Fort Belknap, MT
Dates: March 23-30
Group Size: 2 student leaders, 8 participants
- Participate in a sweat lodge, an Assiniboine spiritual ritual
- Work with children in the Fort Belknap schools
The Fort Belknap Reservation, located 40 miles south of the Canadian border in northern Montana along the Little Rockies and Bearpaw mountain ranges, is home to two tribes, the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre. Both tribes share a long history of injustices played out against them. Since the land was established by congress as a reservation in 1988, the tribes of the reservation have united as one government called the Fort Belknap Indian Community. St. Thomas Church in Lodge Pole, MT, is a Catholic mission that works to provide service and outreach to the reservation community.
Education– On this VISION trip you will have a chance to work with students in a variety of school settings to learn first-hand about these challenges facing the reservation education system.
Poverty– Residents within the Fort Belknap Reservation live with poverty levels double that of the average Montana citizen. Working alongside community members, you will learn about their struggles and about some of the creative solutions being thought of to work towards positive change.
The group will have chance to learn a great deal about Native American culture, history, and spirituality through their constant interactions with the community. The group will be able to work with children, speak with community spiritual leaders, and even participate in a Native American spiritual ceremony called a sweat lodge. Past groups have also been able to explore the rugged land of the reservation and visit the famous Bear Paw battlefield, where Chief Joseph surrendered. The group will spend most of its time working in the reservation’s schools, and will shadow full-time teachers in the elementary schools in Hays and Lodge Pole and speak to students in the Hays/Lodge Pole high school about going to college. The group will also do some physical work, such as cleaning the mission and working on light building projects, but much of the group’s time will be spent working with Fort Belknap’s youth,. Activities include working in the schools, helping with an after-school program, or hosting a game-night for the wonderful kids.
A Sample Week:
Monday— Today, visit the Senior Center that neighbors the parish to spend a relaxed morning helping with odd jobs at the center and visiting with the members of the Fort Belknap community. Then, return to the church for lunch before heading over to a nearby school to serve at the after-school tutoring program. In the evening, reflection will be outside, under the breath-taking, star-filled Montana night sky.
Tuesday— The work of the day will be on a ranch (see picture on left). In the evening you will share a meal with the ranch owners and learn more about life on the reservation, the “res.” Share in a reflective reading before going to sleep.
Wednesday— Today you will visit a daycare center located across the street from the church. Spend the morning taking care of and playing with children from the community. In the afternoon the group will help at the after-school tutoring program. After supper, you will meet with residents of the reservation to learn about the rich history of the land and its people. Before bed, enjoy a panoramic sunset over the mountains and play games as a group, then spend time in group reflection.
Thursday— Spend the morning hand-building an Assiniboine sweat lodge out of willow limbs and blankets. Drink lots of water, because that night you will have the opportunity to participate in an authentic Assiniboine “sweat” with tribal members from the reservation.
Friday— After re-hydrating from the sweat, the group will drive out to the reservation’s Catholic mission to spend the day working at an elementary school– playing, reading, and learning with the children of the mission school.
Saturday— After taking the morning for a longer breakfast and time for individual reflection on the week’s work, the group will take a trip to a neighboring town on the “res” for an afternoon of hiking and exploring in the foothills of the Little Rockies before the group takes off for home.
Food, Lodging, and Travel:
The group will drive a 12-passenger van to Fort Belknap and stay at the St. Thomas church, where the group will prepare many of their own meals.
The trip fee of $475 includes van rental, site transportation, lodging, work materials for the site, meals, and programmed group activities. Students should be prepared for additional expenses not included in the program fee, which include: spending money (as determined by the group agreement), and food en route to site (~$30).
“Montana took a piece of my heart--the community, the kids, the local schools and the beautiful nature create a warm and loving environment that I will never forget!
-Karin Norby (2011 participant)
For more information go to: http://www.ftbelknap-nsn.gov/