UM Law School Hosts Event Unveiling Historic Images

Dylan Jaicks, Victoria Parker and Marissa Mahkuk Compton

On January 31, 2020, the Alexander Blewett III School of Law hosted “A Celebration of Our Heritage:  Honoring the Past & Re-Envisioning the Future.”

Organized by students in the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, the event marked a commitment by the School of Law to better recognize the diverse groups and people who have shaped the law school and Montana’s legal community over the years.

“This was a project that began during my first year here at ABIII,” said third-year law Marissa Mahkuk Compton. “I am honored to have been able to work with classmates and law school administration to create a new space for current and incoming students.”

Through new historic imagery, increased representation of historically marginalized groups, and collaboration with entities across campus and across the state, the organizers aimed to stimulate conversation about the past while ensuring that the law school is a welcoming environment for all students today.

The focal point of the event was the unveiling a dramatic historical photo depicting a Salish encampment at the foot of Mount Sentinel where the University of Montana campus now stands.

Acknowledging the complicated history represented in the photo, the following statement written by members of the clinic was also displayed:

This law school is on the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples, including the Se̓liš, Ksanka and Qĺispe̓. Many others, including Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Bannock and Coeur D’Alene, had and continue to have a crucial presence in the area. We acknowledge the role the legal system has played in the removal of Indigenous peoples from these lands, and, through our commitment to education, service, and scholarship, strive to improve the quality of justice for future generations. Doing so demands respect for tribal sovereignty and Indigenous cultures as well as accountability to the needs and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, who, from time immemorial to the present and until the end of time, protect and remain connected with this land on which we gather, live, learn and work.

Featured speakers at the celebration included: Tony Incashola, the Salish-Pend O’reille Culture Committee Director; Monte Mills, UM Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic; H. Rafael Chacón, the Bruce and Suzanne Crocker Director of UM’s Montana Museum of Art and Culture; and third-year law student Victoria Parker, one of the event’s primary organizers.

Tours of the law building showcased a timeline depicting the historical developments that have shaped Montana’s legal history and relationship with tribes, as well as displays recognizing faculty and alumni of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, the oldest Indian law clinic in the nation.

“We are now surrounded by representations that show the diversity and progressiveness represented within this institution since its foundation,” said Parker. “Students have come up to me and said it was nice to see people that look like them in the display cases. Others have been amazed at our school’s history and how impressive our female graduates have been in breaking the glass ceiling in the field of law.”

The law school plans to continue efforts to improve representation and diversity in the future. “The Blewett School of Law is indebted to these passionate students who are showing us the path toward a future in which our law school and the legal system deliver justice to all peoples,” said Dean Paul Kirgis.

“This event was a great beginning to what I hope is continued progress long after I leave this school,” said Mahkuk Compton.

Watch a video of the speakers on our YouTube Channel.