Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

September 7, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - With two months left before Election Day, one group is encouraging Montana's Native American population to register to vote. 

The social justice group Western Native Voice is organizing for the upcoming election, often traveling long distances across the Treasure State. 

But Alissa Snow, the group's state field director, says a bigger hurdle to getting the Native American population to vote is apathy. 

She says Native American voters have a general distrust of government.

"We get complacent," she admits. "We don't realize that we are capable of making change and the first step to that sometimes is by voting for our legislators and getting people in there that understand our issues and can fight for our communities."

Native Americans make up about 6.5 percent of Montana's 1 million residents. 

The deadline to register by mail in Montana is Oct. 18. Voters can register the day of the election at the polls.

Snow says Native American communities are focused on issues such as housing, child care and drug addiction, and that her organization wants to make the connection between these issues and local elections. 

She also says, despite the apathy, there is evidence in the recent past that the Native American population in Montana can make its voice heard. 

In 2015, Western Native Voice, native organizations and tribal leaders were integral in getting Medicaid expansion passed in the Montana Legislature.

"We organized heavily around that, and we organized the Native communities," Snow relates. "We brought people in from all over the state to testify in favor of the health act, which passed in the state Legislature, and that impacted 20,000 Native Americans in Montana. So that was huge for us."

State officials estimate nearly 60,000 Montanans are eligible for the Medicaid expansion, which went into effect this year.




Photo by Jim Larson

By Diane Larson 

“A film festival is this huge orgy of creativity and excitement. All these filmmakers who have spent between one and five years making these projects by themselves will finally get a chance to show their work. Show it to their peers and to an audience that they don’t know anything about,” said Brian Boyd Programming Director of the Covellite International Film Festival, when asked what to expect from the upcoming festival.

Movie director Mike Nichols once said, “The only safe thing is to take a chance.” The film festival is the first of its kind in Butte. It is also the brain child of both Brian and Don Andrews, who is the Executive Director. It is their time to take a chance.

Don Andrews is a real life renaissance man. His former careers include chef, musician, writer, photographer, and confectioner as well as mechanic and former Air Force Sergeant. Don went to film school in Portland, Oregon and has written and directed many short films according to the Covellite web site. Don worked on the Academy Award nominated film, The Boxtrolls. During his time in Oregon, Don discovered a love for film festivals and assisted in starting the Portland Film Festival.

Brian Stuart Boyd is a professional actor. He has been on stage and in feature films. His second feature fill Rum Runners 2016, will be shown at the festival in Butte. Previously, Brian starred in the film Suck it up Buttercup in 2014 and Fertility 2.0 in 2011. The acting bug, or terminal illness as he lovingly calls it, began at a very early age. He was in a production of Sound of Music at 8-years-of-age. Brian has been engrossing himself in the sprouting Butte theater scene. He also hosts a weekly radio show on KBMF-LP. Brian has extensive film festival experience.

Brian and Don arrived in Butte in September of 2015 and recognized Butte as a great venue for a film festival “We got to Butte and saw that it was a festival based town,” said Brian, and we saw how good the festivals were for the community. We saw a town that was such a beautiful place to film as a location that we wanted to set down roots here,” said Brian, and we thought other filmmakers would be inspired to tell stories here as well.”

Once they decided to put on the festival, they both started calling all their contacts nation-wide. They explained how they were starting this brand new festival in Butte, Montana. In our initial contacts, we told them all about Butte, what the town was like and what they were trying to accomplish with the festival. It was then that they also began inviting filmmakers to submit their films.

In the beginning they got about 180 film submissions and 90 of those made it through the screening process to the festival. Those top 90 that were chosen were based on “how much we liked the film, whether or not it has something interesting to say, whether or not it was well done, and whether or not we thought the people in town would like it,” said Brian.

The next step in the process was contacting film makers and trying to get them to come to Butte. Brian said there should be in the neighborhood of 120 filmmakers and representatives here for the festival.

When asked what it was like to begin such a major project as the film festival in a new venue Executive Director Don Andrews responded, one of the difficult things is that for the first year, “you have to show people what it is going to be, and the first year isn’t what it is going to be, it’s just the first year. And just like any art project, because to me a film festival is an art project, and this is an art project that will take me 10 years to do.” He went on to explain that in year one you build the infrastructure, you get the films and the filmmakers here.

For the filmmakers, Brian explained, it is guaranteeing amazing memories and things they will talk about within the indie film community, so that next year everybody hears the story about what a great time they had in Butte. Then those 90 filmmakers go back and tell 10 of their friends, and maybe those 10 submit films next year. “We may get 900 to 2,000 films submitted next year. And it grows.

A film festival, for the film maker, is a chance to test what they have been putting their entire life force into, and with that there is a lot of hope and fear and expectation built in to the experience. The filmgoer gets to see films you would not be able to see anywhere else. These are unique and independent films. Also, after most of the screening there will be question and answer sessions. You, as a filmgoer will get the opportunity to talk to the filmmaker.

There will also be two panel discussions. The first one on Friday at 3:45 pm will be a Drone Panel hosted by Nick Hawthorne of Montana Tech. The second is Directors Panel at 3:00 pm on Saturday, hosted by Malindi Fickle, director of Suck it up Buttercup.

Thursday will be a free night. It begins at 4:00 pm at the Covellite with a Filmmaker Mixer. At 6:00 pm the evening market opens at the Original Mineyard. Music by Sean Eamon and the Walkaways and the opening line up of films will begin at 8:30 pm.

The 3 ½ days are filled with so much fun there is something for everyone. The variety of films go from comedy to horror. There will be short films and feature length films, and if you didn’t get a chance to see something the first time you can just stop by the IBRC or the Labor History Center where they will have jukebox theaters set up. Along with the panels there will be film maker meet-ups and after parties. So much amazing fun.

Ingmar Bergman said, “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” This festival is an opportunity to feel that over and over and over.

Individual passes are $7.00, day passes cost $15.00 and a festival pass is $50.00.


Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

September 2, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Opponents of payday and car-title lending say they lead to financial abuse of consumers, and a new report supports new federal rules to combat the problem. In the report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, researchers analyzed close to 10,000 recent complaints made to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They found that 91 percent involved aggressive debt-collection practices, bank-account closures, and/or long-term cycles of debt.

Mike Litt spokesman with U.S. PIRG said payday lending is structured to set consumers up to fail.

"The borrower is using their uncashed check as collateral, and they have a short amount of time to pay that off," he explained. "And there are a lot of people out there that can't afford that interest and so that sets them up to re-borrow and take out loan after loan after loan."

The report also found that around 15 companies accounted for more than half the complaints, many charging triple-digit interest rates. The report said some of the biggest offenders are doing business under the names CashNetUSA, NetCredit, Check 'n Go, and ACE Cash Express.

Consumer advocates say the federal government should adopt a rule that requires lenders to determine, in advance, a borrower's ability to pay the loan and afford necessities such as food. Litt said the average income of a payday-loan consumer is more than $27,000 annually.

"We're talking about people who are already working to make ends meet and then they get stuck in a debt trap," he said.

The public comment period on the new rule ends on October 7th. The complaint form is here.

By Diane Larson

“I feel so grateful to be able to play music that people want to hear and that makes an impact and that I get to actually make money at it,” says Heather Lingle, Butte’s own singer-songwriter of Americana music.

At about the age of 8, Heather began performing in front of her church. This she says is the beginning of her love for music and performing. Shortly after music, would take on a more important role.

When Heather was ten years of age her father passed away. This event changed her whole perspective. She would use dance as a way of to find comfort. What dance didn’t fill or heal, music did. Music started to become much more important and helped her heal. Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Dance and music helped to express what she felt from such a loss and heal the pain.

Heather studied dance for sixteen years. Both music and dance remain key components in her life. Yet she didn’t study music formally. She considers herself to be a natural musician. Her step-dad, Floyd Luker, also a member of her band, “has been a great influence on my life and has mentored me in music for many years, Heather explains.”

In college, Heather studied philosophy and theology for which she holds a bachelors and a master’s degree.  

When she was younger Heather experienced a deep calling to ministry. She attended a Catholic University and felt a calling to be a priest. Heather is an Episcopalian and at that time in the church, women were not allowed to become priest. Not giving up on her strong calling to ministry she took what she felt the next natural step. She began looking into being a nun.  But as she pursued that avenue, door after door seem to close on her and she soon realized that being a nun was not meant to be.

Today Heather’s call to ministry takes her to teaching Sunday school and outreach programs through her church. Spirituality remains a major part of her life, and her spirituality finds its way into her music as well.

Heather considers her music to be Americana. When asked to describe the Americana style of music she explained that Americana has been an obscure genre for years. It is a music that comes from all over the country. “It really blends folk, country, sometimes blues, sometimes rock,” said Heather. In the end it is American roots music, it is very much embedded in the rural culture of America and travels through the many places that are America. Thirty years ago it could have been labeled as country, but country music has changed and this type of music is steeped in traditional America, explained Heather.

Through the years she says that many have tried to persuade her to move to a larger venue where her music can be exposed to many more people. Places such as Austin, or Nashville. But Heather likes Butte, and Butte is a muse of sorts for her.

Butte is a great place to live for an artist; Heather explained, it has an inspired atmosphere that gives energy to the creative, she said. She went on to say, “There is a synergy right now with visual artist, performing artist, I think it’s really rich with that creative culture and I feed off of that.”

Heather uses her background in philosophy to help communicate some of the more complex thoughts and ideas she gets for her music. She does not consider herself a philosophical song writer, but it is a tool she uses. “Through philosophy you really learn how to analyze information in kind of a higher level thinking, a more abstract way and when I’m writing I pull a lot from that,” Heather explains. “Philosophy helps me weed out the unnecessary and deliver something digestible,” she said.

Heather can also be seen performing with her partner John Emeigh. Together they are Anglophilia and sing covers of hits from the British Invasion era. “John takes the lead and I sing harmony, dance. Basically I am John’s sidekick,” she says with a huge smile. She says they work really well together and it is something she enjoys.

In July Heather released a video for her song, “Man of Mine” which was a project between her and John. John did all the camera work and editing. You can view her video at,

When asked about what sort of venue she liked playing, Heather said that she loves it when she is playing with her band and there is a dance floor. In this atmosphere because of her background in dance as well as music she says she gains a lot of energy.

Heather’s band consists of her step-dad, Floyd Luker, Mark Iwaniak, Kevin McGlynn, and Michael McDaniel.

In 2017 Heather will release her third album. Just about all of Heather’s music is her original, although she has written with her mom, her grandmother and has recently started collaborating with her partner John Emeigh.

Lord Lytton, an English novelist, poet and playwright said, “Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.”

Heather’s approach to music in her life, as well as how she so graciously gifts her music to the world, and how she uses her environment in her music is the embodiment of Lytton’s quote.

For a complete calendar of the events where you can find Heather go to her web site at Check out her music, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

August 30, 2016

Billings - It is a rare opportunity to hear artists speak in depth about what inspires them. On Thursday, September 8th, 6:30-7:30 p.m., the public will benefit from an informal conversation between exhibiting artist Catherine Courtenaye of Bozeman and the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Senior Curator, Bob Durden. Ms. Courtenaye’s work is included in the museum’s exhibition Echo: Unspoken Dialects, which remains on view through October 2nd.

Speaking about the “conversation,” Durden stated, “Curators have the privilege of accessing profound moments when speaking to artists in their studios, witnessing firsthand the surroundings that reflect their ‘creative wells,’ and hearing the backstories to what inspires their artistry. This is the second conversation we’ve hosted to echo these honest dialogs and provide museum visitors with deeper insights into the creative process and artistic intentions of works included in our current exhibition.” During the evening, visitors will have an opportunity to ask their own questions and converse directly with the artist, of whose work Durden states “Catherine Courtenaye uses script—real and invented—to modulate the surface of beautiful color-field paintings. Her calligraphic characters dance and travel through time and space—often balanced with bird imagery to reinforce the themes of flight in her paintings.”

Museum visitors will further their knowledge of art and learn about a community that is hidden amongst us when photographer Jill Brody speaks on the topic of her exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight at 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 22nd. The subject of her exhibition and talk are images from the daily life of Hutterite colonies in Liberty County. The exhibition is appropriate for all ages and remains on view September 1 – December 30, 2016. A public reception takes place at 5:30-7:30 p.m. this Thursday, September 1st

If anything is commonly known about Hutterite colonies, it is the reputation for being self-contained and private. So much more is the privilege, then, to be able to view this selection of photographs by Jill Brody, a photographer who earned the trust and support of the Hutterite colonies in Liberty County, Montana, to the degree that they allowed her to document their daily lives and share her masterful photographs with audiences who wish to build their understanding of the broad diversity of ways of life among people.

Area art lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to meet with and honor the museum’s outgoing Artist-in-Residence, Neil Jussila who has spent nearly a year in the Gary and Melissa Artist-in-Residence Studio at the museum’s Visible Vault, located at 505 North 26th Street. The reception will take place at the Visible Vault at 5-6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 29th. Light refreshments will be served.

Neil Jussila is a beloved local artist and long-serving former faculty of Montana State University, Billings. He is best known for is widely expressive abstract paintings that are inspired by places and memories. Neil’s latest creations will be on view in the studio.

The museum is a barrier-free facility and free parking is available. Members are admitted free, and the general public can visit for a nominal admission fee.  For more information, visit the museum’s website