Browning MT, Day Three

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Creek Clean up Photo: Paul Anderson

We begin the day with a dirge and end with a dance.
Bill — housing activist, festival organizer, sousaphone player — is 64. To the tune of the Volga Boatman, we sing the happy birthday which begins “Death destruction and despair…” ands is graced with verses such as “May the candles on your cake burn like cities in your wake, Happy Birthday” and “Your servants steal, your wife’s untrue, your children plan to murder you, Happy Birthday.” The twenty-one verses are all in this vein; we stop at seven. A good time is had by all.

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Today is the first of our service projects. We are asked by our hosts, the Blackfeet Business Council, to help a local Manpower crew clean Willow Creek which runs through Browning. When we are told about this before we leave, I see the waterways of Cairo clogged with the detritus of urban living. Why else would they want our help? I don’t make it to the clean-up, but I see the pictures, grassy green banks with the snow capped mountains in the background. They look more Switzerland than Egypt but a truck of trash is removed.
P6150508At the Stick Game Arbor where we live and hold our forums and workshops, hola hooping continues, boys circle the room on skate boards, Erin has a workshop for kids that makes fashion from junk, clowning is popular with everyone and Chautauquans learn to play the stick game.P6160552

 

 

 

 

 

The street dance begins at 7 in a parking lot. There is a DJ, a snow cone stand, a table on youth addiction and a truck with free meals for kids. Matt, a young local man who hangs out with us, says they do them every Thursday night. “They try to get families to do stuff together.”

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Healing  fracture seems to me to be thematic in a lot of what we learn is going on in the community programs. It would be. At the heart of Blackfoot culture were theBuffalo. The “white father’s” conquerers destroyed the Buffalo in order to destroy the people who lives were built around them.
P6160641P6160637At the dance, there is a horse race with hobby horses, the music is hip hop and pop and a good time is had by all.

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Gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder

Browning Montana, Day Two

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In the way of things, especially Chautauqua things, it is the fun and games that get the crowds. People do listen to Blackfeet community workers on historical and domestic trauma, traditional medicine practitioners meet P6140432and exchange, we are ready to present on the topic treaties and the border. But it is juggling, hoopla hoops, and clowning that draws us crowds. What we seed is joy.
Hand Across Borders day of forums and workshops are the destination of a local school trip. Other children come. The children seem, in the best possible way, to be without paralyzing shyness or false modesty, dignified, if that is not too heavy a word for a child to carry. A boy whose name I never get (it is one of the many moments where my quasi deafness breaks my heart) shows me how he can hoopla hoop arm to arm after his first workshop. Matt (with me all names are provisional) invites me with pride to look at the lodges (tipis)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that have gone up. A girl doubles with laughter in the closing workshop.
A crew chops meat for half the day for the potluck dinner and a superb musician and his group start playing at 6pm. Nickolas Crawford and his group (look them up, Crawford Bros. Band have a Facebook page and are worth hearing — I speak as someone raised by a mother who was a friend of Leadbelly’s) have a huge, wonderfully played repertoire. It was while they were playing I have my Chautauqua moment. Early for a tour, I admit.

Chautauqua moments — for some floods of tears, for just about everybody a sense that they can’t continue the tour — come to almost everyone on almost every Chautauqua. Mine is floods of tears on my sleeping mat, back-patting from a dear friend and some confessional about everything that is the matter with my life.

Joannie, a cofounder of New Old Time Chautauqua and a prime force for this tour, says that Chautauqua moments pretty much come with the package. We are, she points out, stripped of the “cupboard cup loyalties” that P6130363 get us through, our books, our place to sleep, our room with a door that closes if we are lucky.
My Chautauqua moment ‘s catalyst is a stray dog. A young, lovely creature whose tail wags and who rolls on her back in friendliness and who is thin and hungry. Short of carrying her back to Ireland I can do nothing substantive for her. If I feed her she will get into trouble for coming into the Stick-Game Arbor where we are staying, if I don’t feed her, if we don’t feed her — I am not the only Chautauquan she charms — she will be hungry. Later someone tells me there are packs of hungry strays in the town. We can’t come close to feeding those. In the spirit of do what you can, I — and others — feed the stray who has come to us. Perhaps she is a cypher for what we are doing here.

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When I finally stop crying and eat at the potluck and dance, I sit between two women. One of them, Loretta, is wearing a shirt with a patch commemorating a pow wow. “How do you feel when you go on a pow wow I ask. “You know what feels like when you go to church?” she answers. Loretta is a grandmother, six or seven grandchildren by blood, three other who have adopted her. She tells me a story about one of those. She was cooking one day. A little girl she had never seen before was watching her. A very little girl. Finally she asked the girl if she was hungry. Yes she was. They fed her and she was little enough they thought it a good idea to follow her when she left. She got home all right, but came and is now one of the grandchild group. I ask Loretta if the casinos help with the poverty; I have always hoped they do. She hesitates. Yes, but gambling (as we know) is addictive, as addictive, or more so, to some one from the Blackfeet as others. There are neglected children, she works for an organization that tried to hep them. It is hard.

“Do you ever think about leaving the reservation,” I ask. “Oh before I met my husband I travelled,” Loretta answers. “I lived in many all over. The reservation is where I want to live.”P6150449

PS Our funding site is: gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder

Day One, Port Townsend to Browning — 20 hours in an old bus

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It’s 5:30 in the morning. We’ve been packing till midnight and beyond; we’re tired; it’s chilly; breakfast will be cold; there’s no hot coffee.

The eleven of us climbing on to the Blue Bird bus, the two in the U-Haul pulling the horse trailer turned kitchen are feeling pretty good. After ten months of planning and more than a little help from our friends, Hands Across the Border, a new New Old Time Chautauqua project, is ready to roll.

There is a certain irony that we are setting off in a bus that was originally used in the first Iraq war. A war about which an American general declared his troops were headed into “Indian Country.” So are we.

And there is a certain satisfaction in using a discarded artifact of war on a mission of reconciliation. Almost everything else is unknown
We are on the way to two nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy: The Blackfeet of Montana and Piikani of Alberta. This confederacy, followers of buffalo and riders of horses, had a territory that stretched Calgary to the Yellowstone River and from the Rocky Mountains to what we now call North Dakota. Archeology is finding evidence of their presence there for at least seven thousand years.

Their first encounter with nascent America was a foretaste of what would come. A small group of young Blackfeet men encountered Lewis and Clarke on their 1804 expedition to map the Louisiana Territory. According to Lewis and Clarke’s account they told the young men the land now belonged to “The Great White Father.” There was an altercation and two of the young men were killed. There followed a history of loss of land, starvation, massacre, poverty, division of their people by international borders, and broken treaties.

What a group of jugglers, mime artist, spoon player, brass band, assorted people of good will and an aspiring banjo player with a beautiful voice can do about past and present injustice is a guess. Our goal, says Paul Magid, juggler extraordinaire and a main reason we have climbed on to the bus is to “shine the light of truth onto actual conditions.” No pressure there.

Pressure or not, we bear up well. On the 700 mile, nineteen hour trip, to Browning Montana, we sleep, make rose bud necklaces, pole dance and get to know each other.

One conversation in the getting to know you category:
Our photographer Paul Anderson asks Donna — tribal member of the Haida and Tlingit, teacher of small children, practitioner of traditional medicine, a fulcrum of the horse trailer kitchen who has travelled from Wrangell Alaska for this journey — if she has any hobbies.
She answers “I have three jobs, I basket weave; I make native regalia; I smoke fish; I make salve. I do respite care for the mentally challenged. I teach. I make jewelry. I clean houses.”

We’re going to be okey.

 

PS We seem to have just enough funds to make it back to Port Townsend from Brocket Alberta, but any help, very small or large, is appreciated at gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder