Native American Students Don't Feel Safe On Montana State University-Northern Campus

Apr 26, 2017
Originally published on October 11, 2017 9:24 am

The ACLU Montana is investigating a human rights complaint at Montana State University-Northern in Havre. The Sweetgrass Society, a Native American student group, says there’s a deeper issue on campus—and it's been going on for months.

Alex Rate, legal director for ACLU Montana, agrees. He says the most recent example of the institutional problem occurred last week.

“It was a statement by another student who essentially said that if Native Americans had been wiped out in the first place, then students would not be required to undergo Native American studies courses," said Rate. "It came to light that this particular student had been removed from campus, or had voluntarily removed himself, but was still on the football team and potentially even living with the Dean of Students.”

In an e-mail sent campus-wide, the university’s Dean of Students, Steven Wise, said that there was no immediate danger posed by the student’s derogatory comments. He told the Billings Gazette that he would neither confirm nor deny whether or not that student is living with him.

The Sweetgrass Society president, Amy Murdock, is worried about her safety on campus.  

The tension between administrators and Native American students on campus date back to last fall. The ACLU is investigating the Sweetgrass Society’s complaint that their first amendment rights to free speech and free expression were denied.

Back in November 2016 the University has what they call a Hello Walk–a painting program in which student groups are allowed to paint particular steps in whatever they see fit.

“The Sweetgrass Society chose to paint one of their steps with the #NoDAPL Dakota Access Pipeline hashtag," said Rate.

An organization inside The Office of Student Activities decided the hashtag was vandalism and painted over the Sweet Grass Society’s steps. The Havre Daily News reported that a man was arrested by plain clothes police officers at a community forum held by the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern for refuting that the hashtag #NoDAPL was vandalism.

University spokesman Jim Potter denied YPR’s request for comment but he told the Billings Gazette the situation involving the student athlete’s derogatory comments was a “nothing thing.”

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