A VOLUNTEER ADVENTURE ON THE BLACKFEET RESERVATION IN MONTANA

Montana is BEAUTIFUL…definitely Big Sky Country….The Weather has been VERY windy and Cold…40’s-50’s during the day and really cold at night…They had several feet of snow June 3-8…it killed 3200 head of cattle and several hundred horses…one man only found the horses’ shoes…then the Grizzlies came out of the mountains and feasted on the carcasses…Basically, it’s been cold here and I definitely did not pack correctly…I ended up having to buy a jacket from the Local Trading Post….And, of course, all they had was an Extra Large….It swims on me but….today the weather warmed up quite a bit but still required a sweater….

The Blackfeet Nation sits on a one million acre reservation at the foot of Glacier national Park…The Reservation (meaning all of the land) is Beautiful…Browning, the seat of the Tribal Government and where we are staying is what you would expect…very small and quite a bit economically disadvantaged…there is 78% unemployment here!!! …But they do have very good programs like the Head Start and Assisted Living facility for the Tribes.

The Blackfeet Nation is made up of 3 tribes: the Picuni’s(here in Montana) and the Blackfoot and Bloods in Canada. The Blackfoot are a tribe of the Blackfeet(not a singular tense)

The Group of volunteers I’m with are wonderful…there are 18 of us, 2 couples and the rest are women…the age range is from 24-76….the people in the group are well travelled and sooo interesting…everyone has travelled to incredible places and done amazing things both in travel and life…I find the volunteer’s backgrounds to be almost as fascinating as the Locals….

We spent last weekend getting oriented…it was quite reminiscent of School…we do a daily group journal…each night one of us writes the journal…so each entry has been very individual…they will send us the journal later.

We started work yesterday…I have been bringing Parks up to Grade….so lots of lifting…and Mowing(something most of you know I don’t do at home!). Tomorrow I am going to do something called teepee poles in the AM. That is taking the bark off the poles to make the tee pee…several of the elders will be with us to teach us the process..we’ve been told it is quite strenuous…then I’ll head to the nursing home to work with the elderly….I’ll also be helping paint the nursing home and many more tasks…each day they rotate us…I’ve learned a bit of Blackfeet language…

We are going to see tribal drumming and dancing after a traditional dinner tomorrow night…4th of July there is a big rodeo…Indian Days(the Pow Wow) is at the end of next week….

The Locals prefer to be called Indians but are OK with Native American…they are quite reserved at first meeting and then warm up once they feel you are genuine…our local host last night said, “Don’t promise a Indian anything, they’re not going to believe you anyway”…we all laughed and then I realized how sad that is…there is a great distrust of the white community of Americans…but I’ve been told that through all the volunteer groups they’ve had that this is lessening(at least with Global Volunteers)….Several of us walk in the AM and we have been stopped on many occasions and asked if we were lost…tourists do not stay here…This Reservation is a sovereign Community(like the Vatican in Rome)…it really does feel like I’m in another country….I’ve visited many reservations but being on one is very different…

I’m having a great time and learning so much…although I wish I had learned how to pack correctly!!!!

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