The Blackfeet Reservation Program in Montana was initiated in 1999 by Global Volunteers Co-Founder Michele Gran and Blackfeet elder Dorothy Still Smoking. 2021 marks the 22nd year of Global Volunteers’ partnership with the Blackfeet Nation. Because of the pandemic, we were unable to serve on the reservation during 2020. But now, our community partners on the reservation await Global Volunteers to help rebuild their community. We’re very proud of our long-standing relationship with the Blackfeet people, and are thrilled to be returning to work with them this summer. Read on for details on this partnership — a collaboration for mutual understanding and respect between cultures. Photo: Blackfeet elder Bob Tailfeathers with granddaughter by Michele Gran.
In Browning, Heart Butte, Starr School, Babb, East Glacier, and points in between, Global Volunteers has worked hand-in-hand with elders, children, students, teachers, veterans, mothers, and families to help improve the standard of living on the Blackfeet Reservation. Whether painting fences, distributing clothes, erecting tipis, serving meals, reading stories, planting vegetables, visiting elders, sorting books, comforting toddlers, mentoring students, harvesting herbs, mowing lawns, painting murals, or helping in so many other ways, volunteers from across the U.S. and around the world make a long-lasting difference through service. Taking in the rugged and wild beauty of the northern plains and Rocky Mountains, and absorbing the deeply spiritual culture of local people, one can’t help but marvel at the perspective afforded by this unique service opportunity.
Establishing and Maintaining Working Partnerships on “The Rez”
We celebrate the success of sustaining a productive and trusting working partnership with Blackfeet partners. Life in a Native American community can be puzzling for non-Indians, and volunteers must work to suspend judgement about the complexities born of historical trauma and oppression. Deference to elders, tribal identity, and a greater fluidity between work and non-work activities than what is found in mainstream non-Indian society seems to contribute to this. Daily work assignments help build commonality between volunteers and local people, providing you a privileged, unvarnished glimpse into the struggles and celebrations of those with whom you work. Our mantra, “Things are often not as they first appear” is especially valuable on the reservation. One of the greatest benefits of serving as a volunteer under the direction of local leaders is access to events and places the casual visitor would never witness. This includes participating in traditional “sweats,” witnessing a Sun Dance, helping prepare a ceremonial pow-wow, attending memorial feeds and funerals, sharing traditional meals, being invited into homes, observing a tribal council meeting, and much more.
“Things are often not as they first appear.”
Welcoming Volunteers From All Walks of Life
In 2019, we welcomed 13 teams of volunteers and this summer we will be welcoming nine teams to help the Blackfeet Nation rebuild their community after the effects of the pandemic. To date, more than 2,500 volunteers of all ages, backgrounds, and from across the world have shared their skills at Blackfeet Early Childhood Learning Center, Blackfeet Community College, Eagle Shield Assisted Living, the Blackfeet Care Center, Manpower Services, White Buffalo Juvenile Detention Center, the Carole White Summer Program, the Southern Piegan Diabetes Project, the Browning Fire Department, Blackfeet Boys and Girls Club, Crystal Creek Treatment Program, Cuts Wood School, the Community Development Program, Blackfeet De la Salle School as well as Tribal offices throughout the community. To date, our oldest volunteer has been 92, and our youngest have been 7. Students, families, couples, and groups of all compositions have opened their hearts to the adventure of volunteering on the Blackfeet Reservation.