When the light was still dim Monday morning, coffee-holding people came together outside of the Payne Family Native American Center to greet the sun.
Around a fire pit, the four attendees talked and laughed. Behind them the Native American Center’s glass and steel architecture stood sharp in the chilly morning.
Eddie Cutfinger offered a prayer after smudging with sage. As the aromatic smoke curled and disappeared in the cool air, Cutfinger spoke in thanks and asked for the protection and healing of Native peoples, for protection of students and for the love of family and faith.
While the sunrise ceremony was a quiet one, and one that professor D’Shane Barnett says is usually better attended, it started a week about American Indian heritage with a prayer and welcoming a new (colder) season as well.
“A small group like this is enough to take care of it,” said LeeAnn Bruised Head, the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center’s executive director. “We always start any event or activity with a prayer.
“This is Indian country you’re standing on,” Bruised Head said. “This is about keeping culture alive.”
The sunrise ceremony kicks off a week of activities celebrating American Indian heritage at the University of Montana. Ranging from a day celebrating Native people in science, technology, engineering and math, to presentations and exhibits on traditional ecological knowledge, social justice, arts and wellness, the week is packed with American Indian-centric activities to put a spotlight on Native issues in Montana.
Here’s a list of some events this week:
• Monday night Mayor John Engen announces the Proclamation of American Indian Heritage Day at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers.
• Tuesday, the Bonnie Heavy Runner Gathering Place at the Native American Center will have a traditional regalia show throughout the day. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., tours of the center will be given, and from noon to 1 p.m. Ruth Swaney will give a talk about traditional ecological knowledge in Room 009 at the center. A table devoted to Native plants and stewardship and ethnobotany will be in the center's garden from noon to 4 p.m.
• Wednesday, the Bonnie Heavy Runner Gathering Place will host a Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women exhibit. Tours of the center will be held at the same time as Tuesday. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Traveling People’s Center will be on the Oval from 1 to 3 p.m. in front of the center, and a viewing and discussion of the film “Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock” is scheduled for 4:30 to 7 p.m.
• Thursday, a Native photographer display will be shown at the Bonnie Heavy Runner Gathering Place. Activities are later in the day, with a 4:30-6:30 p.m. Satar Stories presentation with Destini Vaile in the center's planetarium. Hoop Dancer Terrance Littletent performs at Lowell Elementary School from 6 to 8 p.m. in partnership with the Missoula County Public Schools’ Indian Education Department.
• Friday, a tepee-raising is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. outside of the Native American Center and UM President Sheila Stearns will read the Proclamation of American Indian Heritage Day at the Bonnie Heavy Runner Gathering Place. At 12:15 p.m. traditional Native games will be held on the Oval outside the center, and at 5:30 p.m., Rosalyn LaPier will conduct a reading and signing of her book “Invisible Reality: Storytellers, Storytakers and the Supernatural World of the Blackfeet” at Fact and Fiction on 220 N. Higgins Ave.