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Arlee Warriors, University of Montana events celebrate Native American heritage

Arlee Warriors, University of Montana events celebrate Native American heritage

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Arlee file

The Arlee Warriors celebrate the first boys state title in school history in 2017 at Montana State.

The Arlee boy’s basketball team, the Warriors, will be visiting Big Sky High School on Wednesday to share their message of hope, talk about suicide prevention and celebrate Native American heritage.

The Warriors became known throughout the state as they went undefeated during the 2017-18 basketball season, winning 26 consecutive games and their second-straight Class C title. But when they dedicated the season’s divisional tournament to “families that have fallen victim to the loss of a loved one due to the pressures of life,” they became known throughout the country.

The team made a video to dedicate the championship after the loss of a high school basketball player on the Flathead reservation, which came after numerous other suicides on the reservation over the year.

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The video quickly gained traction on social media, so the team released another video, which garnered more than a million views. They also created the “Warrior Movement,” a suicide awareness campaign to make sure “every person on earth knows they matter, they're loved and someone cares.” Now, spreading their message is as much a part of the team’s identity as basketball.

They’ve continued to fight the stigma associated with mental illness and talk about a topic that is often uncomfortable to discuss. Last Monday, the Warrior Movement released a new video in which Greg Whitesell, one of the team’s co-captains, shared his experience with depression.

“It’s our job as adults and role models to look after these younger people who might not be well,” Whitesell said in the video.

The Warriors’ talk at Big Sky will focus on raising awareness among Missoula County Public Schools' students and staff, but the public is both welcome and encouraged to join.

The Warriors' visit is among MCPS initiatives to open the dialogue about mental health and provide more support for students who are struggling. It’s also one of several events on Wednesday night to celebrate Native American heritage.

There will also be a hand drum contest, a student/parent owl dance and Indian tacos. Typically, these events are spread out at different schools for Native American Week but the Warriors were unable to fit all the schools into their schedule, so the MCPS Indian Education Department decided to combine it into one night.

“I’m really excited to have them coming,” said Melissa Hammett, a Native American studies teacher and Native American specialist at MCPS. “I think they have a good message to put forth that’s really important for students to hear.”

The events at Big Sky will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday. There will cash prizes for the hand drum contest and the student/parent owl dance special. A round dance will also follow the Warriors talk.

The activities at Big Sky on Wednesday coincide with a week of events at the University of Montana to celebrate American Indian heritage from Monday through Friday. All events are free and open to the public.

The weeklong roster leads up to a reading of the American Indian Heritage Day Proclamation on the lawn in front of the Payne Family Native American Center on Friday.

The events at UM kick off on Monday with the raising of Montana tribal flags outside the Payne Family Native American Center. A hike to the "M" with an honor song by UM student Daniel LaForge will begin at 8 a.m. Monday, meeting at the base of Mount Sentinel.

On Tuesday, students are encouraged to wear ribbon skirts and shirts in recognition of murdered and missing indigenous women. A Kyiyo bake sale will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by an informational session on murdered and missing indigenous women. At 3 p.m., there will be a tour of the Ethnobotany Garden, which contains plants that grow on tribal lands.

Students are encouraged to wear moccasins on Wednesday. From noon to 1 p.m., soup will be served on the second floor of the Native American Center. There will also be a dry meat demonstration there from noon to 1 p.m.

There will be an open house for the Environmental Studies program at the Jeannette Rankin Hall Community Area from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday. From noon to 2 p.m., there will also be a "make and take" beading circle at the Native American Center Student Lounge. At 3 p.m, there will be another tour of the Ethnobotany Garden, meeting at the center's fire pit, and at 6 p.m., there will be Kyiyo bingo on the center's first floor.

To wrap up the week, there will be a student-led sunrise prayer at 8 a.m. on Friday at the fire pit. At 11 a.m., there will be a planetarium show in the stargazing room on the center's garden level. Finally, attendees can hear the Honor Song and an American Indian Heritage Day Proclamation reading on the lawn in front of the center from 11:50 a.m. to 12:30 p.m on Friday.

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