Western Native Voice, with the help of State Senator Jen Gross (SD 25), introduced Senate Bill (SB) 319, which will protect individuals who wish to wear Native regalia or objects of cultural significance to public events, such as graduations. This bill came about from various meetings with Native communities, hosted by Western Native Voice.
Our staff and leaders helped in drafting the language of the Native regalia bill and continued to stay engaged in every step of the way, both from Helena and the Billings office. While in the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Safety, some Senators expressed their apprehension that traditional regalia would be a distraction from a graduation ceremony. This led to a response by the Native communities of Montana, in the form of a meme. The “My Culture is Not a Distraction” meme took off on social media as a direct response and galvanized the community around this legislation.
A major part of the effort on this bill has been organizing Native people, in particular Native youth, in speaking in support of this legislation. The Native regalia bill moved from the Senate to the House, where it lies now pending vote by the entire House body. Western Native Voice organized a Native Day of Action to train budding Native leaders to learn how to testify effectively and have an opportunity to network with their legislators.
Things changed, however, due to a hearing by the House Committee on State Administration on the same day the Day of Action was scheduled. Native youth from Rocky Boy Reservation, Billings, as well as leaders across the state, testified, in a packed hearing room, on the importance of cultural acknowledgement on a special occasion like graduation ceremonies. Others testified on the shame and pain of being told they could not honor their culture and families during this most significant life event. The Committee was able to hear youth voices strongly defend their culture, and give reasons why this bill was so important to them and their communities.
Next Step for Native Regalia Bill
SB 319 now awaits one crucial step away from becoming law. The entire House body will soon hear this bill and vote. After passage from the House, SB 319 would go to Governor Steve Bullock for signature into law. Western Native Voice and allies will send Native youth to witness history being made in Helena.
–Ta’jin Perez, Program Coordinator, Western Native Voice