The following article is by Mike Yakawich, the Northwest Regional Director for Global Peace Foundation in the United States. Yakawich is the project coordinator for the pilot program Cross-Community Reconciliation in Montana.
By Mike Yakawich
The Montana Cross-Community Reconciliation Pilot Project was first introduced at the Annual Global Peace Forum held in Billings on October 26, 2019. The forum introduced plans to launch a unique cross-cultural and community-based effort to create a deeper understanding between members of the region’s diverse population, including the rich culture and heritage of the state’s Native American communities.
Stakeholders in Billings and the surrounding region were quick to respond with their support, donating funds, staff, and venues for the project. Community partners include the Riverstone Health Department and the Native American Development Corporation who have hosted monthly meetings for the project facilitators and participants. Special thanks are also extended to the Eastern Area Service Authority, which provided the project with a grant for $3,000.
In January 2020, Mrs. Gail Hambleton, GPF Senior Program Specialist of Interreligious and Community Peacebuilding, visited Montana to meet with several honorable Native American leaders in the Billings community, including Gordon Jackson, Ada Bends, and Dr. Paula Carter, as well as project supporters Dr. Claire Oakley and Dr. Pamela Bing Perry of Walla Walla University who is collecting research for the project. Her travels also brought her to Pryor, Montana, located on the Crow Nation’s Tribal Land. There, she visited the historic home of Chief Plenty Coups and prayed at the sacred spring. It was a rare opportunity for her to share with many of the local stakeholders more deeply about the vision for the pilot project and its implications for a more welcoming and knowledgeable community for people of all cultural backgrounds.
Facilitators for the pilot project include Josiah Hugs and Kaitlin Hugs from the Crow Nation and two non-native facilitators, Morgan Miller and Naomi MacMurdie. After participating in training and meetings from November 2019 to January 2020, including an engaging workshop of the vision and goals of the project, best practices from Global Peace Foundation, and interactive activities to incorporate in their meetings, the facilitators helped launch the first phase of the Cross-Community Reconciliation pilot in February 2020.
“By the end of the day of interaction, we are well on the way to peacebuilding by understanding each other more deeply in this room” said Morgan Miller. “I see so much potential for us as a culture to find common ground as well as continue in working with non-Natives in building deeper understanding of each other,” stated Josiah Hugs.
Together, the facilitators formulated the pilot project vision statement:
"In an effort to reduce racial discrimination and increase empathy and understanding, it is our responsibility to work to build bridges, strengthen friendships and mutual respect, and build confidence in our diverse communities."
Two facilitators guide each group, meeting with approximately 15 participants in each of the two groups. Each group has a wide variety of leaders in different professional fields from the Billings region, even including various Tribal Nations in the Native group.
The first couple of sessions have already proved to show the impact of the pilot project.
"It seems as if we can be like ambassadors and peacebuilders between cultures."
"It is encouraging to be around people who have the same passion to build bridges and find common ground."
"It is not easy to face racial challenges, but good to find solutions to them."
Community leaders Ada Bends and Cathy Little Leaf provided enlightening presentations to the groups from their personal and professional experiences which were very inspiring and educational.
The pilot project has already received “Award Recognition” from the Healthy by Design nonprofit and Alliance (the three Medical Care Facilities in Billings).
In efforts to prioritize the health and safety of the pilot project participants, in-person sessions will be delayed in April and May and will tentatively begin again in June (as recommended by the local Health Department). In the interim, facilitators are reaching out to the project participants and hosting meetings online. The facilitators will also take part in a national webinar on leadership and development with the goal to reduce stigma and racial misunderstandings between Native and Non-Native people.
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