June 4th, 2012 Browning, Montana, The Blackfeet Reservation

by Miriam

DSC_0051After breakfast and a group meeting, we headed over to Blackfeet Community College (BCC) to meet with members of the community who wanted to request our assistance. These people included Smokey Henrickson (the buildings manager), Wilbert Fish (in charge of the geodome/greenhouse and Blackfeet herbology), Rachel and Kelley from Americorps, Sherri Breneman-Kipp (in charge of the Blackfeet Academy), and others. I ended up volunteering to help Michael Framboise with putting together a Blackfeet language learning program, while others ended up doing gardening or maintenance work around the town and at BCC.

We were treated to a tour of BCC by Bob Tailfeathers, the Dean of Students, who also showed us some of his beautiful artwork and quillwork jewelry. We got to see the state-of-the-art, ‘green’ science and math building which ran on solar energy and is one of five such buildings in the state. After lunch, I returned to BCC to assist Mike. He had me compile a collection of images to accompany the Blackfeet language learning program. This included files of photos of foods, objects, animals, numbers, and other commonly used words.

sweatlodgeAt about 5:00, we were getting ready to go to Heart Butte to Tom Crawford’s house for the traditional Indian sweat ceremony, putting on our long skirts and getting our towels and water. The drive there was a bit of an adventure as we mistakenly drove past Heart Butte (it was quite small and we were in conversation) and got somewhat lost. We eventually got there after a few more wrong turns. To give a little background, Tom Crawford began doing sweat ceremonies weekly 20 years ago when his granddaughter was born severely handicapped and given a short life expectancy. They have done it since then, in rain or shine, each Monday, and she has survived longer and longer past that expectancy. The sweat ceremony is a time of prayer and fellowship. Participants sit in a small enclosed lodge with a pit in the middle in which hot stones are placed and steam is created. The idea is that one endures and suffers through the heat and sweat in exchange for the healing of one’s loved ones.

We first went through the tobacco ceremony and requested prayer for various people in our lives. Then they brought in the hot rocks (19 to begin with), closed up the door so we sat in complete darkness, and we began to sing. Each song was 1 verse repeated 4 times and we began with a 4 song round and then moved onto the healing rounds which consisted of 2 songs. Between each round, the door was opened and we all scrambled out into the cool evening. The contrast in temperatures was invigorating and intense, while the ceremony itself was a very hopeful and meaningful experience. Tom and his family and friends were infinitely welcoming and kind, which was touching as we were both strangers and non-natives. After the ceremony, Tom and his family invited us in for dinner and we played around with his grandchildren and had cake. We left quite late, but the ride home was beautiful–complete with lightning flashing across the sky and a full moon!

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