It is in the early morning in a greenish state, the sun is shining while I am shivering with the air. Coming from Asian region, I find the weather in Montana in the morning is freezing cold. Today I am leaving Missoula to Helena, the state capitol of Montana. Nearly two hours on a car with friends from Myanmar, I feel so much enjoyable with view of the green sea of pine tree on mountain ranges along sides of the road. From the cars window, I can spot a few houses built far a way from each other and some of them have their own animal farms. As the time flies, I really have fun time with my friends in the car. For example, we talk joke, chit-chat and listen to country music. Almost two hours after leaving Missoula in early morning, we finally get to Helena, where I learned a lot of things about environmental policy, politics in the state, Montana museum and culture shock.

Just arriving at the front of The Montana History Museum, I am jaw-dropped with a four-meter long black head bone of a cow, lying on the left side of the building. It was perfectly artistically crafted. The museum stores fantastic picture of ancient people like Native American so-called Red Indian, and a large number of ancient stuffs such as train, long-range gun, tribe clothes, stone, throne and so on. Besides these, there is a hidden story within this natural-resource-rich state. In history, many infrastructure and businesses in Montana were partly built but Chinese immigrant who came to America for jobs. It was unbelievable but true that Chinese population was considered as the largest immigrant in Montana. However, not so many Chinese are present like in the past. According to archeology research and artifact discovered in the site, it said that the decrease of Chinese group was due to its sex. Most Chinese worker was men, so some of them might die or came back to China. During their settlement, they built railroads, did mining and opened business. It is important to notice that the picture in the State Capitol displaying an inauguration of the railroad showed no presence of Chinese workers. The possible reason behind this is that the state at that time did not recognize the Chinese people or maybe Asian people. After learning the history of Montana, we moved to another session of non-governmental organizations in policy formulation.

The sculpture of Cow’s head bone in Montana History Museum. Credit to Chin Sopheaktra

An hour and a half of this session make learn a lot about how the local NGOs advocate environmental protection. During the lecture, I learn that the Montana Environmental Information Centre (MEIC) has spend a great effort gain vote from legislature and educate people with environmental information through media such as Radio, TV, and Newspaper. When asked about the struggling in lobbying the legislature, the MEIC seems to show less support from the legislature though it has gathered a number of organizations. According to the department of environmental equality, MEIC and the department worked cooperatively to solve environmental issue in Montana where fossil fuel, water pollution, air pollution are among the top list of environmental problems under the legal term but sometimes if they cannot reach consensus, they will sue each others. I find this as a great democratic process in which people have the rights to get justice from the court. Sadly, when I asked MEIC how it measures its influence on public through media, it seems like MEIC does not do a survey to see the effectiveness of its message. From my opinion, I find this as a loophole and it needs to make use of media effectively. Moving on from this lecture, I continue another meeting with Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) where I find the department seems so reluctant when it comes to the state economy and environment.

Credit to Som Rina

If a company makes a large investment of coal mining in your area, which will enrich your state living standard but in reverse will affect on environment, how would you solve? this is a question I asked the department. It takes a while before the department response that as long as water quality or air quality reach standard, it is fine. Even though, the department said that the regulation may change if the investors influent the legislature and it will only comply to what is in the law. Since I arrived Montana, environmental issues are the main subject and the concerns among people in the area. Glacier Park, the snow mountain is melting drastically annually due to climate change. Wildfire has strongly contributed to the lost of wildlife habitat and air pollution. The mining in Butte has contaminated the water quality in the area and Clark Fork River. These problems seem to be out of the list in Politicians priority.

The Capitol Building in Helena. Credit to Som Rina

John Walsh, the Lieutenant Governor of Montana state capitol, discuss the two main problems which he thinks are the urgent problem and need strong investment, namely unemployment and education. He wants to reduce the unemployment rate by attracting investment of the state natural resource. Also, he believes that by adding specialist training and reducing school tuition will bring the graduation rate higher than previous record. However, from environmental point of view, I think environmental problem should be among the main priorities. Conserving needs low cost but fixing the damage by the environmental impact may spend tremendous of fund and time. When asked how much budget spent on environmental protection, the lieutenant said only a small amount of money flow into this area. For reflection, I think the state seem not to care much in tackling the environmental problems. As the meeting with the lieutenant ended, it is time to explore the city where I experience frightening culture shock.

After leaving a local restaurant, my friends and I are walking on the sidewalk toward the concert near there. As we walk pass a bar, two guys wearing black jacket come out of the bar and sit on the chair setting near the bars window. They talk loudly and speak rude words and we try to walk fast. After passing them, I heard one of the guys screamed: You Suck!, You Fuck .. It is quite scary, isnt it? but it does not end here. When we arrive the concert, the people are dancing, singing, chit-chatting on the grass. Kids are playing on the grass, some people laying on the ground and enjoy their meal. It is so lively that the concert is the best place to socialize. We leave the concert a few minutes after arriving and move on to Starbuck coffee. When some of us get in the caf to get some drink, one of my friends is standing outside taking photos and he accidentally points the camera to a group of American teenager. A guy grins evilly and shouted Are you taking picture of me? my friend abruptly put the camera away and walk aside. For security, we decided to head back to our hotel and never to go out again until morning. Life in Helena is somehow interesting but it is hard to say what happen if you bump into those guys.