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Missoula MLK Day Speech: Environmental Racism Still Prevalent

Christopher Allen

At a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration speech last night in Missoula, a University of Montana professor identified low-income, Native American and other vulnerable communities as the victims of environmental racism and injustice.

Rosalyn LaPier, an environmental studies professor at the University of Montana, gave the keynote address to nearly 300 attendees who packed the pews of St. Paul Lutheran Church.

LaPier, who is the only tenured Blackfeet tribal member ever hired by UM, said Montana’s history of natural resource extraction is based on rich owners exploiting immigrants and American Indian tribes. It began with bison harvesting and continues today with coal mining.

“Tribal lands in Montana have some of the largest coal deposits in the United States, and coal mining is destroying their landscape, impacting their traditional lifeways, ruining wildlife habitat, and polluting their waterways. There’s a lot more I can add to this list.”

LaPier blamed corporations and some government agencies for using Montana and vulnerable communities as "sacrifice zones" to build America's empire, and challenged the audience to use the civil rights movement as a model for change.

“Environmental justice will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental hazard and equal access to the decision making process to have a health environment in which to live, work, and learn.”

Earlier in the day, younger Missoulians led rally in Caras park, and participated in a drum march over Higgins Street bridge to the church, where organizers paid tribute to famed poet Maya Angelou, performed gospel and folk songs, and hosted a community meal.

Missoula’s National Coalition Building Institute organized the celebration.

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