Friday, August 2, 2013

Recognizing special relationships

The day started as would any other. The billowing clouds packed the sky and the sound of rain dancing around us stifled our mixed emotions. The now normal routine laid itself out. Ryan got us going with his favorite quote, “Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced or cried aloud under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the horror of the shade and yet menace of the years finds, and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” To the library, Care Center, Eagle Shield, museum, and Sobriety Festival were where our team would reach out a hand.

I looked at the faces around me; they had been engrained in my brain as if for ages, although I had only first glanced upon them merely six days prior. Tom had talked a lot about fate, or g-ds plan for us, and somehow, somewhere I felt that some of the people surrounding me were meant to cross my path. That their faces were so familiar that fate, or whatever you want to call it, had been tying our strings together long before we even stepped foot in the same room.

With that in mind, I set out for the day. We all shot out of home base and went our separate ways. When it was time for lunch, we all recongregated on campus and as I was scrambling so get anything meaningful to write into this blog. The majority of our team had spent the day cutting veggies and preparing for the sobriety festival. One member told me he had spent all day peeling potatoes. I thought to myself; great, peeling potatoes makes for a great lesson, but then I was thinking about how Tom had told us that everything has life and meaning. The potato had a rough peel that needed to be stripped back to find what all that work was for. The earth was a mirror image of us. Underneath all of our standing parts, the trees, mountains, imperfections big or small, there was a fire beneath it all. The cores inside everyone were quickly stripped away in such a short time that the thought of having to leave all of these people was upsetting. Everything had finally come together and our little family of misfits was finally not just in my head, everyone recognized the special relationships, you know how it is.

Entry submitted by: Natalie Rachman - Highland Park, IL

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Opening up our minds and spirits

We awoke on Thursday to exhaustion and slightly sore bodies due to the previous night’s festivities at the ranch, horseback riding, and hiking. We went through our daily meeting as well as morning message, burning through more cups of coffee than any other day due to the late night.

We found out our assignments for the day, which included service at the museum, the Blackfeet community college library, the community center, and Eagle Shield. Our day was planned and filled with more bright experiences and helpful hands. Some volunteers were even able to educate the locals on techniques regarding test-taking strategies, as well as promoting better nutrition to children and really communicating with those around them. These opportunities allowed us to learn more about the culture by visiting the museum and actually having the ability to look around and experience it, as well as to work amongst others and learn more about their daily lives. Some Global Volunteers even made breakthroughs while talking to the natives, allowing them to have a deeper, more profound relationship with them.

Flying Frisbees, home cooked chili, freshly made fried bread straight from the pan, and native music captivated our senses as we ventured to the sobriety event that was being held in Browning. We soon learned that the entire state of Montana and even some Canadians were invited to this event which would last a total of four days. Global Volunteers were even judges at the local chili contest, eating their way to deciding a victor. Some even learned a game involving bones and sticks, which led to an exciting victory and Moroccan distractions. We also got lessons on tepee making from a local, Woodrow, along with how to detract the tepee poles as well as place the cloth and tie it up around the complete structure. 

To wind down the night, a surprise visit from Tom, who we had previously met at the Sundance, opened our eyes as well as our minds towards so many new ideas. He talked of the healing power and the ability for nature, specifically rocks, to communicate with humans. He discussed his own personal experiences with the natural medicine from the Earth that could cure what synthetic medicine could not, simply because of belief. He also explained the significance of tobacco in the culture and how it is used in prayer. This connected to Pauline, who produces herbal products, and who had explained the use of tobacco in choosing her plants. We soon found out that Tom had actually taught Pauline about nature speaking to her, and that one is not to look for something, but to wait for the plant to show itself.

Personally, I believe that the goals we had as a team listed at the beginning of the trip were met in just this one, single day. We spent our time helping while working at the different locations to provide our service. We had a super fun adventure while going to the sobriety event and testing out local cuisine. Lastly, we heard of the culture, specifically their interaction with nature and how that affects the spirit of an individual. This made us learn more about ourselves as individuals. Overall, it all comes down to what Tom says about belief. By engaging in belief, you can open your mind and spirit to this new and amazing culture, and by not doing so I believe you miss a lot.

Entry submitted by: Lauryn DiStaso - Berkeley Heights, New Jersey

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chiseling away at fantastic projects

With social consciousness on the rise, I believe most people really do want to make some sort of change. I know I would. I know the team here would. The thing that I haven't fully calculated yet is, in a postmodern world, how much difference quantifies as enough?    

Well today I thought of just this as some of the team was helping build an addition to the community playground. One project we did was chiseling bark off a tree stump. As I was doing this, I laughed to myself as I noticed the metaphor at play. Allow me to explain. If you're not familiar, chiseling is a bit of a slow process. Yet even so, if you keep chipping away, tiny pieces of bark will finally release themselves from the skin of the trunk. Piece by piece. When finished, these naked logs will double as tables and chairs, which will eventually be a friendly perk to the park.  

What I'm getting at here, and no doubt taking forever to do so, is that the Global Volunteers' efforts abstractly mirror chisel motions that have taken place in the community. Especially today. Today there was a team delivering meals through the Meals on Wheels program. Others were hard at work at the greenhouse bush hogging and doing other ground work such as picking up trash. Meanwhile, teammates were at the Native American Museum getting even more familiar with the dynamic culture. To make preparations for an art exhibit, some Global Volunteers mounted decorative masks on walls. While they were at the museum, some friends were in the library continuing to help with the huge donation while others where at the Senior Center playing checkers. Both groups of Global Volunteers said they lost, but they claimed that it was only because their opponents cheated. (I'm not too sure who to believe here.) Many of the Global Volunteers were also taken on a tour of the hospital facilities. There they learned some interesting facts, like for example, that the pharmacy fills one thousand scripts each day. Finally, the team spent the evening at a lovely ranch riding horses, eating burgers, and sharing all sorts of laughs around a camp fire, which are memories I'm sure are not to be forgotten anytime soon.  

With all this in mind, I think it's safe to say that the Global Volunteers have had yet another great day. We've chiseled our way through some fantastic projects. I think what we're doing so far really speaks to the Blackfeet view of life. Tom, a Blackfoot Indian, said it best when he was explaining to me that we're all part of the universe. I have to admit this sort of logic made me feel quite small. However, even though small, not insignificant because we are all part of something bigger.  

So while a chisel stroke may seem insignificant, we should always remember two things: one, a gesture for change will always prove to be enough, and two, being open and respecting one's culture allows us to chip away at a better us and even a better world.  

Entry submitted by: Kristal Conklin - Middletown, NY

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Relationship building on Blackfeet Reservation

By Tuesday, our team had fallen into a comfortable morning routine of navigating the showers, having breakfast together, and assembling our brown-bag lunches of peanut butter and/or jelly sandwiches. After receiving our assignments in the morning, we headed off in several different directions.

Many in our group stayed at the Blackfeet Community College to work in the greenhouse and in the library. The Global Volunteers helping in the greenhouse learned about BCC’s use of alternative energy sources including windmills, solar panels, and diesel. The Global Volunteers in the library helped catalogue a book collection that included over 1,000 books on Native American Indian history and culture – including one on Clint Eastwood. 

Other members in our group served lunch to over 150 seniors through Eagle Shield and Meals on Wheels. Later in the afternoon, many members went to the Boys and Girls Club and enjoyed spending time with over 25 local kids between the ages of seven and thirteen and helped them make beaded necklaces and other things – often to give as gifts to their mothers or grandmothers.

Our day was spent at the Blackfeet Community Development Center. We went to help illustrate a series of 21 children’s books geared at financial literary. Several of our team members showed a flair for illustration and a knack for working with children, so they were great at this project. 

We also spent much of the day working on the children’s playground at the center. We learned this playground had been recently vandalized, and we were there to repair some of the damage and to install some new picnic tables. While we were working, several additional local volunteers arrived – all between the ages of four and nine. They taught them to stain the stools and picnic table. Hopefully, they left with a sense of accomplishment and that they helped improve their playground.

We ended the day with a trip to Pauline’s, who creates herbal lotions and teas using Blackfeet traditions taught to her by great aunt.

I am overwhelmed by the people I’ve met in Browning – both those on the Global Volunteer team and the local Blackfeet. Our team leader has emphasized that our trip is more about relationship building than about the projects we’re working on. Today I learned how true that is. I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The openness and willingness to share of the Blackfeet

In preparation for our first “work day”, one of our team members, Julie, started us off with an emotional message of the day. She shared with us the words of Chief Seattle: “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Every part of this earth is sacred. All things share the same breath - the beast, the tree, the man, the air shares its spirit with all life. The earth is our mother. Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are bound together. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy. We are part of the earth and it is part of us; the sap which courses through the trees, the perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family. The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. This shinning water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh - all things are connected - man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” 

To begin the day, a few members of our group went to help out with the Meals on Wheels program where two of the members served food to the nursing home residents while the other had the chance to drive around the Browning community and give food to the locals. He was accompanied by a very knowledgeable driver who shared interesting stories and facts about the history of the Blackfeet Indians. They were able to serve a total of 60 Blackfeet Indians around the community.  

The rest of the group made a trip to the place where the annual sun dance ceremony had taken place, a very spiritual event for the Blackfeet community. We met a local named Tom there who took the time to take us into the sun dance lodge and explain to us the traditions and customs that took place there over the previous four days and three nights.  Tom explained how the sun dancers and those who were piercing couldn’t have any food or water for the duration of the ceremony. He described the significance of the twelve trees that hold up the lodge, the center tree which connects to the creator, the flesh offerings, the eagle feathers, the sage, smudge, and many colorful cloth pieces tied around the lodge. Tom explained what each color stood for: white was for the creator, red for the thunder and rain, green for mother earth, dark blue for the mountains and water, light blue for the sky, yellow for the sun, orange for the moon, and purple for the buffalo.  While we were there, we helped take down some of the tents and dismantle one of the sun dance lodges to help the locals with the job of cleaning up after the four-day ceremony. It was a truly unique and awing experience that most of us will carry with us for a very long time. 

We were then introduced to the custom of sweats, which take place in a small igloo-like structure with a pit in the center where red hot rocks heat up the lodge to 150-degree temperatures. This custom, along with the sun dance, are ways in which the Blackfeet Indians directly send their prayers to the creator. We were able to help take the cool rocks from the sweat that took place the night before. We took them out of the pit and placed them on the fire in preparation for the sweat that would take place that coming night in which a few of our team members had the unique opportunity to participate in and experience firsthand. 

One of the most surprising and rewarding things about the Blackfeet is how open and willing they are to continuously share their culture and way of life as well as invite us to participate in many of their customs and ceremonies, making us feel welcome and allowing us to learn and experience a way of life very different from our own. 

Entry submitted by: Barbara Broderick - Canandaigua, New York

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A wonderfully exhausting day

Our first full day of being in Montana started off with breakfast and coffee as the group woke up and made it to the community room. The whole group sat around chatting and getting to know each other, coming and going as we got ready to start the day. In my opinion, it’s the best way to start our days as I really enjoy the morning conversation and getting to know everyone.

Our first project as a group was an exercise to determine what our individual goals were and what brought us to the Blackfeet Reservation. We had 20 people, each with three goals to share and we managed to all fit into four different categories: to experience the culture, to serve, to learn, and to have a super fun adventure along the way. We also discussed Linda’s experience in participating in a sweat. This is a very spiritual experience and quite an honor to be allowed in to. Bob Tailfeathers has asked that if other Global Volunteers were interested and if so we may have the opportunity to join in the experience as well.

We had a small break after our meeting and we got food and bags ready to go explore some of Glacier National Park. We made lots of stops and unfortunately they blur together as the day went by so quickly, luckily there are lots of pictures to document our travels. The main stops were Many Glacier and St. Mary Lake. Many Glacier had a rustic Swiss-style lodge right on Lake Sherburne with mountains in the background. We then made a short drive to St. Mary Lake, which is one of the most perfect and picturesque sites you could ever see. The water sparkled a blue green and a mountain rose up directly behind the lake. The park was absolutely amazing. The lakes, the mountains, and the colors just make me look in awe of how beautiful it is here.

We went straight from the park to dinner at the senior center where we had spaghetti and garlic bread with salad and watermelon for dessert. The tables were much more mixed than last night as the group was getting more comfortable with each other and coming together. Bob Tailfeathers joined us for dinner as well. After dinner we piled into the vans again to go back to the campus and meet with Bob. He talked more about the sweat and helping to clean up after the Sundance Festival, but the highlight was his artwork. He brought some of his quillwork jewelry and print from his drawings to share and sell if we were interested. His prints are amazing; I can’t say it any better than how others described it to me, that he truly captures the spirit of the animals.

It was another exhausting day, but completely worth it - full of memories not soon to be forgotten.

P.S. We saw a bear.

Entry submitted by: Mark Besley - Cortland, New York

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Arriving 20 strong at Blackfeet Reservation

We arrived! After long hours of flying and traveling from near and far, the group all met at the Great Falls airport in the early afternoon Saturday. We are 20 strong for this week at the Blackfeet Reservation. After some quick introductions and packing of the vans, we were off for our drive to the reservation. Joe, our community volunteer, provided lots of historical information dating back to Lewis and Clark and the exploration of the “Big Sky Country.” As we got closer to Browning, the Rocky Mountains emerged from the horizon and gave us our first glimpse of the beautiful scenery that would be our backdrop for the week. 

We had a brief tour of the community college grounds and we all found our lodging. Everyone unpacked and took a few minutes to decompress before loading back in the vans and heading to the senior center for dinner. Maria prepared a great dinner and we all enjoyed an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better including why each of us has chosen to come to the Blackfeet Reservation. 

As a perfect conclusion to our inaugural day, Bob Tailfeathers met with the group. Bob informally talked about the sweat that will take place Monday night and what people could expect if they chose to participate. Bob gave his personal perspective on why this sweat was especially meaningful to him and his family. The highly spiritual experience takes place at 175 degrees and all of us were honored to have the invitation to participate.  Bob also talked about art and many of us were particularly interested to hear about how he is one of only four quill artists on the reservation. We look forward to seeing his art and jewelry on Monday when he joins us for dinner. 

What a perfect and exhausting day! I can’t wait to see what the week holds in store for us.   

Entry submitted by: Jennifer - Rochester, New York