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
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!