Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The history of Missoula's early Chinese population and its contributions to the city's growth will be memorialized in a resolution and eventually a plaque noting where many of them were buried in the late 1800s in unmarked graves.

The Missoula City Council on Wednesday morning approved the resolution on a unanimous vote. Work to amend the resolution's language headed off mounting disagreement over words and phrasing.

“It was important to have a good, thorough discussion about language,” said Paul Kim, a member of the ACLU who researched and spearheaded the effort. “Where we have it now is sufficient. It's a huge step forward in the historical intervention we were hoping to make with this resolution. There's nothing left to do now but celebrate this.”

Efforts to pass the resolution hit a roadblock two weeks ago over language in one particular clause, which suggested that “Montana politicians across the political spectrum continue to fearmonger and scapegoat Asians and Asian Americans.”

The clause prompted several members of the City Council to call for revisions, though supporters of the resolution appeared unwilling to make any changes at the time.

However, since that last meeting, the two sides worked out an agreement that altered the clause. Along with a few other grammatical edits, the clause now reads, “People in positions of power continue to practice discrimination and exclusion against Chinese Americans.”

A county official on Wednesday said commissioners support the resolution as well and expect to adopt it in its final form.

“We updated the clause and did some grammatical and changes with the county,” said council member Daniel Carlino, who sponsored the resolution. “It's important that we don't let those people go forgotten. They were an important part of Missoula's history.”

Among other things, the resolution acknowledges the graveyard in the lower Rattlesnake where many of the city's early Chinese residents remain in unmarked graves below a residential neighborhood.

It also notes the role the Chinese played in building the region's railroads, the businesses they ran, and how the Chinese community rapidly declined in 1892 after a number of violent and discriminatory acts directed toward the Chinese community.

“Montana’s Chinese were driven out by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act, and other laws and local ordinances that sought to control and repress the freedom of movement, the ability to work, and, ultimately, the livelihoods of Chinese in the United States,” the resolution notes.

Kim said he plans to host a walking tour in the lower Rattlesnake in September to share the city's Chinese history. Several members of City Council said the effort to approve and ultimately adopt the resolution, while controversial at times, helped shed light on the city's Chinese history.

“It's been enjoyable to see the people in the community learn about this,” said council member Mike Nugent.

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