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



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