Saturday, July 30, 2016

Last day in Heart Butte and A Sheep Dies

Last day in Heart Butte and A Sheep Dies
Friday, July 29 2016

After too few hours of sleep, Andrea and I headed out for a morning walk so I could show her the sights of Heart Butte.  The dogs joined us for our tour.  Andrea and I were in the grocery store for her big shop when my phone rang:  it was Jonathan, from Pastor Hill’s ranch where we had a team of 10.  “We need to speak with Pastor Hill”.  He’s at the hospital  for his followup, what do you need?, I respond.  Dogs from across the highway attacked one of his sheep and it is dying.  What now?  For this Jewish girl from New York, definitely out of my expertise to know what to do with a dying sheep.  I start calling:  no answer by anyone.  I finally find my friend Brian from the Trading Post, he says he  will send “some men over who know what to do”. I  leave Andrea stranded with her huge cart of groceries, and head for the ranch.  Just after I arrive, Pastor and Sheri arrive.  I break the bad news.  They respond with grim determination:  we have to get to work they say, we need to butcher the animal and save the meat.  Sheri is furious about the dogs.  She says:  “ I am going to shoot them”.
I am sent out on an errand to get supplies.  On my return, I find 4 of our girls, wearing long white T shirts, participating in the butchering.  “Do you want to see the head?”.  No thanks.  The Pastor gently had explained everything to them:  how the process is done, how the native way is to use all the parts of the animal, how it is sad but part of the cycle of life.  The vegetarian among them reports that she would like to taste the meat when it is cooked.  Meantime, the boys had fled to the creek to work on moving logs.  Once the immediate stress of having to decide what to do with someone else’s dying sheep was over, I was able to take a deep breath, and realize that a situation that could have gone very badly, actually resulted in an additional unexpected, but enlightening experience for all involved.  When I finally called my boss at Global Volunteers, I simply said:”  Everyone is ok”.

You would think that not much else could happen with this team….but you would be wrong.  We had a lovely and spirited last night celebration complete with Indian Tacos prepared by Elaine and her mother Linda with many of our community hosts joining us.  We were blessed by 3  songs by Francis, treated to a story by Pastor Hill, and then flute playing by the Pastor.  Think we were done?  Not quite….the kids were outside at the campfire, when they came inside requesting assistance.  Some local kids from Heart Butte had arrived and were being aggressive, profane and sexually provocative.  One last team leader duty:  you have to leave, you have to leave now, or I will go get the sheriff.

We have achieved our goals of discovering new environments, connecting with people and creating relationships, gaining an understanding of local cultures and life, and learning from and sharing the joys of service.  We have also learned that service is not always glamorous, or easy, that there are bumps in the road on the journey.  Stamina and persistence help get over the bumps.  Unlikely that this team of adults and kids from Sandy Hook will ever forget their week in Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation.  Nor will I.

With love and gratitude to everyone at home who “held down the fort” while I have been away,


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Grant says: This was the most important day of my life and the horseback ride was stupendous

Having submitted my Cuba paper late last night(actually early this am), I treated myself to sleeping a bit late, so only had time for a short walk.  The dogs greeted me and were happy to amble along with me.
During our morning meeting, Grant, one of the journal readers today who worked at the Tribal Nurturing Center yesterday(they care for children awaiting foster placement), told of his day with one of the children at the Center.  The sad details of this child’s young life are not relevant; what is notable is what Grant learned.  He told us it was the most important day of his life:  he learned that he has much to be grateful for, and was humbled to help this young child, even if for just a day.
The teams headed out to various work sites with high energy for a productive day.  I went from team to team, store to store, conversation to conversation ; making my rounds.  I learned that the cook at the Nurturing Center has been there for 17 years, the cook at the Senior Food Program for 22 years,  the owner of the Trading Post for over 50 years, and his clerk for over 20 years.  Something about life in Browning and on the reservation breeds continuity, commitment and community.
Ending the day with the requisite visit to the Pastor’s ranch, we caught up on the day’s activities and thanked him once again for the service last night and the ceremony on Tuesday evening. After dropping the team in Heart Butte, I headed out to pick up Andrea, next week’s team leader.  The drive took me two hours through rolling hills, and distant views of the mountains.  Andrea will be leading her first team for Global, but she is an experienced world traveler and leader for Habit for Humanity, so she will do great.  After another 2 hours of driving, last part on a rutted dirt road, we arrived in paradise:  the Deboos Ranch.  The team had arrived ahead of us, and had just finished up the first ride of the evening; perfect timing.  A quick burger, and we were off on lovely and well-mannered horses for a ride up over the ridge that ended us with a magnificent view of sunset over the peaks of Glacier National Park.  It is hard to describe the feeling of being back on a horse, with wonderful companions and stellar scenery.  Many of the teens had never ridden, so it was a special treat for them; most took to it well, with just one who struggled to relate to his horse.
Back in Heart Butte, I have oriented Andrea to our surroundings and am determined to be in bed before midnight!
Tomorrow is our last full day; it will be a full one with project work and celebrations.
For love from Heart Butte,


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Busy day of work, surprise guests for dinner and Cuba paper submittedNava

Busy day of work, surprise guests for dinner and Cuba paper submitted

Wednesday, July 27 2016

A shorter walk this am, as I had stayed up late trying to put a wrap on the Cuba paper assignment.  The dogs made lazy circles as I walked down the road.  Heading off to work sites, the team seemed tired and somewhat overwhelmed, a common mid week issue.  Arriving at the first site, Head Start, the initial look revealed less work with fewer tools than we had anticipated.  The chaperone, Rebecca, being very flexible, assured me that all would be well, and we went on to the next 3 sites.  With everyone finally dropped off for work, I circled back to each site to take photos and see how the work was progressing.  At the sites, the teams were well engaged, making relationship with local folks, and feeling pleased with their progress.

A trip to the Pastor's home(twice), with a visit with the new ducklings, rescued by the Pastors wife, the requisite grocery run (only 2 visits to the store today), rounding back to pick everyone up, and we were headed back to Heart Butte with an unanticipated, but refreshing stop  at the swimming hole down the road.

Arrival back at Heart Butte left us with precious little time to make dinner(the one night we don't have a cook).  The chicken took forever , it seemed, but we had help from many hands to get food prepared for the 25 of us.  Just as the chicken was in its final stages, the Pastor, with wife, and 3 friends in tow, showed up for dinner!  This is when deep breathing comes in very handy.  After some quick calculations, and putting out some leftovers, I crossed my fingers in hopes of enough food.  After all, a Jewish mother's nightmare is running out of guessed it, plenty of leftover chicken for lunch tomorrow.

After dinner, the local Christian clergy were supposed to join us for their version of a healing ceremony.  For some mysterious reason, they didn't show, which left Pastor Hill to do the service on his own.  This turned out to be its own blessing, as he did a lovely job combining his Christian and Navajo traditions and liturgy, and including the kids and adults in the process.  Afterwards the kids were off for their evening bonfire and s'mores.

Finally with some quiet and time to myself, I spent two hours finishing up the Cuba case study that I have been working on.  It has been quite engrossing and I have learned alot, but it has been surreal to be working on a Cuba paper while being on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana.

Tomorrow brings another day of work, the arrival of the next team leader, and an early evening horseback ride and BBQ.  We are done with ceremonies for now,

With love from Heart Butte,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Four teams, Four sites, Learning about Service and a Native Healing Service

Four teams, Four sites, Learning about Service and a Native Healing Service

Tuesday, July 26 20016

The neighborhood dogs joined me for the first part of my morning walk, until they got bored and turned around.  No matter, the cows and calves were happy to keep me company.  After the hustle bustle of breakfast, making lunches, and team meeting, we set off to deliver 4 teams to 4 sites:  definitely a logistical challenge.  One team stayed in Heart Butte at the Senior Center, the rest in Browning at the Senior Center, the Nurturing Center(for children taken away from their families), and the Head Start building.

Finally having gotten everyone settled and working, I had time to gather my thoughts and explore a bit more of Browning.  I ran into 3 different "mission" teams: clothed in their unique T shirts, usually from faith based organizations, they arrive with gear in tow, and from all appearances, they drop in, work mostly in their own teams, and then disappear again.  This helped me understand how confusing it has been for the host community, when an organization like Global Volunteers arrives and says: we work with you, on projects you want us to do, and we work together.  I'd imagine the local people have a form of " mission fatigue".

By mid afternoon the teams were calling to be picked up:  it's going to rain, we're done with our work, there isn't enough work to do, the kids are asleep, etc.  I rounded everyone up, did the requisite grocery and trading post stops, and headed back to Heart Butte.  Then ensued a lengthy meeting of my self and the chaperones, including a hearty discussion of "meaningful " service projects.  Was mowing the lawn and weeding at the Head Start building meaningful or useless in the face of ongoing "neglect"?  Would it make any difference?  Was serving food at the Senior Center and vacuuming the halls, while talking with elders worthwhile?  How were the kids feeling?  I did my best to open the dialog, and re-frame the questions:  the Head Start budget is sorely under resourced, they face having 200 kids start school in 10 days, they are proud and want the building to look good.  Neglect?  or needing help?

Early evening we headed back into Browning to the Pastor's ranch for the much anticipated Healing ceremony.  Pastor Hill, his wife, and others had spent the entire day preparing, including a trip to the mountains to pick berries for the berry soup.  No Native ceremony is complete without a feast to follow, and so an entire day of preparation was necessary and lovingly devoted to getting ready.  On arrival we were ushered into the warm and cozy tipi with fire in the center.  To describe what followed would never do it justice:  suffice to say that the several hour ceremony included smudging, chanting, ritual painting of each of us with an accompanying individualized blessing.  Francine, mother of Ben, was last to be painted, and Casper, our native host(along with Pastor Hill), was gentle and compassionate with her as he urged her to "let Ben go", and open her heart to life again.  No dry eyes.  The gift of generosity, caring, and commitment to near strangers will surely never be forgotten.

With deep gratitude to our kind hosts and the Blackfeet people,
Love from Heart Butte,

Monday, July 25, 2016

First day of work, Native dancers, and Pastor Hill’s story
Monday, July 25, 2016

The day started cool and clear, with a lovely walk up the ridge to see the horses, they posed for photos this am.  Eight hours of sleep did wonders!  With vans loaded up, we headed to Browning with a team ready to get to work.  We were greeted by Pastor Hill, as well as several other community members, all filled with ideas for work that needed to be done.  (Can you hear my sigh of relief)?
Half the team went to work on the Pastor/churches ranch:  building a fence, cleaning up rocks, and moving lumber.  Very tired they were by the end of the day.  The other group went to the volunteer fire department to help with all sorts of maintenance, cleaning equipment, and meeting the locals.  This included a tamale lunch and cinnamon rolls promised for tomorrow morning. Meantime, while the teams were working I was scouting the neighborhood, stopped into the nursing home and the head start and worked on plans for the week.  Many of the locals , noting my Global Volunteers T shirt, greeted  me warmly, having experienced prior teams this summer.
Return to Heart Butte brought a very tired team a respite while we helped the cook with dinner.  Pastor Hill, his wife Sheri, friend Marti and her 4 daughters joined us.  Soon we were hearing their stories:  Marti, a Blackfeet and native to Browning, returning time after time when she has left, mother of 7 children, volunteer firefighter, and aspiring nurse practitioner.  Her main frustration:  all the stereotypes about Indians.  Sheri, wife of Pastor Hill, mother of 7 and strong supporter of the Indian way of caring for community and family.  She grew up in Detroit, of Chippewa descent, and met Pastor Hill at a rodeo.  Lastly , Pastor Hill was kind enough to tell us his story:  of being forcibly removed from his family and the reservation as a child, of being passed ultimately through various missionary families where he suffered repeated emotional, physical and sexual abuse.  He told of how as a teenager, his father finally realized what was happening and was able to bring him back to the reservation.  He spoke of how hard it was for him to forgive “white society” for had been done to him.  Eventually he graduated from Northwestern, and went on to be ordained as a Methodist minister.  He spoke of integrating his native religious heritage with his Methodist teachings, and when he talked about recovery from trauma there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. 
Ending the evening, was drumming and dancing by Pastor Hill and Marti’s beautiful daughters, then a campfire, and smores by the fire with the local gaggle of kids showing up from Heart Butte to join in the fun.  Tomorrow brings more work projects than we can do, and a healing ceremony and feast to follow in the evening. 
Before heading for bed, I overheard one of the kids say:  “I can’t stop writing, so much happened today”
With love and humility from Heart Butte,


Orientation, Eagles, Glacier Park and Grizzly Bears

Winding up my early morning walk, I stopped to speak with a woman sitting outside the Heart Butte Community Center.  What goes on here?   I asked, in my na├»ve manner.  Oh, she said, we are having a wake. (Yes, body lying in the community center for a week). Oh my, who died?  My son.  What happened?  He killed himself.  She has only 4 of her original 8 children surviving.  Scattered grandkids, and deep sorrow.  She found this son’s death particularly difficult as he was only 30, leaving behind two young children.
Returning to the church I found a well rested team of kids and adults, ready for orientation and a day in the park.  Our team building activities included labelling  and organizing the kitchen, emptying the van and organizing and cleaning the storage room(bonus points for this group:  they mopped the floor, unasked), learning about Heart Butte, and learning about the Blackfeet people and culture.
Joe, our assistant team leader, and Blackfeet Indian, joined us for lunch, giving some geographic and culture context to the day.  We loaded up the vans and headed out.  Up to Browning, through the Northern part of the reservation, and ultimately up into Glacier National Park.  On the way we saw rolling hills, high mountains, snow, two grizzlies, and sparkling mountain lakes.  For these kids and adults from the East it was glorious, most had never been West of the Mississippi.  One team member summed it up by saying: “ I never want to leave Montana”.
A very tired team returned to Heart Butte, to find a delicious spaghetti dinner waiting.  Elaine, our cook, and her family joined us for the feast.  Currently the kids and one adult are engaged in a vigorous game of Farkel(reminds me Shari we need to bring to the beach).  Lots of laughter, and more relaxed than after arrival last night.
I am exhausted from many hours of driving and logistics, looking forward to early night.  Tomorrow brings meeting with Pastor Hill to plan our project work,
Congratulations to Ned and Anne on their engagement, and mazel tov to their parents, Don and Suzanne.  Another joyous occasion to plan(good luck with that!).

With love from Heart Butte,


Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Pastor has a concussion and the team arrives(all 24 of them!)

Heeding the warnings about grizzly bears and cougars, I headed down the hill into "downtown" Heart Butte for my morning walk.  The cows were enjoying breakfast in the tiny little park, the dogs were everywhere(memories of India) .  The trash and dilapidated homes reminded me of Crow Agency, except all these homes had at least one DISH attached.  Beyond the small town I headed up the ridge, to stupendous views and horses grazing.  The way back brought me to the tidy Head Start building(closed for the summer), the Senior Center and the post office.

On return, I settled in to work on my Cuba project.  Some of you are aware that I am enrolled in a certificate program at CU Denver in Nonprofit management, and I have a paper due on Thursday.  Phil will tell you that the first paper I did for my first course caused me alot of angst(the last paper I wrote was likely when I was in college!), I'm hoping this one will be a bit easier.  Its amazing how relevant the course material has been to my day to day work, as well as my volunteer trips

Having read my fill, I headed into Browning for checking out the local art galleries, another grocery run, and a stop a the Pastor's ranch to pick up supplies and bedding. At a controlled burn last night, practice for the local volunteer fire department, some huge hose got out of control, tangled up Pastor Hill, knocked him out and landed him the hospital.  After imaging, and laceration repair he was sent home with the admonishment to "take it easy".  Doesn't seem like the kind of person to just hang out. His wife reassured me that she will try to have him lay low, but he is planning to do his circuit tomorrow and preach at 3 different churches and drive 150 miles.

I was just settling into the quiet back in Heart Butte when a huge bus pulled up to this humble church.  Out poured 20 young adults(in future to be referred to as "the kids") and their somewhat overwhelmed 4 adult chaperones(in future to be referred to as "the adults).  They tumbled out of the bus, all wearing their Ben's Lighthouse T shirts. (for more information see
Tired and overwhelmed, we had a quick tour of the place, worked on beds, bedding, internet access(very critical), and food(also critical).  The adults were fantastic in getting everyone organized and setting some basic etiquette and safety rules.  The scene is quite amazing:  stuff everywhere with electronics plugged into every available outlet.  I'm going to have trouble with names, we have three Camerons, two Grants, and a variety of other names.

Just as I thought things were settling in, Francine asked to speak to me privately(uh oh, the team leader in me thought).  Turns out she is the mother of Ben, and if you've read ahead, you know that Ben was a 6 year old shot and killed at Sandy Hook, while his 9 year old brother hid.  This is the first trip for her since the shooting, she left her 9 year old and her 20 month at home with her husband.  I was so honored and humbled that she shared her story with me, and wanted me to know how she was doing.  We had an excellent discussion of how to handle how much the kids will want to talk about the tragedy during their trip here.  I assured her we would be following their lead.

It is suddenly very quiet again, after all the settling in hub bub.  I am hoping they all get some sleep.  Tomorrow brings a big day with orientation and an afternoon tour of Browning, the reservation , and into Glacier National Park.

Love to all of you from Heart Butte, where I am definitely feeling humbled by the opportunity to work with this team,