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Service and Ceremony: Students explore the Blackfeet Indian culture in Montana

By Sameera Anwar and Josh Gallagher

This past summer, 14 rising ninth- and 10th-grade students, with us as their chaperones, embarked on a weeklong service learning experience at the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. 

The trip, in partnership with Global Volunteers, a nonprofit organization providing volunteer opportunities across the world, gave these Ravens a chance to give back through service learning while exploring the Blackfeet culture.

The week was framed around serving the Blackfeet community through various hands-on activities. During the day, the students were divided into groups and visited various sites: they worked at a local food bank, helped with a summer-school program and spent time with the elderly at a nearby home, just to name a few examples of their service. Through their service and opportunities to explore the outdoors, students also learned a lot about the Blackfeet culture.

Leading up to the trip, we had met with students during monthly lunches to connect as a group and to learn about Montana and the history of the Blackfeet Indians. While this pre-learning set a strong foundation, we all were excited to immerse ourselves in the culture in person.

We were fortunate to arrive during “North American Indian Days,” an annual festival lasting for four days that celebrates native tribes across the Americas. We were able to see authentic Blackfeet traditions through their dancing (powwow) and through the arts and crafts on display. We were also invited to observe a Sundance and to learn about the significance of powwow regalia from Bob Tailfeathers, an elder in the community. One of the most exciting experiences for the group was participating in a sweat lodge, through which we were able to witness traditional rituals of spirituality and purification.

Despite having to wake up early during their summer break (!), students were always eager to start the day. They would start the mornings with a Message of the Day and share a written reflection of the previous day. On the last day, we shared a sentiment summarizing the service learning opportunity students experienced:

Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.  — Paul Coelho, lyricist and author

Our 15-hour journey back allowed us all to debrief and reflect on our week of rich experiences. As participant Nicole Keim ’22 said, “We had an amazing time and we hope we can do something like this again.”