- June 10, 2017
- Posted by Mike Picard
When we tell folks we’re moving to Browning, many seem to think us either fools or seriously unlucky. If you drive through Browning, the principle town of the Blackfeet Reservation and Nation, you’d be quick to notice that it’s a far cry from the manicured suburbs of Kalispell. The town sits in the middle of a wind-swept plain that extends to the horizon due east, and rises into the distinctive peaks and foothills of the eastern Rockies to the West. The wind and the sun are dominant out here. Few trees grow. Buildings are low and simple. Trash is blown asunder. “Rez dogs” roam freely. To many outsiders, this place is little more than a remote outpost where you only stop for gas. Indeed, Browning was established as a military and administrative outpost by the US government shortly after the creation of the Reservation. And indeed, many outsiders pass through Browning on their way to the eastern entrances of Glacier National Park, stopping (if at all) only for gas and perhaps a quick glimpse of “Indian Country.” As such, many are quick to bleakly judge this book by it’s cover.
But the Browning and the Blackfeet Reservation that Shoshanna and I have come to know is entirely different. We spent much of the spring coming out to Browning and “the Rez” on a regular basis to help recruit participants and solidify local relationships for the MCC. This is only the second year a Blackfeet trail crew has existed for the corps, and as the two leaders of this crew, there was plenty of work to be done in pulling it all together. But we were also sent out there to become familiar with the community and its surroundings. And hopefully gain some recognition. Browning (and other reservation communities) is absolutely unique in that, despite its looks, community is strong, and most interactions, whether professional or personal, are done on a face-to-face basis. Thus, as we worked in and throughout the reservation, we were plunged into a rich exposure to the modern Blackfoot Nation.
Stop at the East Glacier gas station, get a coffee; head into town, hit up Joe J. at the high school to see who he’s motivated to apply with us; after, swing by the Buffalo Hide Academy to check in with Charlie and our applicants; next, stop by the college to see if the Native Science Fellows have any events we could participate in; then over to Manpower for meetings with potential partners and pick up whatever apps they have; after lunch, interview a couple of applicants at the Subway; pop into that Tribal Elder meeting in the afternoon; head out to Heart Butte High School if there’s time. This was our typical plan for a day in and around Browning. Seemed simple enough. Yet the idea of fixed meetings and appointments being scheduled in via emails and phone calls seldom works out in Browning. But it’s okay. There’s that applicant we needed to talk to across the street. The partner we wanted to meet with is out, but he’ll be going to that tribal meeting we’re going to later. Oh wait, never mind, he’s right outside. And so on.
Browning is a small town but it is open and friendly when you give it the chance. One’s worth is measured in humor; it appreciates as you take the time to spend time in the community, and a little goes a long way. Invitations will be extended, people will joke and offer their help, someone might even feed you (just remember to give a little gift back). Browning’s reputation as a bad town is misplaced. Though it faces a set of problems that have given many native communities a bad rap, it nevertheless demonstrates a level of resilience, pride, and warmth exhibited in few other communities in the United States. This is what makes our work meaningful to Shosh and I – that we get to do good work with a strong community that is happy to see its youth give back and prosper a little. We’re excited to move out there and kick off this season in earnest. There is a lot to learn and a lot to experience. We have a full season ahead of us with a full, eclectic crew. We only hope that some of them will lead next year.
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