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Students, community members march in Riverton to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day
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Students, community members march in Riverton to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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RIVERTON — About 200 students, community members and leaders marched here Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. and talk about how the county’s youth are united against racism, two days after community members gathered to discuss a police shooting late last year.

On Monday, community leaders and residents joined students from six Fremont County school districts in a walk – with morning temperatures in the single digits – from Riverton City Park to city hall, where speakers discussed both Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement and present-day race-related issues in the city.

“Native children today live in a world of acceptance and love that is represented by all of you,” said Corwin Howell, Wyoming Indian High School student and Traditional Club president. “All of you are good … and you proved this by travelling to Riverton and walking to show that there is no room for hate in Wyoming.”

The two events followed events in recent months that have again prompted race-related conversations in the city, which borders the Wind River Reservation.

In September, a Riverton police officer fatally shot a Northern Arapaho man, Anderson Antelope, after he attacked the officer outside of the city’s Walmart store with a knife. The officer was cleared of wrongdoing.

On Saturday, about 50 gathered at Central Wyoming College to participate in a talking circle healing event hosted by the Riverton Peace Mission to discuss the shooting of Antelope and concerns about the investigation, treatment of minorities in the city, historical context of the county’s Indigenous population and generational trauma. Riverton Mayor Richard Gard and City Administrator Tony Tolstedt attended the event.

The Antelope shooting was followed by Riverton High School administrators punishing two students for wearing clothing – white robes and hoods – associated with the Klu Klux Klan to school in December.

Monday’s march was the 17th year the walk has taken place in Riverton. This year’s event, organizers said, was especially important to show unity in the weeks following the incident at Riverton High School.

“We are here today to show the world that Riverton High School loves all Wyoming children,” said Branelle Gutierrez, a Riverton High School sophomore, Northern Arapaho woman and member of the multicultural club. “Today, everyone at our school understands that racism is no joking matter. The message today is about the way Fremont County Schools come together to support all different kids in our communities.”

While walking to city hall, marchers carried signs with messages like “No room in my heart for prejudice.” Afterwards, those in attendance listened to speeches from a Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fort Washakie, a Northern Arapaho woman; Indigenous student leaders from Riverton and Wyoming Indian high schools; and a former NAACP leader.

The walk was first organized by Wyoming Indian High School students in 2003 as a response to a racist organization called the World Church of the Creator announcing its intention to relocate its headquarters in Riverton. A white man shot two Indigenous people – one fatally – in 2015 at a detox center in Riverton, which also prompted discussions over the treatment of Native Americans in the city.

During Monday’s speeches, Gard, Riverton’s mayor, while saying Riverton “is a wonderful spot,” acknowledged some of its problems and said he wanted to help all who want to make the city a more welcoming place.

“It’s wonderful that we can get this many people together and to press forward Dr. King’s thoughts of how important it is that we learn to take care of one another,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do, and yet, it’s a great opportunity for us to gather together and look at the difference between our races and to try our very best to make those work for each and every one of us.”

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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