By SARAH SNEBOLD/Montana State News
HELENA – All of the recent women’s marches around the country that followed the day after President Trump’s inauguration had a focus on human rights issues, such as women’s reproductive health, clean water, and access to healthcare.
But the march in Helena had a unique twist, with a focus on Montana history and culture. March organizers worked to actively include the indigenous population. Both the Cheyenne and Blackfoot tribes were represented, with speakers and march participants.
Janna Weaselboy-Caplette sang a Cheyenne veterans honor song. He said, “Women are the backbone of Native North America and we can say that to all women of this world…[We] recognized that the women needed their own flag and honor song.” As Janna sang, the significance in the words pointed to the woman beside him, Lauren Small Rodriguez Tsitsistas. She is the first Northern Cheyenne woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard.
Michael Spears also showcased a song, with the purpose of healing energy. He stated, “The earth is our loan from our children. They deserve to have clean air to breathe, they deserve to have clean water to drink, they deserve to have medicines to heal themselves and future generations.” His song characterized how the march’s issues extended past women’s rights and was meant as a platform for a variety of concerns.
Montana history was represented through acknowledgement to Jeannette Rankin, the first women elected to the U.S. Congress. She was born near Missoula and graduated from the University of Montana.
Rankin was a prominent figure in the Montana’s women’s rights movement. The Montana Women’s Chorus sang Jeanette’s song in her honor. The chorus exemplified the work she did within the state: “You marched and you marched, we’re still marching today and we run in your name, Jeannette.” The crowd sang along with the chorus and cheered at their performance.
Teya Hetherington, a march participant, came to the event because she, “felt like I owed it to the women in generations before mine to use the rights they fought for me to have, I couldn’t let all of their hard work go unappreciated. Equality is important to me, no matter what sexuality, gender, or political affiliation one identifies with, we are all equal.”
The march was seen in 673 locations and included 4.8 million participants. The locations included Washington D.C., Chicago, London, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Helena, Montana. The march in Montana, held around 10,000 people. In the beginning stages of the march’s organization, only 500 were anticipated.
The diverse crowd and platform led to a variety of motives that drew people in to participate. At the march, the air was filled with the sounds of drums and cheers. Three persons stood on the steps of the capitol in Helena holding a massive puppet, which sang along with the music and chanting. The crowd included men, women, children and a variety of identities, who all danced, sang and chanted during the three hours.
Molly Zeif, a march participant, was very impressed by the diversity she saw. Overall, “how people were marching for so many different things. Although it was the women’s march, and that was very clear, but I thought it was really cool how people were marching for multiple reasons such as Black Lives Matter and the environment.”
One participant who asked not be identified believed the purpose of the march to be, “to open people’s minds about what they think equality is vs what is actually going on. I think a lot of people don’t see women or the LGBT community as having a lack of rights in society, and with Trump as our president it is even more important getting that ideology spread.”
The organizers of the Women’s March on Montana are planning the next steps to keep the momentum going forward in the state. More information on these events can be found on their website and Facebook page.
– edited by Chelsea Anderson