The Roundup -

Student Exhibit Documents Social, Cultural Perspectives On The Yellowstone River


Who owns a river? That is the question that Dr. Bruce Wendt’s junior history class at Billings West High School attempted to answer last spring. Their research and project became an exhibit at the Western Heritage Center entitled, “Who Owns the Yellowstone?” With help from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), that exhibit will be traveling to public libraries along the river from late March through mid-June.

Each year, one of Dr. Wendt’s classes creates a project that becomes an exhibit at the Western Heritage Center in Billings. The students used Dr. Susan Gilbertz’ “The Yellowstone Cultural Inventory—2006” for this project. Dr. Gilbertz, a Professor of Geography at MSU-Billings, originally interviewed 300 people who lived or worked near the Yellowstone River as a part of a project for the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council.

The students designed short videos and 10 posters that reflect opinions and thoughts from the interviews. “Projects such as this challenge students to research, reflect, and then create images for an audience they will never meet,” said Dr. Wendt. The exhibit includes facts about the Yellowstone River, emotional connections to the river, ecology, historic use, threats to the river, challenges along the river, governance, and how to preserve Montana’s unique water heritage.

This traveling exhibit provides visitors an opportunity to see and hear water users’ thoughts and ideas from agricultural, residential, recreational and civic perspectives. When reflecting on what she had learned creating the exhibit, Haley Heitz, one of the student creators, said, “I learned that the Yellowstone isn’t owned by anyone but still has a lot of ownership, which makes a fuzzy line.”

“This project is a unique opportunity for high school students to explore challenging topics from many different perspectives. The issues surrounding the Yellowstone River are very complex, but the students addressed the challenge head-on and developed a really dynamic, professional exhibit,” said Kevin Kooistra, Executive Director of the Western Heritage Center. “We’re pleased that additional communities will have access to this informative display as a result of this partnership with the DNRC and the regional libraries.”

The exhibit will be at the Richland County Library, at 121 3rd Avenue NW, From May 20 – June 1, 2017. The library is open Mondays through Saturdays.


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