Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
October 21, 2000 - Issue 21

Extinct Tribes Honored on Holiday
by Jacqueline Johnson Billings Gazette Staff

Purupuru, Quaqua, Pulacuam. The words etched in chalk Monday on the campus of Montana State University-Billings aren’t familiar ones. That’s because they are names of Native American tribes that have become extinct since Christopher Columbus arrived in North America nearly 500 years ago.

A small group of MSU-B Native Americans gathered to write the names Monday on the sidewalk between the Student Union Building and McMullen Hall as a way to honor their ancestors. Organizer Jennifer Kewen, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, came up with the idea after learning that there are more than 200 Native American tribes that have become extinct since Columbus came to North America in 1492.

“I think the main thing about it was the spiritual aspect of it," Kewen said. “It was refreshing to my soul. That’s one of the things my grandfather taught me to do – respect people of all ages, from children to elderly people. I was paying my respect to those women and children who suffered and died."

Kewen said the artwork was intended not as a protest over the celebration of Columbus Day but rather a form of recognition of Native Americans.

“I didn’t want to approach this as a protest," Kewen said. “I’m looking at this as a healing process, to help not only myself but other people to see that there are people who are willing to heal, to grow and move on. We’re in the year 2000, it’s time to move ahead, better ourselves."

An MSU-B student walking across campus Monday evening read the names with a sense of pride about his Native American heritage. Larry Campbell, a 22-year-old freshman, comes from the Rosebud Sioux nation of South Dakota.

“I like it; it looks nice," he said of the artwork.

Kewen said she and the half dozen other members of MSU-B’s Intertribal Indian Club intended to write the names of all 200 extinct North American tribes on the sidewalk, but they ran out of time. She said 100 names are listed – some of which are names of tribes that are still in existence. A message near Petro Hall, reads, “In honor of all native nations who have survived and in memory of those who didn’t..."

Quintin Gilham, director of Multi-cuural Student Services at MSU-B, said he was not part of the activity, but he respected the students who wanted to make a statement on Columbus Day.

“Nobody’s trying to stir anything up on campus or say anything against whites," Gilham said. “What they’re trying to do is step forward and honor their past, honor those who survived and those who didn’t survive."

During the last week of September, Gilham organized an American Indian Heritage Day celebration on campus, featuring Gazette artist and columnist John Potter and a University of Montana journalism professor. The warm reception the celebration received, Gilham said, showed him that Billings is supportive of different cultures. It wasn’t always so, Gilham said.

“In the early ’90s with the skinheads here and the harassment of Jewish people, things weren’t as peaceful as they are now," Gilham said.

Gilham said the community rose up to combat racially motivated violence and it is stronger for it.

Native American Language Preservation



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