Murals with Meaning

Organizers of the Bias Brewing mural honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls celebrate its first anniversary with an informative plaque in the works; another mural pops up across the street

By Maggie Dresser
A mural behind Bias Brewing by artist M. Growing Thunder in downtown Kalispell on July 23, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

When Gabe Mariman wanted to transform the plain, gray wall overlooking the outdoor seating area at Bias Brewing, he envisioned a space representing a historically significant moment in Montana.

Within a three-day window last July, a colorful mural depicting a dancing, faceless Indigenous woman with the hashtag #MMIWG surrounded by Bitterroot flowers emerged, honoring the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) movement.

Mural facilitators Adam and Alisha Shilling of KALICO Art Center in Kalispell connected with Frank Finley of the Fine Arts Department at Salish Kootenai College (SKC) on the Flathead Indian Reservation and Marita GrowingThunder, a MMIW activist. After chatting with the Shillings, Mariman wanted to use the wall at his brewery as a platform to talk about missing and murdered indigenous women.

“It’s not my message,” Mariman said. “It’s not my voice, but we wanted to say something significant … We want people to look at the mural and we want them to think and feel and acknowledge this.”

The Shillings also wanted to share the MMIW movement’s message but felt they should put an Indigenous woman at the forefront of the project. They provided the paint and supplies and painted the mural’s background, and spoke with Finley at SKC who invited GrowingThunder to paint the dancing woman.

GrowingThunder painted the Indigenous woman wearing a jingle dress, which Finley says is a relatively new symbol raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The bright colors are designed to draw attention to the cause.

“With all the abuse and everything else that’s going on and abductions, we need to have a bigger voice,” Finley said.

While Finley says it was important for an Indigenous woman to paint the dancer on the mural, he was responsible for the scattered Bitterroot flowers, which are a significant symbol in the Salish-Kootenai culture.

“The Bitterroots are the state flower of Montana and a large portion of the Salish-Kootenai diet,” he said. “It’s the most important plant that comes up in the spring … I did the flowers, and that’s my way to add something without making a statement from the male perspective.”

Since the mural was finished a year ago, the Shillings are now working on a plaque for the painting to include information about GrowingThunder and more background on the MMIW movement and the obstacles that Indigenous women face. There will also be a space for names of Indigenous women who are currently missing in Montana, which will be rotated.

“To actually have the names that are missing in Montana, we’re hoping to not only have people financially support the ongoing causes, but also looking (names up) and getting awareness,” Alisha Shilling said.

Since the mural’s completion, Mariman says he’s glad people can come to Bias and have an open dialogue about issues like the MMIW movement, and he hopes to see more murals in downtown Kalispell.

Just across the street at the Devonshire building, artist Glenn Case recently painted a blue mural of Lake McDonald from the Apgar shore boat dock. Building owners Mike and Gretchen Apgar wanted to transform the building to honor Mike’s great-great grandfather, Milo Apgar, who homesteaded the area that is now Apgar Village in Glacier National Park.

In 2018, local artist Tess Heck painted Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, on the side of Kalispell Brewery Company in downtown Kalispell.

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