An editorial in a news magazine focused on the Western U.S. has sparked a debate over the Montana High School Association’s (MHSA) refusal to allow tribal flags to be presented alongside U.S. and state flags at midcourt during pregame ceremonies.
The High Country News, a newsmagazine that focuses on issues facing the Western United States, with a particular eye on tribal issues, reported the flag controversy that was raised during the 2019 state tournament.
At this year’s state tournament, for example, representatives from the Montana High School Association (MHSA) refused to allow the team from Poplar to present the flag of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation along with the U.S. and Montana flags. According to the MHSA’s tournament handbook, “(o)ther groups can have their flag on the endline,” but only the U.S. and Montana flags can be honored at center court before each tournament session.
Aside from the silent but clear discriminatory impact on tribes (what “other groups” have flags?), this so-called guideline and its enforcement prevent the rightful representation of tribal nations as governments alongside their state and federal counterparts. Like every state and national flag, a tribe’s flag represents both its political sovereignty and its unique tribal values and identity. In recognition of the importance of that representation, a number of state governments and the U.S. Department of the Interior proudly display tribal flags every day.
Mills goes on to outline other manifestations of what he terms as lingering connections to “settler colonialism,” but it’s the state association’s unwillingness to allow tribal flags an equal footing that is seen as a hard and fast violation of the autonomous rights of tribal communities.
Whether Mills’ case is compelling enough to engender change in Montana, or elsewhere, remains to be seen. If nothing else, it’s raised concerns about tribal equality on a state level within the scholastic sport system.