to help those who feel marginalized from society.
Shining the light of awareness takes a real network. The FRHRC works with community and tribal organizations such as Safe Harbor, SKC, Your Life Matters, Project Hope, Empower MT, the Ronan High School Human Rights Club, Sunburst Mental Health, and Summit Independent Living. Moving forward, the coalition plans to bring a racial equity workshop to the reservation. Some define racial equity as the state when race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes, when everyone has what they need to thrive. The idea is that everyone benefits from a more just, equitable system.
This winter, the FRHRC is sponsoring speakers on Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy, and A Conversation Among Faiths. The group will offer classes for youth in “Inclusiveness” and “Being Yourself,” as well as an update on White Supremacy, White Nationalism, and other hate groups.
The coalition’s stated purpose includes providing a voice for anyone who believes that racism, violence, and any type of discrimination degrades the quality of life for all community members. The purpose of the FRHRC is also to help diminish conflict and enhance cooperation between cultural groups, to promote community acceptance of the multi-cultural nature of the Flathead Reservation community, and to celebrate the positive benefits of living together here.
It’s important to keep the glowing light of the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition shining fearlessly, with determination. It’s important for that flame to hold steady, gleaming into the murky shadows of fear and hatred.
If anything, it’s time for that light to shine even brighter.
FRHRC became a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 1998; contact them or make a donation at P.O. Box 111, Ronan MT 59864, or leave a phone message at 406-261-9489 or 406-745-3303. Their blog is found at frhrc2.wordpress.com and the group’s Facebook page is facebook.com/frhrc2.