We departed Helena at approximately 6:00am, with a prayer to embrace the immersion to which we were going to be experiencing. We arrived earlier than expected at 9:00am, we then visited the mission and had the opportunity to meet with the De La Salle Blackfeet School president, Brother Dale. Then the group arrived at mass wherein Fr Ed Kohler was the celebrant. There we instantly were exposed to the inimitable love of the Blackfeet people who said a gracious blessing over us and welcomed us with open and humble hearts. Seeing the sacrificial love of Christ so vividly in their lives made us feel welcome to Browning. Such a welcome also enabled us to witness and correct some collective non-native perspectives on the residents of Browning in that they are a loving and joyous people who are welcome to visitors of good will. After some bonding over submarine sandwiches we ventured to the school and received informative presentations and an orientation. After getting our groceries we were met with more welcoming locals in the parking lot who expressed gracious words for our being here. Later at the mission, we were sullen to have learned that the Buffalo Jump that we usually tour had been closed due to recent desecration from a past immersion school, so we did some contemplative outdoor time at the Two Medicine River which runs along the mission property in lieu of the usual outing. Brother Dale, Sister Pat, other school personnel, and other visiting students all hosted us for a lovely dinner of fellowship. We needed the night with a lighthearted dancing competition and evening prayer, wherein we reflected on how we could be open to God’s will and serve humbly and effectively for the coming school week for which we are every excited.
Conor A. Coutts
The roar of 5:30 am alarms and the painful chill of negative 28 degrees greeted us on day four in Browning. However, despite the cold or the temptation of “just 5 more minutes” we were eager to return to the school. The highlights- Mountains and Rap.
After a fierce game of basketball and another brutal loss for us immersion students, we dispersed to our classes. While Sav and Krista took on 4th, Courtenay and Connor joined 5th, and Zef and Sari braved 7th, Alex and I put on our gansta faces as we joined the 6th graders for an epic rap battle. The class was assigned a poetry assignment, where they had to design a rap about their friend using similes and metaphors. However, instead of the typical roasting seen in rap battles, this 6th grade showdown consisted of compliments. The assignment was engaging, genius, and fun……the catch? Alex and I had to perform the example rap for the ENTIRE 6th grade class! Now, let’s make something clear- when the real Slim Shady is asked to stand it ain’t us. However, despite our internal dread to rap to a bunch of 6th graders, we pulled through and the students went wild!! The room filled with Ooooooohhhhhhsss, gasps, and laughs as we “busted” our rhymes. This lyrical performance written by none other than the amazing Dan Thies is as follows:
Fallon: Oki, hola, Ciao and how do you do
I’m loving your red kicks, them’s some sassy shoes
Oh and have I told you, you look nice today
Wearing your khakis and flannel in a classy way
Ya Well you may know this
Many call you the Freshest
And more say you’re the big fish
In this infinite sea
Alex: Oh hey there Ms. Machado
How did I ever not know
That you can make the words flow
Like salmon of Capastrano
And here I stand so humbled by your lyric masterpiece
You’re more talented and kind than our language can unleash
And girl I seen you ball’n
Your shots are always fall’n
Curry and James be call’n
Because they know you bring the heat
After our “attempt” to be the next Chance the Rapper, the students followed suit and went above and beyond. Compliments were thrown, and “mics” were dropped as the students slammed their notebooks to the floor after their epic performances!! I was completely blown away by their talent and as smiles reached ear to ear and laughter filled the air I was reminded that joy can only be received by letting go. This reflection of surrender continued as we left the classrooms and headed towards the mountains.
After hiding for three days behind darkness and cloud cover, the Glacier mountains finally showed their faces and we seized the opportunity. We drove in silence as a row of towering white peaks challenged the sky to our left and an ocean of blues and pinks huddled against a full moon to our right. A winter stillness captivated the vast open as we drove nestled between sky and mountain. Looking back, I can’t help but ponder- how frequently have I been in this situation? Surrounded by beauty, and yet I choose the road. So often, God offers us little sunsets or mountains in our days, our weeks, and our lives and yet, instead of taking the trail less traveled, we choose the road designed by the world; we choose comfort. On “comfort” road, we can safely glance at the plans God placed around us, such as that beautiful sunset, but we choose to keep driving because we fear the unknown. However, after spitting rhymes and beholding God’s beautiful creation, I realized that only by letting go to this “unknown” can joy ever truly be received. Rapping was a huge detour from “My Plan” and way outside my comfort zone, but through my surrender I met joy, laughter, and 11 smiling students eager to learn. Overall, life should be more than just a glance at the mountains, but an adventure through them. Because, in the end, His plan is ALWAYS way more beautiful than we could ever possibly dream.
So today the boys started off the morning like any other. Thanking God for all he does and freezing our toes off taking showers. Riveting I know. Breakfast, however, was on a whole nother level. Zef and Krista made French toast, hash browns, and sausage that could rival even the best breakfast line cooks, or at least it did in my humble opinion.
After eating and praying of course, we all packed into the cars to drive over to the school. This time the roads were quite exciting. There had been three to four inches of snowfall overnight and it was all, as some of my colleagues say, “sick pow dude.” This “sick pow” meant that if you passed an oncoming semi (we passed 5) that you were going to be flying blind for several seconds. Yes, the mini blizzards following the semi-trucks made normally easy drive quite invigorating. Thankfully we all arrived safely.
I was very excited to tackle another day with these wonderful children. What I think is remarkable about these children is that they have so much love and so much joy that I can’t help but have a great time with them. Even though today I spent a large portion with Fallon correcting long division, I still loved every minute. This also lead to quite the shenanigans later.
Fallon and I were also able to help some kids out one on one with some math. It was cool to see how eager they were to learn once some of the distractions of the classroom were eliminated. Later we got to give more one on one help with some reading and social studies, but we were hardly useful. He handled all of it on his own, rarely needing help.
Near the end of the school day we had the opportunity to go to Mass with the community. It was a beautiful service and it moved the hearts of all of us. The sign of peace is still something that amazes me. The people really make it a point to make sure you know you are loved. Not only that but complete strangers are hugging, how neat is that?!
After Mass we were blessed to listen to Olivia Davis talk to us about the realities of the history of the Blackfeet people and where they are now. It was a real eye opener to the injustices that are still being performed on the reservations, not just from the government to the tribe, but inside the tribe as well. Being ostracized from both communities for being “too Indian” for the white community and “too white” for the Indian community, Olivia was able to show us some of the struggles of these people. She really hammered home for me that things do not get done by just hoping they get done. The government injustices she described are not something that happen overnight and will not be fixed overnight either. What she did leave us with is the realism of the community. The Blackfeet are brutally honest and they are not bad people. There may have been a few bad eggs but the people are loving and welcoming if you give them a chance and they should be compensated for the injustices of the past.
Remember that long division part? Here is the shenanigans, but there is a little back story. For Language Arts Mr. Palaccio asked Fallon and I to create a rap battle about each other, but we could only say nice things about each other. What a nightmare. I am not a poet and everyone knows it (now). So we went off to the office to try and write something that would not make us look too foolish. It was about 20 minutes of nervous shifting and laughing at the awful lyrics we would have to perform. Luckily, they ran out of time and we did not need to duke it out, but that was not the end of it. Dan got word and just ran with it. So here is the rap that he came up with I hope you enjoy.
Welcome to Broyles time
Hot from on high
I roast long hand division like a savory numeric pi
I got the black wavy locks
Teeth like chalk
And I be dividing digits like Jesus did flocks
Of goats and sheep
Little Bo Peep
Cause when I pick up the lead I’m gonna bring the heat
Ticongeroga na-na-na-number two “hoooooo”
Breaking down the numerals like my Jeep Grand Cherekoooo
This morning we woke up, ate breakfast and prayed together as a group. We listened to the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath as part of our prayer. I loved starting my morning this way because it helped me go into the day ready to totally immerse myself into a new environment. I was open-hearted and excited to go to De La Salle School and meet the kids I would be working with for the week. The windy drive was dark, but as soon as we reached the top of the last hill the lights of Browning illuminated our way. We drove towards the twinkles, eager to open our eyes to what the Holy Spirit had for us to see.
Unsure about what the day would bring, we drove over on the snowy roads to the school. We assembled in the gym with all of the kids for morning prayer and announcements. Right away I felt very welcomed by the entire De La Salle community. It was very evident that the Blackfeet people possessed a great gift of love. I then met up with the fourth graders (Sav) and fifth graders (Court) which is the class I am primarily working with this week. Just after one day, I truly feel that these kids are some of the most generous and kind-hearted people that I’ve met. For me (Court) it was incredible to visit the same students I worked with last year. I immediately recognized their growth and my heart was filled with joy as they remembered who I was.
We had the great gift of listening to a high school junior Blackfeet speak about her experience living on the reservation. Her insight was eye-opening and she was articulate and passionate. Through her, the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to the brokenhearted, the ones that are within our reach; giving us hope for the ones forgotten, giving us eyes that not only look, but SEE.
So far, I have learned a lot about Blackfeet history and culture, which I was unfamiliar with before coming on this trip. I’m starting to understand how generous a people they are. By immersing myself into their culture and getting to know the kids at the school, I can appreciate all the love they have to give. The Blackfeet spirituality is inspiring to me in so many ways. Through all of the brokenness that the Blackfeet experience daily, they continue to move forward with hope. I am learning how to carry my own crosses by growing in relationship with the Blackfeet people. Even after this first day, I know that I am loved deeply by each of the people I encounter here in Browning. I can feel my heart being overwhelmed with God’s love and hope that the kids I’m working with can feel this love through me. I’m excited to keep diving deeper and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
Love, Sav and Court
The 8 of us arrived in Browning after a placid 3 hour drive in the morning. We were earlier than usual, so we went to the grocery store before morning Mass at Little Flower Parish in Browning. In the super market parking lot, the differences of reservation kicked in immediately when about a half a dozen stray dogs ran over to us, a commonality on the reservation. Immediately we realized how incredibly welcoming everyone was, this really meant a lot to us all. At 10:30 we attending holy Mass with Fr Ed Kohler, the celebrant, who was very grateful and happy that we were there, and the parish extended a special blessing to us, which we were humbled by.
We then checked in with John Ficaro, a La Sallian volunteer who teaches and directs the immersion experience program. John described to us some statistics, demographics, and history of the Blackfeet people. Upon arrival at the Holy Family mission where we were staying, we unpacked all the groceries and settled in. Many of us went to the famous Buffalo Jump for a frigid, snowy hike- that was full of spirituality and fun all the while. In the evening, we had dinner at Brother Dale’s home next door. There we met other La Sallian volunteers who teach, other students from California, and Sr. Pat, a beloved sister of mercy and science teacher at the school. Later that night we all agreed that even on our first day in Browning our Lord spoke to us, and revealed himself in the Blackfeet people. This is a special place that we are excited and ready to be immersed and serve in any capacity we are able.
In honor of it being the one and only Day 5, we all woke up at five in the morning. We then proceeded to clean up the bunkhouse while meditating on the meaning of life. We then hopped into the van and car and dance partied our way the school. We all took part in making the most scrumptious breakfast whilst bumpin’ the tunes for the students. We were making such a fabulous breakfast so that the children would be well nourished before the infamous MAP testing. All of the children departed to their rooms and, for once, settled to a semi-low roar, sounding similar to the distant rolling thunder of the rainy season. After Mr. H fixed any and all technical issues with the iPads, the students began testing and we started to settle in to the first peaceful activities of the week, including pastel drawings and reading of literature. Suddenly, our ruthless leader, Dan, violently tore us away from the one peaceful moment we had experienced all week. Dan was able to make up for his violent actions by taking us to a super interesting speaker named Darren Kipp. After a week where it can be easy to become discouraged by all of the struggles and hardships that these people have to go through, Darren was able to instill hope in our hearts before we headed home. His father, Darrell Kipp, started the school Cut Woods to save the Blackfeet language. They’re goal was to take around 20-25 children and immerse them into the language and culture in their lessons and games that they play during the day. Then, you know, we carried on with the normal school day…oh my goodness I forgot we went to mass before that! The mass was hosted by the seventh grade class. The students crushed the final song, belting out the refrain to Eagle’s Wings. After enjoying a nutritious lunch and blowing off steam at recess, the students prepared to take the reading portion of the MAP tests. By the time they were done, it was time for us to head out. We said goodbyes and had lots of hugs and fist-bumps with the students and teachers before hitting the road. We made one more stop on the way out of town to the Cut Woods school that Darren had told us about. We were able to get a tour of the classrooms and kitchen while we were explained how each day goes for the students. They told us about how it’s not only the language that the students learn, but also the traditional games. Another important aspect of their education is to talk to elders in order to save and preserve the whole Blackfeet culture. Before leaving the school, we were able to listen to Robert Hall, one of the teachers. We were all captivated by the amazing conversation about the Pikani (Blackfeet) language, and our desire to understand grew tremendously.
We piled back into the cars for our trek home to Helena, saying goodbye to two of our own along the way. We left with a mission. The De la Salle children and the Pikani people left a mark on our hearts and we know this was only a “see you later” not a “goodbye.”
Colter and Anna
Today was another action-packed day at the De La Salle Blackfeet School. We arrived prior to the beginning of classes and had time to play with the students. What started as shooting around, slowly transformed into a highly competitive game of lightning. Although our basketball skills are still lacking, we managed to hang in there for much of the game.
Following morning assembly, we moved into our respective classrooms (4th for Kaycee and 6th for Kurt). The excitement from shooting around carried into the classrooms and brought an energy you could not overlook!
In 6th grade, the day began with science which is difficult for the best of us, but especially so for these riled up kids. After the previous discussion on mitosis and meiosis, the kids were ready for something…more. So of course, the teacher rolled out Magic School Bus to illustrate the formation of a baby chick in detail. This video surprisingly encapsulated all the energy the children contained and brought their focus to a deeper understanding of the chick life cycle.
Back in fourth grade, we also were struggling with this difficult subject and were treated to a Magic School Bus episode on plant growth. This helped with the students understanding of plant nutrition, and brought me back to my days in elementary school.
Throughout the day, we were reminded of all the blessings that come with assisting in classrooms full of bright, excited children. One was a blessing of patience. In the sixth grade classroom, Leah somehow found it funny to repeatedly splash me (Kurt) with water throughout their religion lesson. Even though at first I thought about telling her to knock it off, I tried my best to contain my frustration. I knew that she might never stop no matter what I said, so I decided to take it from her perspective and laugh at myself. This reminded me that I shouldn’t always take the moment so seriously and it helped me to patiently find the humor in moments of frustration. Another blessing I (Kaycee) experienced was the seemingly unending energy of children. While this sometimes seemed like a curse (especially late in the day), it was refreshing to remember to find excitement in every aspect of my day—even boring science classes. One particular student, Brooke, seemed to always be laughing. I loved the joy she contained and the reminder to me to take the time to enjoy myself regardless of the situation. As well as patience and laughter, another blessing we experienced was a blessing of awareness. When sixth grade was in the language lesson, Mr. P asked if I (Kurt again) could work with a student named Shawn. Previously, from our interactions I did not believe that Shawn wanted anything to do with me. While we were working one-on-one I decided to give Shawn a little break from his schoolwork and I asked him if he had made an origami fortuneteller that he picked up off the ground. He told me that he did make it and explained to me how to use it. I asked him if he could make anything else, and he said he could make a paper crane. I told him about my attempt at making a paper crane and how the wings couldn’t flap. So he proceeded to show me how to make a proper paper crane, and then gave it to me when he was done. We carried on a short conversation before we had to return to class. This conversation made me aware of what a nice and courageous gesture this was from Shawn. Even though I had only been around for a few days, he was able to open up about himself and teach me a few things along the way.
Although this is our last night here, we are looking forward to a full day tomorrow and more blessings to come!
Brought to you by, Kurt and Kaycee
Thank you for checking in with us today!! It is such a blessing to be able to work with all of the students at De La Salle Blackfeet School and learn about one another’s gifts this week. We all greatly appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers of support from back home as we aim to touch the lives in the Blackfeet community.
This is the second year I have served on this immersion trip, and I believe it is important to talk about some of the stereotypes or thoughts that may not necessarily be true regarding the Pikuni people. First and foremost, these individuals are just like you and me. Any crime, such as domestic violence or drunk driving incidents that have happened here, might as well have the same probability of occurring in any other town. It is far from the truth that the people in Browning are unfriendly or prejudice to visitors. On the contrary, most of the Pikuni people, as well as the students at DLSBS, have asked the immersion students whether or not we would like to hear their stories. Some of the tales are heartbreaking, while others are heartwarming. One of the greatest gifts we can offer in our service to this community is the ability to LISTEN.
When I engage in a conversation with a person from Browning, they tell me they do not hold any hatred in their hearts regarding the results of assimilation and the early European settlers’ passion for Manifest Destiny. However, there have been detrimental effects from these events on the ways the Pikuni people live their daily lives. Many have lost their cultural identity, original language, and even some of the sacred items that are necessary for specific ceremonies. Across the board, all students have some sort of a discrepancy between their ability and achievement in the classroom. This also goes to show that the students who are thriving in certain subject areas, may not be given enough differentiation in the classroom to grow in their talents. The only way to better understand these peoples’ ways of life is to COME HERE AND SEE THE INJUSTICES firsthand.
Yes, some of the people in this town have resorted to substance abuse as a means to end the long treachery referred to as historical trauma, only because they cannot break the cyclic behaviors. What you may not know is that the U.S. Congress passed a law in 1889 that forbid Indians from practicing their spirituality. This was, and still is today, a major contributing factor responsible for the families who live below the poverty line in Browning. The Pikuni desire to practice their SPIRITUALITY is comparable to the basic needs any human requires to sustain life: FOOD, WATER, SHELTER, AND LOVE.
As a Church community we are being called upon to reach out and help these people in Browning with whatever burdens or injustices may be holding them back from experiencing the true relationship between love for Jesus and love for neighbor. We cannot ignore the fact that there are communities, such as Browning who need not only our empathy, but also, the commitment to fulfilling their basic needs.
I ask you to consider the following in your own lives: Where do you shop? How do you shop? Has there ever been a time when you went without a meal? What is your main method of transportation to work? How long does it take you to shower in the morning?
“You know who you are,
You know where you come from,
You know where you are going.”
– Darnell RidesAtTheDoor
What is GOD calling YOU to do?
What. A. Day.
Oki Nee Stew Nae Donny Kew (Hello, my name is _________), Baili.Ne Tutu (I’m from _______), Carroll College in Helena.
Our Immersion group started our day bright and early, shooting hoops with our PikGunii (Blackfeet) brothers and sisters. We were introduced to the boys, girls, and teachers of the De LaSalle Blackfeet School. Some of us had volunteered at the school in years past, while for some this was a new experience. We were all in for a treat, no matter how it came.
We worked with the 4th through the 8th grade classes of De LaSalle. Each class brought unique experiences, both trials and triumphs. For me, with the excitement and chaos of the kids I worked with today, it wasn’t easy finding God directly in each moment, though He was definitely there. From our shared stories that He graced our day with, it was clear that God presented Himself in a variety of ways. Whether it was working individually with a student, hearing their young perspective on any topic, or constantly quieting down a classroom full of energetic students, God was visible in each moment in each and every child. These kids come from all different backgrounds and families, all with different trials and triumphs. Just simply being with these kids, showing them God’s love and compassion, was an inspiration to both being given to and receiving from the beloved PikGunii children.
Back at the Mission Bunkhouse, Dillon and Megan kindly prepared dinner for us. We shared stories and reflected on the big day behind us. We then prepared our hearts for our guest speakers for the evening, Darnell and Smokey RidesAtTheDoor. The two of them have a beautiful ministry, and they shared with us the wisdom of Blackfeet Spirituality. No matter what you hear about Browning, Montana, they spoke to us of the truth, the divine love, and the respect the PikGunii people have for each other and for each of us. There was great spiritual and resourceful wisdom to soak up from their inspiring words. If we were to take away something from the talk, light and love for each other was one of the major highlights Mr. and Mrs. RidesAtTheDoor spoke about. “When you meet a friend in Browning, you will have that friend for the rest of your life,” were words directly from Darnell and Smokey.
Quite a full and inspiring day we had! I can’t wait for the rest of the week and all that is to come!
None of us really remember getting up. We just awoke an hour into our trip on the road. Pretty sure Dan kidnapped us all. The first thing we remember is him asking us what our spirit animals are. Still not sure how all nine of us fit in a single van…
But seriously, at 6:45 in the morning, none of us were exactly wide awake! Dan zoomed up to the sidewalk in a sleek black Chrysler van, the bass booming and vibrating the entire vehicle. We tossed our bags in the back of the rental cars, and just like that we were off.
On our way, we stopped in Valier to pick up the last member of our fellowship, the MVP, Kurt Parker. We arrived at the Little Flower Parish in time for 10:30 mass. This was our first real encounter with the Blackfeet spirituality. They were truly a family, united not by blood, but by the Spirit of God. Walking into that Church was walking into a home. Throughout the ceremony we listened to the peaceful noise of a family, sharing a meal together.
The sign of peace was a special expression of this familial love. There was neither end nor boundary. It was a continuous sharing of the joy of community. And again, we were not excluded. Though no one knew our names, they came from across the Church to share with us just as they did for their other brothers and sisters.
Our next encounter with Blackfeet spirituality came at the top of a cliff. This cliff represented a plateau in our journey to seek God. It has always been a sacred place for the Blackfeet people. It was a buffalo jump, where the people first received communion with God through the buffalo.
Though our encounter came to completion on top of the buffalo jump, it began at the bottom. The trek was not long, but it was difficult. Though we could see what was in front of us, it still surprised us. We did not know how the terrain would react to our presence. The snow was sliding all over the place, leaving us wavering, unsure how to proceed. But we all made it to the top. In many ways this is a reflection of the week to come. We need to be open to what God has planned, and the journey He wants us to take.
We are excited for the adventures ahead!
Courtenay and Dillon