Banging the drum for change

  • SILENT NO MORE: Janet Robideau

    Cassandra Eliasson
  Janet Robideau hates being told "no," thanks to a Catholic boarding-school education where strict obedience was doctrine. Now, all those years of keeping silent and following rules have inspired her to do exactly the opposite: give voice to Montana's urban Indians and change the rules that have restricted them for years.


Robideau, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, founded Indian People's Action in 1997 on the advice of Rev. Jesse Jackson. The group advocates for Montana native people - the state's largest minority - on issues such as public education, law enforcement, affordable housing and health care.


Indian People's Action, a chapter of Montana People's Action, is now 300 members strong, and it's bending the ears of state and local officials.


The group championed the state's Indian Education for All Act, passed in October 2000, which requires more Indian teachers on school staffs, fair and accurate portrayals of Montana tribes in the curriculum and qualified instructors to teach Native American history courses. Now the direct-action organization plans to agitate against noncompliant school districts.


Robideau likens her job to peeling an onion: "You pull off one layer only to discover there's another, and it makes you cry the whole time."


For more information on Indian People's Action, call 406/728-5297 or visit www.mtpaction.org.