Warmer temperatures and howling winds greeted the twelve students and their leader their last day in Browning and at De La Salle. Today, we said goodbye to the cozy place where we encountered God in prayer, story telling, and laughing together as an immersion family.
Our last morning was spent making the bunkhouse spick and span and eating as much food as we could. We discovered that cleaning before breakfast results in an earlier departure time! Maybe we should have cleaned every morning…
We walked through the doors of the De La Salle School knowing that the hours left to spend time with the students were numbered. Even though time went by much faster than any of us would have liked, we can all agree that not one minute was wasted.
Courtenay spent the last day at De La Salle in the 6th grade classroom where spirits were high and attention continued to grow. I (Katey) spent this last day filling in and doing little jobs for the school as the 8th graders had left for a fun weekend in Helena. Dan, Cory, Blake and I spent a lot of time cleaning up little areas around the school. This included finding little treasures in the gym as we made the court playable again, and expanding our color vocabulary as we sorted and cleaned up the paper collection in the office.
Before lunch, a pack of us mushed over to Medicine Bear one last time. We took part in meaningful conversations and prayer, and were given tiny glimpses into the history of the Blackfeet. To me (Courtenay) those slivers of history are so interesting. I had a desire to find out more and to gain more than just slivers, I wanted to gain branches of a culture. I wanted to learn how tall the tree has grown and where the roots are. At Medicine Bear, I saw God in the words spoken to me by the Blackfeet people. As I was saying goodbye, they shook my hand. One individual asked my name, and he said, “You are Courtenay Runs on Water.” I walked away in wonder at how he could look at me, name me, and give me an identity, and not just any identity, but a Blackfeet identity. I left wondering about the significance of my name, and the uniqueness of the people I met. My encounter sparked a fire in me to dive deeper and discover branches belonging to my own family, and to dig into the roots of who I am.
To me (Katey) the experience at Medicine Bear was just another reason (to go along with the countless other reasons I had discovered throughout the week) to fall in love with the Blackfeet people. The two women who ran the shelter were obvious images of God’s shining grace. It made me feel such joy to walk in and see just how excited they were for us to be there…even though they had no jobs for us to do. We all sat and talked and prayed with those who visited the shelter and it was such a privilege to see and learn about yet another aspect of the Blackfeet tribe.
We then reluctantly left De La Salle and Browning, with lots of hugs and see you laters…all knowing that our journey there was nowhere near complete. The seventh and eighth graders had an amazing opportunity to travel to Helena and experience a variety of different activities in the state capital. This also provided an opportunity for us to get to see them one last time, but this time in our home. I (Katey) met up with them at the Carroll College men’s basketball game. The kids had gotten the chance in the afternoon and evening to hang-out and eat dinner with the team so they all knew who their favorite players were and were ready to cheer them on! It was amazing seeing the kids outside of school in such an energized environment. I had the opportunity to show the girls my locker room and talk a little about their goals; which mostly included playing college volleyball or basketball…but I made sure I mentioned how awesome soccer is as well J. The team put on a great show, tying MSU Northern in the last seconds of the game to push into overtime where they won 89-83! After seeing the students in such a fun and excited state it was even harder to say the final good-byes…but it made it a little easier to know that it would only be a see ya later, because our stories with these amazing kids have yet to be completed. And we would like to leave you with a short prayer:
As I thank you for the gift of life, I also thank you for the gift of wonderful people I have met along this journey. Some of them inspire me, stretch me, challenge me, love me, and encourage me. All of them helped me to realize how meaningful and beautiful my life is. I love them so much. Bless them Lord with good health, security, wealth, success, peace, and joy. Grant their prayers too.
Katey and Courtenay
Hello everyone! This is Blake and Sarah blogging here to share our experience. Both of us chose to be placed in the seventh grade classroom, a class we were told had the most energy. And believe us, that rumor turned out to be true!
Yesterday, we started out the day by visiting the Blackfeet Tribal Community College. We helped the students research their Ancestral History. This involved anything from major events in their history to specific people. The students did a great job working with the Library staff and being respectful at the school. It was cool for us to learn more about the rich history of the Blackfeet tribe.
After the library, we returned to De La Salle and we worked on math lessons. Students had a tough time to adjust to a new routine, as their teacher was sick. However, they persevered and we got through the lesson. After math, we went to communion service (normally they have mass, but the Priest was gone).
Communion service was an absolute joy and blessing to be a part of. We loved seeing the kids participate—doing the readings and prayers for the service. It’s a job that rotates between the grades weekly. All of the students were very quiet and respectful, and it’s cool to see how the kids become much more quiet and reflective during Mass and Religion Class. This shows us that they are aware that there is something much greater going on. This gave us a lot of hope for the students at De La Salle and Browning in general.
Deacon Ron gave an awesome homily. He spoke a lot on the Holy Spirit, which is very appropriate as a lot of the Blackfeet’s spirituality is centered on the Holy Spirit. Deacon Ron was truly filled with joy and fire for the Gospel, and you can tell that he is changing lives in Browning. (SIDE NOTE: Blake fell asleep during the service, so he doesn’t remember a whole lot about it J).
After Communion service we went to lunch and then came back to the classroom. The rest of the day was challenging, but still a joy to be a part of. It was hard for us because this was our last day with them (they are leaving for Helena tomorrow for an overnight trip). They were much calmer this afternoon and enjoyed working with us. As Blake pointed out, “They seemed to want to attack us much less.” At the end of the day, we didn’t say goodbye, as the Blackfeet don’t have a phrase that says goodbye, but rather Kit ah kit ah maht sin which means “see you later.”
That evening, Marty, the oldest elder man of the Blackfeet tribe came to talk with us about the history and traditions of the Blackfeet Tribe. He first gave us a Blackfeet blessing which allowed us to touch and wear Blackfeet artifacts that we otherwise couldn’t. Marty showed us the history of how the Reservation came to be. Initially, the Blackfeet Reservation included a good majority of Montana, North and South Dakota. However, after Treaties, Executive Orders, and “Agreements”, the Browning Reservation was reduced to a small portion of Montana. Even Glacier National Park was taken from them, which is a huge place of their spirituality, a place they call “The Backbone of the World.”
Marty had a lot of artifacts that we could touch and even put on. Some of this included sacred eagle feathers, medicine rattlers, and much more. It was really cool to hold the Eagle feathers, as we learned that without permission from an elder of a tribe, it is a crime to possess or hold Eagle feathers if you are not Native American. You could also tell as you held the feathers that this is a holy object and should be treated with great respect. The Native Americans respect the Eagle so much because they believe it is the Eagle that carries their prayers to God.
Marty was a blessing to talk with and he shared a lot of wisdom and history about the Blackfeet Tribe from a perspective that we are not accustomed to hearing. Marty was incredibly open to sharing his perspectives with us and shared in a beautiful, graceful way.
We came to Browning literally never being exposed to any Native American Culture. Unfortunately, the only things we have heard are the stereotypes and arrogance of people “perceiving this culture.” As Blake pointed out, “The only thing I heard about Browning is that it was a rough town.”
In a sense, Browning is a rough town. It’s very cold and windy; the town faces huge challenges—drug and alcohol addiction, high unemployment, poor economics, lack of teachers, etc. However, Browning is also incredibly beautiful.—the mountains in the distance, the silence that this town has, and the beauty in the people and their culture.
It would be easy to look at Browning and all the challenges they face as a “Hopeless Town.” However, our trip so far has proven the exact opposite. The De La Salle School is providing hope and guidance through education and faith. They are forming students and making disciples. They are providing a guiding light to Browning and beyond.
During this trip we have seen that God is everywhere. And God is with the students of De La Salle and Browning as a whole. There is great hope and love here, and God is with every person here. Please pray for us as we continue our journey.
Blake and Sarah
Hi there. Cory and Colin here. Aka, “Golfers Delight.” We are writing to you from Browning, Montana. Today we spent our morning in the school—another day filled with high testosterone levels and jokes about Cory’s creepy mustache. As one kid pointed out, “Cory looked like a Hobo with an old lady’s mustache.” Another part of the day I (Colin) spent the day at Medicine Bear Shelter and the last part of the day we all spent snowshoeing in Glacier National Park!
Although the kids are highly energized and rambunctious in the classroom, they are an absolute blessing to spend time with. The kids at De La Salle (and Browning in general) are faced with many challenges. Many of them deal with discrimination, high levels of alcoholism and drug addiction, and family issues.
Despite what looks to be a hopeless situation, De La Salle is providing the kids with an experience that allows for a loving and caring atmosphere that strives to re-instill hope. We see this being done through daily prayer and religion classes, as well as mass once a week. We can truly see Christ working through the teachers and forming the students every day. Although the system isn’t perfect, it is an amazing alternative to what the students could be facing.
Later that day I (Colin) went to Medicine Bear Shelter to help them sort food and serve the homeless. Medicine Bear is amazing. Although they don’t have a lot to give, they are able to give them a hot meal and unconditional love. This reminds me of the quote by Mother Teresa “You can do no great things, just small things with great love.” Marla, the director and cook, is there every day from 7:30AM until well into the evening. She is truly a beautiful witness and disciple in Browning.
To finish our Tuesday adventure, we all loaded up the vehicles and made our way into Glacier National Park to partake in snowshoeing. I (Cory) was well prepared for this event, however others in our group (Colin plus a select few) were dressed in only jeans and tennis shoes. Nevertheless, we all put our snowshoes on and trudged through the deep dark forest of Glacier National Park. The conditions were treacherous with the wind blowing at least 5 mph and the sun shining bright. The hike was beautiful. We followed the tracks of animals in an effort to find their stories and we were prompted to make our own tracks and find our own story. We ended with a few minutes of silence and basked in the glory of God’s Creation. Our two leaders Kelly and Kelsey were really what made this experience great. The passion that they both had towards the outdoors, and their jobs was something that you don’t often see.
God reveals himself in everything as long as you are willing to take the time to look. This immersion trip has been centered on the idea of living simply and taking the time to see God in all things. Although it has been a chaotic adventure, God has been generous and present in every person and everything we have encountered. We can’t wait to see what God reveals to us in the last couple of days that we have here in Browning, however we know that in whatever way it happens it will be incredible.
Colin and Cory
Monday, January 12, 2015
Today was the first day that we volunteered at the De La Salle School in Browning, Montana. We started off the morning with prayer and then made our way into town. It was a brisk 6* degrees outside when Blake and Dan started the vehicles before our departure!! Upon our arrival, the immersion group greeted the students in the gymnasium to join them for basketball, volleyball, four square, and other physical activities before morning assembly. At morning assembly the students gathered and brought forward their intentions. Then we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and reflected on the Blackfeet Nation Song while it played. Following that was the Teachers Prayer and the De La Salle Blackfeet Morning Prayer. Before breaking into our classrooms the students and teachers approached us and shook all of our hands.
Katie and I were assigned to serve in the 4th grade classroom with Ms. Kelly Stack; who has worked at De La Salle for six years; first as a volunteer teacher, and now as a certified educator from the University of Illinois. The classes the students attended were Math, Social Studies, Reading, Language Arts, Science, PE/Health and Religion. Megan and I both experienced special encounters when working with the fourth grade class. Below we will share with you briefly what it was like to get to know come of the students of the Blackfeet culture and how their lives are so diverse compared to our own.
I worked with a young girl today who actually moved to Browning from North Dakota. She is originally a Sioux Indian, but she explained to me that her and her family have come to embrace the ways of the Blackfeet culture, and told me about how some of the tribes’ traditions are alike. The student has had a challenging journey, and the staff at De La Salle School is lucky to have her. She has four younger brothers, and therefore her name in Sioux means, “Eldest Daughter.” Each of her brothers has a separate father, which proves that the family dynamics in her home are a little rocky since mom is doing her very best to raise the children and see that their basic and psychological needs are met. She told me that her mom used to be an avid runner in college who holds records at a college in ND, but unfortunately, the pressure of addictions have placed her mother into a series of rehabilitation centers and programs, while the student is cared for by her grandmother. I appreciated getting to spend just a short amount of time with this student by allowing her to share her life and open up to me about some of the traditions of her people. I hope to impact her life this week, and continue to learn and embrace the Blackfeet people without passing judgments on them, as well as keeping the school in my prayers.
Something interesting that I found out is that all of the students in the school have their own iPad to use during school, donated to the school by a private donor. One student that really touched me today was a boy who had many difficulties following the rules and staying focused. When I was helping him in Social Studies using his iPad, he was able to stay focused and we were able to get all of his work done. It made me feel special that I was able to help someone who often turns people away. I am excited to see what the rest of the week brings.
I came on Headlights for a few reasons, but the main reason was to get rid of the stigmas of Browning I’ve picked up living in Montana. Within the first ten minutes most of those stigmas were shattered. Despite our late arrival to mass, Fr. Ed took time out of his homily to introduce us and thank us for being here. I was shocked by how excited the entire parish was at our presence. I have never felt as welcome at a mass as I did at this parish and they didn’t even know who I was! The rest of mass had a really amazing sense of community that I have only ever felt in my rather large family. During the Our Father prayer, every hand was connected, even between rows. I don’t think their hands would have parted if it weren’t time for peace. I don’t really know how to describe how beautiful that was to see. Everyone was included. I was overwhelmed by their intentionality during peace. Our group, sitting above in the balcony, quickly shared peace between those closest to us and then stood in awe as the rest of the church took their time embracing what looked like every person attending. They were in no rush. Their intentionality continued to us as we made our way down the stairs to receive communion. I couldn’t go more than a pew before getting stopped to receive peace from a member sitting down. They are very intentional as a community and I hope to bring that back to Carroll with me.
Later in the day we had the opportunity to hike a buffalo jump, which is sacred in the Blackfeet tradition. The snow and ice made us all a little clumsy on the way up but once we go to the top, it was beautiful. While I was at the top I asked God to show me what he wanted me to see looking out across the rolling hills. The word that kept coming to mind was simple. Looking down off the mountains that surround my house back home there is a very different view, there’s a whole city at the bottom with bright lights and cars. At the top of that buffalo jump you look down and there is a couple of horses, a fence, and a few telephone poles. Looking down off the buffalo jump there is mostly natural beauty, simple beauty. I think the simplicity of this culture is one of their most intriguing and distinguishing characteristics. At home we’ve covered every area of land we could get at and it’s not like that here. They left it the way God made it—simple and beautiful. I think that is one of the ways God’s challenging us to grow this week and as we go back to Carroll.
When I woke up on Sunday morning to head for the headlights trip to Browning, I realized that suddenly my break was going to get very different. I had played sports in Browning before, but I was still very nervous to experience the Blackfeet culture in a way that the trip would lead me to experience them. As we were riding in the car I felt so nervous and I was wondering if the other volunteers were feeling the same way. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
As we pulled into Browning, I felt familiar going down some of the roads, but I still felt uncomfortable because I was unsure of what would happen that day. The first thing that we did was go to mass at Little Flower Parish. We were immediately welcomed into the church and offered seats in the balcony of the church. During mass, I noticed a few things that were different than what I am used to at Carroll and my own hometown parish.
The first thing that I noticed was that the people said prayers much slower than I am used to saying them. Whenever I had to resay a line, I thought to myself “Do I really say prayers that fast?”. It made me reflect on the fact that I know how to rattle off prayers quickly without very much meaning, but slowing down can help to make prayers feel more meaningful and intentional. In addition to the prayers, I also noticed that the people in Little Flower Parish are very much connected, like a large family. When they would say the Our Father prayer, they would hold hands so that all of the rows would be connected, and I am just used to seeing people in mass hold hands only in their rows. This helped me to reflect on how we are really all a family, and we should treat one another as true brothers and sisters like I saw in the Little Flower Parish.
After mass, we went to the mission and then decided to hike a sacred buffalo jump. When I got to the top of the buffalo jump, I thought that the site was beautiful in a unique way. I thought that it was beautiful because as soon as I started to look at the view I felt a great calm inside of me that made the silence on the top of the buffalo jump very comforting.
When we arrived at the mission, I felt that all of the nervous feelings that I had before were gone. To finish off the day, we had dinner at Brother Dale’s house and got to know everyone in the group. I am so excited to see where this trip takes all of us!
We are back at it again! This Sunday we are taking 12 or Carroll’s best and brightest students and heading north to Browning, a town located at the heart of the Blackfeet Reservation. This is always an amazing experience, and has for years changed students lives. What makes this years trip extra special is that we have two recent graduates of Carroll working at the Browning De La Salle school that we will be volunteering at. One thing we ask as we prepare our hearts to encounter God in and with the Blackfeet people, is for your constant prayers. We know that through the support of your prayers, God transforms lives and hearts, and draws them closer to Godself. So pray for us, and pray hard, and keep checking back, because I know we will have plenty of stories to share!
On our last day on this beautiful, life changing journey, 6:00 AM saw us up and ready for a new day. After cleaning our bunk house, we set out for our final day at the school. Due to the three hour drive home and a quick adventure planned in Glacier Park in the afternoon, our day with the students would end after 10:30 mass. Before school began, the students gathered in the gym for some pick-up basketball. Although my percentage of shots made was less then pretty much every single fourth grader there (probably on the entire reservation), I had a blast challenging many of the kids I had formed relationships with throughout the week. After the morning assembly, I followed the fourth-graders to their class room. As I sat off to the side, watching Ms. Stack teach her kids, I was struck by just how much love filled the class. The love Ms. Stack showed her students was evident in every “good job!”, and hug; even in her reprimands. The students love for her shined through in every proud accomplishment presented to her and in every smile shown. And my love for those kids had blossomed from simply a love of kids in general, to individual relationships of love and respect. More than anything, these kids have taught me that in the face of every difficulty and hardship there is a resilience to be found. In the end it came down to perspective. We could choose to see the Blackfeet as a nation in need of help. A nation full of sadness and despair with little hope for a better future. Or we can choose to see it through the eyes of each bright child, still full of dreams and plans for the future. Or through the eyes of Ms. Stack, who saw endless potential in each smile of a student. This short week left all of us with a whirlwind of emotions each of us need time to process through. But one thing is certain, the love we found in our hearts for a beautiful people will continue to grow despite the distance that separates our lives. Our lives have changed all because of one week on a tiny reservation in Browning, Montana.
The third day at De La Salle, the last full day of our trip, proved to be climatic for many in our group. Relationships were developing and depth was being reached. Whether Kevin was introducing his 5th grade class to the Sound of Silence or others were learning the rich and fascinating history of the Blackfeet Nation, this Wednesday afternoon proved to be more fulfilling than most weeks in my life.
There seemed to be a shared feeling of guilt and responsibility in the group. We discussed how hard it is to start such wonderful relationships and leave right away. While many of the people we have met are rich in wisdom and in love, their suffrage has embedded itself in our consciousness. As one of the group members put, ‘How is it that I am blessed so much and have done nothing yet this wonderful community has done nothing and has to suffer?’ It is hard for all of us but the conclusion was made that change in heart can be a painful experience, but the development through love makes it worth it.
The evening was another amazing experience as we were privileged to engage in conversation with Marty Martain as he explained to us Blackfeet history. We learned of the 30-year period where the reservation shrunk from much of Montana, Northern Idaho, and Canada, to roughly 1/50th its original size. We learned of the significance of the earth and all things, but what was most overwhelming was listening to Marty tell us about the significance of the eagle. He told us the eagle is the most sacred animal, how the eagle is a carrier between the creator and us. We got the rare opportunity to even touch, hold and wear 1800’s eagle feather regalia. It was humbling, and simply awe-inspiring experience.
For myself the most influential experience was with the children, having them open up to me about their family, their struggles, and most of all their immense capacity to love. As I recollect on the week, that has been what I have been able to take away most. These kids have been able to teach us love.
Today was another really eventful day. We began the day by getting up and arriving at De La Salle Blackfeet School at around 7:40 am. We had time to just hang out with the kids in the morning. It was amazing to just see how full of energy and excitement the kids were to be playing around with their friends before school.
Around 9:30 am we left the school and walked over to Medicine Bear. Medicine Bear is a soup kitchen type of home for the Street People. The Street People are not homeless, but rather are people that have a place to live but have been kicked out of it. These people are some of the happiest people that I have ever seen. From the moment that they entered into the Medicine Bear to the minute they left, they were smiling and laughing. They are a huge family that must stick together. While we were there, I really saw Christ in these people. Because of their joy and happiness about everything. Even though they are not the most well off, they are ok with it and are just trying to be the best that they can be.
There was one man that a few of us got to listen to talk for a long time. He was a decorated member of the marines. He was medically discharged because he was shot in the leg. He was one of the nicest gentlemen that I have talked to. The part that struck me most about the conversation that we had with him was when he talked about his drinking. We have all known about the drinking challenges here on the reservation, but to hear about it from a specific person was really amazing. The gentleman kept saying that he knew that it was bad for his health and bad for his personality; however, the reason he kept drinking was to make himself feel better about the person that he is. He does not use drinking to just get drunk but to feel better. Which he believes is different for many of the other drinkers in the community.
There was another man there that was also a retired member of the military. He said that the reason that he drinks is because when he is sober, he has dreams of the war and nightmares of things that happened. During our evening reflection, Cody said that the gentleman that a few of us listen to really gave a good reason for the drinking in the community and on the reservation. Many Indians enter the army and love serving the United States; however, it is hard for them to come back and be the same. This can be said for many of the soldiers that are not Indian or from the reservations.
Later that afternoon we had the pleasure of listening to a man named Harry Barnes. Harry lives in Browning and is a Blackfeet from his mother and Irish from his Dad. He was born in Spokane, WA. He has moved back and forth from off the reservation to on it for years. He now owns his own business in Browning. Because of this, he knows a lot about the economics of the Blackfeet reservation. This was a big eye opener for us. We had heard about the hardships that the people are having to go through, but to hear about it from a person who lives it each day was amazing. He talked about the different big economic advances for the reservation, from the horse to the coming of the whiskey traders. He also talked about the tribal government. Just like the United States government, the tribal government is unable to make decisions and are fighting and may possible shut down like ours did. Because of this, they are unable to pay certain people what they need to be paid. For Harry, his business does a lot of business with the government, but if they are not cooperating, then they can’t spend money and therefore he has lost business. This then effects how much he can pay his employees. Which then affects his employees’ way of life.
Today was a very important day in our immersion in Browning. We really got a glimpse into the life that we had only heard about. Being able to spend time with the Street People and then to listen to Harry really put into perspective the lives of the people here in Browning. During reflection that night we talked about what is that God is calling us to do. So, as we continue throughout this week, it is important that we start looking for what it is that He is calling us to get out of this immersion and what it is that we can do when we return to Helena.