By Soncirey Mitchell
Gonzaga University Center for the Study of Hate and nationally recognized human rights advocates honored the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force on Nov. 2 with the annual Eva Lassman Take Action Against Hate Award. The task force formed in 1992 to counteract a local branch of the Aryan Nations — which sought to establish a white supremacist stronghold in North Idaho — and has worked tirelessly since to combat hate in Bonner County.
“As one who personally knew and deeply admired Eva for her work and contributions to human rights for years in the Inland Northwest, I can think of no organization more deserving of this award,” said Tony Stewart, secretary of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, in his letter nominating the BCHRTF.
Lassman was a holocaust survivor in Spokane, Wash., whose educational programs helped her community oppose racism, antisemitism and the roots of hate that lead to the rise of Nazi Germany. In her honor, Gonzaga recognized the BCHRTF for its 31 years of service supporting human rights through education, outreach and action.
“I felt that our steadfast work was affirmed by credible groups who have been doing this work for a long time, which was encouraging and inspiring and provided me with motivation to continue the work,” Sharon McCahon, BCHRTF board member, told the Reader.
Serendipitously, Eric K. Ward — who was instrumental during the early days of the task force — received the Eva Lassman Award in the individual category on the same night. Ward is an expert on authoritarian movements and preserving democracy, and has served as the executive director for Western States Center and as a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Race Forward.
“He gave us knowledge and resources, through his work with the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, to dig deeply into our responsibility as a human rights organization,” said Linda Navarre, co-president of the task force. “His demeanor is always uplifting and his smile and hearty laughter warm the room.”
Also among those honored was author and journalist Leah Sottile, whose true crime work exposes human rights violations and hate groups in the American West.
“There were so many activists doing so much important work honored at the gala,” said Navarre. “Journalism is an important part of truth and justice for all of us — it is not to be bullied by hate-filled folks. We must combat hate and false representation.”
The task force encourages anyone interested in fostering a kind, welcoming community in North Idaho to reach out or visit their website for volunteer and educational opportunities.
For more information about the task force, visit, bchrtf.org.
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