A Montana non-profit is removing parts of a tourism campaign being criticized as insensitive to Native Americans and the history of violence against tribes.
The Billings Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday ordered billboards reading “Onward Pioneers” be removed, one day after a local blogger said the campaign demonstrates the “racism that exists in our community.”
Other promotional materials from Visit Billings featured the tagline “Today is ours for the taking — and tomorrow, too” overlaid on photos of white people in nature. In a post, blogger Alexis Bonogofsky compared the messaging to the forced removal and mass murder of indigenous people in the name of westward expansion.
“The language being used by Visit Billings is the same language that was used to justify the genocide of Native Americans: onward pioneer, conquer, take, it’s ours,” Bonogofsky wrote. “Words have definitions. Words have histories. Those words in this geographical place cannot be used without putting them in this context.”
The chamber, which manages Visit Billings, said the tourism campaign had no malicious intent. “Onward Pioneers” was meant to encourage visitors to explore Montana, the chamber said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Acknowledging the insensitivity, the chamber announced it will remove parts of the campaign website and guidebook, too.
“We appreciate the larger conversation the blog post has generated regarding inclusivity,” the chamber wrote. “We will take this opportunity to be better; to do better for all, and to understand all of the diverse viewpoints creating the fabric of our region.”
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The chamber said it plans to seek a tribal consultant to review the website and guidebook. One of the “Onward Pioneers” billboards was located near the Crow Reservation, the Billings Gazette reported. Visit Billings had not received any complaints about the campaign before this week, Alex Tyson, the organization’s executive director, told the Gazette.
“We need to strengthen our ties with the reservations,” Tyson told the Gazette. “We need to truly look at our responsibility in these campaigns.”
Officials did not have an estimate for the cost of removing parts of the campaign.
Contributing: The Associated Press