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Comics ask kids to suspend political correctness for assembly

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CHARLO – Two speakers traveled to schools across the Flathead Indian Reservation last week to share a message of inclusion wrapped in a comic routine.

The speakers stopped in Charlo on Tuesday, Oct. 17 and while they were there also told students about the 4th Annual Indigenous Film Festival showing in Ronan.

The Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition, Inc. and local businesses and groups sponsored the workshops and assemblies. The nonprofit coalition organizes activities across the reservation throughout the year with the goal of bringing people together to improve human rights. 

Tyler Nielsen and Mike Beers were center stage in the Charlo High School gym to talk about diversity and unity. Beers started out by saying that he was suspending “political correctness” in the room in an effort to facilitate an open discussion, as long as respect was maintained. He didn’t want people to be afraid to talk because they didn’t know how to correctly label something during the discussion. 

“No one will be in trouble if they use the wrong word,” he said. 

The idea is to get people to talk about issues to create understanding and hopefully acceptance. “Talking can build community,” he said. 

As a person with a disability, Beers wanted to develop the conversation around different disabilities from the visible “like a person with crutches” to the invisible kind “like a person with anxiety.” 

He talked about his own struggle saying he was born with a visible disability. “Yes, I have a T-Rex arm,” he said. “For me, with a visible disability, I never have to prove that I have a disability, so people are always willing to help.”

He asked the students to consider which one might be more difficult to handle, an invisible or visible disability. They said maybe the invisible because it’s harder to get help, but maybe the challenges of a visible disability are more difficult, and the conclusion: “There is no hierarchy of most or least,” he said. “Everyone is equally important.” 

Beers and Nielsen brought the students on stage to do a live slide show to reenact a few traveling adventures, including skiing. They answered questions from the audience as “one person,” each saying one word in a developing sentence. Students got a good laugh out of that.

Nielsen explained after the show that talking in a respectful, caring atmosphere also allows people with disabilities to feel part of the community. “It helps people not to feel isolated and alone, like they are the only ones,” he said. 

Charlo High School student Raegan Arana, 15, said the assembly got her thinking about different struggles people experience. She liked the way the speakers presented a serious topic with a few jokes to lighten the mood.

Brooke Swaney was also invited to different schools across the reservation to talk to the students about her film projects with the 4th Annual Indigenous Film Festival. 

She produces political outreach films and is currently directing the feature “Perma Red.” She is a 2014 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Fellow and a 2013 Time Warner Fellow through the Sundance Institute.

The Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition is hosting the Indigenous Film Festival featured at 1 p.m. every Sunday in October at The Entertainer theater in Ronan. Admission is free. “Where the Spirit Lives” will be featured on Oct. 29. 

“This 1989 (film) tells the story of Komi, a First Nations child abducted from her traditional home and forced to live in a boarding school,” the coalition states. 

The FRHRC plans to organize more events throughout the year. For more information, find them at Facebook.com/frhrc2 or frhrc2.wordpress.com.

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