History Museum to Kick Off Annual Speaker Series in January

The annual John White Speaker Series will begin on Jan. 7 and will include presentations from scientists, community leaders and historians from across Montana

By Denali Sagner
The Northwest Montana History Museum, is pictured in downtown Kalispell on August 28, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Northwest Montana History Museum this winter will welcome in history buffs and interested community members alike to learn about a range of Montana-related topics during its 22nd annual John White Speaker Series.

The John White series will take place over four Sundays in January and February and will include presentations on topics from grizzly bear science to Indigenous cooking.

Over the past two decades, the museum has hosted speakers from across Montana during the popular series, including Polebridge Mercantile owner Will Hammerquist, Flathead Valley Community College President Jane Karas and wildlife biologist Doug Chadwick. The series is named for John White, a former caretaker of the old Central School, the building that is now home to the museum. White –– a Black man who was once enslaved in North Carolina –– moved to Montana where he looked after the Central School and raised his son John White, Jr., who later succeeded his father as Central School caretaker.

“He really kept the school together, and we wanted to do something in his honor,” Northwest Montana History Museum co-administrator Elle Eberts-Robocker said.

The 2024 John White Series will kick off on Jan. 7 with motorcycle enthusiast Ron Brevik.

Brevik’s passion for motorcycles was born at age 12 when he began riding around Missoula. Though he was chided by law enforcement for riding without a driver’s license, his love for the motorcycle only grew, turning into a lifelong passion. Decades later, in 2003, Brevik purchased a 100-year anniversary Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Springer and decided he would traverse every inch of paved county, state and federal road in Montana. The motorcycle enthusiast will share stories of the people and places he discovered on his 70,000-mile journey during the first presentation of the winter.

Grizzly researcher Kate Kendall will host the second presentation on Jan. 21.

Kendall spent her career working for the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, where she dug deep into understanding the grizzly bears that occupy northwest Montana. Kendall is best known for her work in grizzly bear D.N.A. research. During her career as a researcher, Kendall helped introduce non-invasive research techniques to inform grizzly management and undertook a major effort to use bear-hair collection to estimate the number of grizzlies roaming the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Now retired and living in Kalispell, Kendall will join the John White Speaker Series to discuss evolutions in grizzly research, the future of the species in the wake of development and delisting efforts and details about bears that she learned in her long career. 

“As bears are becoming more integrated into the valley, as the numbers are rising, we’re really hoping to have more education on that,” Eberts-Robocker said. 

Storyteller and historical interpreter Mary Jane Bradbury will speak at the museum on Feb. 4.

Described as “a perennial favorite of Flathead Valley audiences,” Bradbury will appear at the museum as Lucy Marks, the mother of expeditioner Meriwether Lewis. Bradbury has appeared at a number of John White Speaker Series events over the past two decades, reenacting historical figures Nancy Cooper Russell, wife of Montana artist Charlie Russell, in 2015 and photographer and homesteader Evelyn Cameron in 2017.

Though Meriwether Lewis, prominent figure in the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition, is known to many Americans, the story of his mother, Lucy, remains largely untold. According to the museum, Marks was “a woman both of her times and ahead of her times” who remained independent and dedicated to her own pursuits. Bradbury will touch on the more sinister aspects of Marks’ history — she managed a large plantation household and dozens of enslaved people — and will contextualize her character in the story of her son and the nation.

Mariah Gladstone in Kalispell. Beacon file photo

To round out the series on Feb. 18, Indigikitchen founder and Babb resident Mariah Gladstone will offer a presentation on her work expanding food sovereignty and revitalizing Indigenous food knowledge across Montana.

Gladstone, who grew up in Kalispell and is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet and Cherokee Tribes, has spent her career advocating for increased food access in Indigenous communities and weaving together healthy eating with Indigenous cooking traditions. She founded Indigikitchen in 2016 as a series of cooking videos that instructed viewers on how to use healthy ingredients to create recipes familiar to Indigenous communities. In the years since, Indigikitchen has turned into a widely-followed operation through which Gladstone offers cooking classes, school residencies, educational lectures and recipe ideas. Gladstone has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades including the Center for Native American Youth Champions for Change award.

Eberts-Robocker said that the speakers were selected through requests from the community. Each speaker will present on their work and take questions from audience members.

The museum encourages attendees to buy tickets ahead of time, as the events have sold out in past years. Northwest Montana History Museum members will receive a discounted rate. Tickets can be purchased here.

For more information or to nominate topics and speakers for next year’s John White Speaker Series, contact the museum online or by calling 406-756-8381.