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With the school year back in swing and summer fading in western Montana there are plenty of educational events worth exploring this fall. There is one, however, that should not only be avoided but make us take attention and work to counter the bigotry that motivates its occurrence.

In an appalling mix of anti-Indian sentiment, one-world government conspiracy theories and militia-style ideas about federal government agencies, the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance announced they will hold a conference in Kalispell later this month. Despite its laudable name, CERA is the most notorious anti-Indian group in the country.

As numerous human rights groups have documented, CERA’s leaders have a long history of promoting anti-Indian racism and dangerous conspiracy theories.

In fact, CERA is dedicated to terminating tribal governments and breaking treaties signed between the United States and Indian nations. Rather than equality, CERA seeks to do away with tribes as nations, recalling odious periods of history when the U.S. tried to force Indian peoples to assimilate and give up their children, cultures and resources.

The conference is meant to cater to elected officials and community leaders, but its presenters don’t have the credibility or morality to guide our state leaders. The conference will feature CERA mainstays and fear-based topics about everything from the “Flawed Fundamentals of Federal Indian Policy” to “Rogue Federal Agencies.”

CERA leader and national anti-Indian activist Elaine Willman recently moved to Ronan to continue fighting the Confederated Salish and Kootenai water compact. Willman was recently hired by the attorney who filed a wild last-minute suit for state Sen. Bob Keenan and former Rep. Verdell Jackson opposing the CKST acquisition of Kerr Dam. The compact is based on treaty rights, long upheld by the Supreme Court, and it secures water for both tribal and non-tribal users. Bipartisan approval by the state legislature this year should be applauded and approval by U.S. Congress encouraged.

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Willman has declared this "the Revolutionary War for Citizens of Montana" and outrageously alleged that Indians are conspiring to "tear down the fabric of this country." Willman told this to the magazine of the John Birch Society - a group known for opposing the Civil Rights movement and declaring President Dwight D. Eisenhower a communist.

One CERA conference speaker - Debbie Bacigalupi from California - specializes in such conspiracy "theories." Bacigalupi also promotes seceding northern California to form the State of Jefferson. SOJ leaders have disparaged Indians, promoted armed militias, and called for ending the "one-person-one-vote" principle which makes everyone's vote in state elections count the same.

While conspiracy-mongering is easy to mock, it is really quite harmful. Falsely accusing tribes of trying to destroy the United States promotes bigotry toward indigenous peoples. CERA's conference will feature this mean-spirited intolerance.

Equipped with the truth about what CERA is peddling, we hope Montanans will stay clear of their conference and instead spend their last days of summer celebrating the kind of understanding that the passage of compact exemplified for us all. 

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Rachel Carroll Rivas is the co-director at the Montana Human Rights Network; Chuck Tanner is an advisory board member of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. 

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