We are grateful for the call to remove the Confederate memorial in Helena following the tragic events in Virginia. The courage of Rep. Shane Morigeau and the other American Indian legislators cannot be overstated. Indeed, by taking a stand on this issue, these legislators faced ridicule and personal attacks almost immediately following the publication of their statements for action.
The City of Helena is to be commended for directing the removal of a memorial that romanticizes the Confederacy. As many have commented recently, the Confederacy engaged in systematic oppression of black and Native Americans, and a memorial to it serves only the purpose of perpetuating that oppression. We can remember atrocity without romanticizing the demon. As descendants of Selis, Qlispe and Ksanka people who were forcibly removed from their homes without ever having engaged in hostility towards the United States, we can attest that atrocities can be remembered.
The events that led to and followed the secession of the Confederate States from the Union are horrific. The Confederacy began as a dispute over the regulation of slavery among governments and resulted in a civil war that had more American casualties than World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. Following the Civil War, the Union Army redirected its efforts to the systematic destruction of American Indians, their territory and economy.
The legislators’ letter calling for the removal of a Confederate memorial underscores the work left to do. Across Montana’s beautiful landscape are countless tributes to the horrors of the past. These tributes include references to vulgar and offensive terms like “squaw” and romanticize villains like Christopher Columbus and George Armstrong Custer. And our nation’s capital continues to degrade indigenous people, hosting a football team named the “Redskins.”
We must always remember the past, but we can do so in a way that does not romanticize its horrors. On behalf of the Tribal Council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, thank you to Rep. Morigeau and the American Indian Caucus for encouraging us all to dismantle the tributes of hate and division that pollute our beautiful state.
Vernon S. Finley
chairman of Tribal Council
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
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