By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Climate change is real and the Trump administration must get serious about addressing it, a group of University of Montana students said Thursday.

In what was billed as a campus walkout, roughly 60 students converged on the Payne Family Native American Center at 2 p.m., where they called upon President Donald Trump, his cabinet and the University of Montana to take actions to address climate change.

“We would love to see some more leadership and climate action from our government, our administration and our institutions,” UM student Amelia Liberatore said after the rally. “But we're not really seeing that kind of leadership, so we're taking it upon ourselves to be those leaders. We've seen this all across the country.”

The rally followed last weekend's national Women's March and coincided with other student groups that gathered during class to shed light on climate change. The student rallies were held in response to Trump's denial of climate change and what they see as a lack of willingness on the part of UM to divest the school's investment portfolio from fossil fuels.

Over the past three years, the UM group has collected an estimated 2,500 petition signatures in support of its cause. It also has held a number of sit-ins, camp-ins and other protests along the way, according to Simon Dykstra, one of the event's organizers.

“At the student sit-in, around 16 students got arrested,” Dykstra said. “That was a real huge moment in our campaign and really showed that this campus was willing to take the next step for justice in climate change.”

Joseph Grady, a program coordinator and student adviser at UM, led a group of students to Standing Rock in North Dakota last year to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. He credited the students for rising up against the “invasion” of the fossil fuel industry, and for working to make a difference.

The reaction to peaceful protests and prayer, he said, were disturbing.

“If the last 500 years have proven anything to us – governance, the halls of justice – it's that Native American people do not matter,” Grady told the gathering of students. “When you do the math, study the equation and look at the proof, what's left is that Native Americans do not matter.”

A sign painted on Mount Sentinel urges the University of Montana to divest from fossil fuels. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
A sign painted on Mount Sentinel urges the University of Montana to divest from fossil fuels. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

This week, Trump signed an executive order reviving the Dakota Access Pipeline. The controversial project has emerged as a flashpoint over Native American rights, climate change and big business.

In signing the order, Trump called himself an “environmentalist,” but called the permitting process “out of control.”

“If Standing Rock stood for anything, it's that a different paradigm – a different philosophy of living – is possible,” said Grady. “We should be looking for solutions that will help those (oil companies) understand who we are and what it is we're doing.”

A short walk across campus, Kate Stober with the UM Foundation said the students had not reached out to the university's investment arm to get their facts. As of December, she said, the university's financial portfolio had “8 to 10 percent” invested in energy.

That includes everything from renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, to fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Roughly .5 percent of the school's investment portfolio is in coal, she said. The foundation has met with Reinvest Montana in the past, she added, citing a 2015 memo regarding the foundation's stance on fossil fuels.

“The investment objectives of the UM Foundation is to generate real rates of return over the long term that result in the capital appreciation to support UM's mission in perpetuity,” the 2015 memo said. The UM Foundation's mission does not include engaging in or advocating for social or political change.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at