Whose Montana is it?
We have heard much from members of our Congressional delegation and from members of the Legislature lately about their efforts to safeguard the “Montana way of life.”
That phrase, of course, means different things to different people, depending on which Montana way of life they happen to be living. And it is a frame of reference — or a dog whistle, as the case may be — for different things depending on who is invoking it.
But we are increasingly uncomfortable in thinking that it’s a phrase more and more used as political shorthand to hearken back to sentimental thoughts of a rosy time in the past that may just not have been so rosy at all, again depending on who was experiencing it.
The phrase is often used in the context of the great Montana out of doors. It is good to remember that the Montana outdoors itself means vastly different things to different people. For some, it means hunting, fishing, back-country skiing or mountain climbing on public lands. For others, it may mean snowmobiling, or 4-wheeling, fixing fencing or gathering cattle ahorseback. Some would cite our stream access law as quintessentially Montanan. Others believe in closing off access to land or water behind private gates because property rights are paramount. Some would, and do, dedicate their lives to preserving our wildlife. And others yet may envision a return to a time when wolves and grizzly bears were shot on sight, no questions asked nor answers given.
Ironically, the group seemingly the least likely to play the “Montana way of life” card is the state’s Indigenous population, which has countless generations of “Montana” life in its bloodlines. The rest of us are all settlers.
All of us who live here love something about this state. After all, there is a lot to love. Yet the “way of life” we cherish may not bear relation to that loved by others.
Whose Montana is it? All of ours. We are in this together.
And what’s the “Montana way of life?”
We’d say something on the order of: Live and let live. Work hard, and have a chance to prosper. Help your neighbors when you can, particularly the less fortunate. Treat all others with civility and respect. Leave the outdoors healthy for those who come after us to use and enjoy.
Perhaps, even in these polarized times, we can all agree on some or most of that.
— The Billings Gazette
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.