Teen volunteers will join a VISIONS tradition that goes back 25 years on the reservation that sits on the boundaries of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Participants will experience the culture and rich history of the Blackfeet tribe, through community ceremonies and the annual powwow. Service projects are carpentry-heavy, and include home renovations and community building improvements, and free time will be spent backpacking through the Montana wilderness.
Indian tribes have the highest percentage of Americans living below the poverty line, and most reservations lack the adequate housing and social resources that other U.S. communities take for granted. For more than two decades VISIONS has collaborated with the Blackfeet Head Start, Community Development Corporation, and Blackfeet Land Trust, a partnership between the Nature Conservancy and Blackfeet Nation that is a model conservation program for other tribes seeking to preserve their lands. Most of our work is carpentry-focused, including rebuilds of homes and education centers, and construction of playgrounds and wheelchair ramps, just to name a few. We also do environmental projects at the Land Trust and some social service with elders and children.
One of our partners: Browning Community Development Corporation (BCDC) helps tribal members take initiative on economic development projects. BCDC offers business development classes, mentorship, grants and loans. They also develop projects of their own, including community gardens and playgrounds.
VISIONS Montana is a window to the generosity, humor, and traditions of Plains Indian life. Our twenty-plus years on the reservation create opportunities to learn about the culture from the inside. You will meet tribal historians, spiritual leaders, storytellers, ranchers and naturalists. From our home at Flat Iron Ranch with a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountain Front, you will explore the town of Browning, join in sweat ceremonies, go to a rodeo, learn beading with craftspeople, and maybe help build a sacred Sundance lodge. We attend the annual pow wow with dancing and drumming competitions, traditional regalia, storytelling, and teepees set up across the vast pow wow grounds.
"We went to a sweat, a pow wow, a sun dance...we built teepees! This was amazing."
Summer adventures in Montana are a blend of cultural activities on the reservation and taking advantage of the great outdoors. You will take an overnight backpacking trip, challenge yourself in an introductory rock climb, explore Glacier National Park, and travel on the Going to the Sun Highway to Lake Koocanusa. You will go horseback riding, swim in cool rivers, visit the historic Glacier Lodge, and more.
Our home on the reservation is a beautiful ranch located a few miles outside the main rez town of Browning. Accommodations are basic, but the space is ample and the backdrop is breathtaking. There is a large bunkhouse with cots and mattresses for everyone, small home with kitchen and communal area, and showers. Since there only is one true bathroom at the ranch, we also rent several porta-potties (the more rustic part of the experience!).
We work five days a week, usually ending in the late afternoon. You typically get to choose from three different worksites each day, and most focus on carpentry and building. Once a week you will be on “homebase crew” with a few other participants and a leader. The crew makes breakfast for the group, runs errands in town and buys food for the next meals, does laundry, cleans our space, and enjoys a “day in the life” on the reservation.
Some afternoons we end work early to participate in community events or nearby outings. There is time to explore Browning, take short hikes, go on a rez tour with a local historian, participate in sweat lodges, and sometimes just have a bit of downtime at the ranch before dinner. In addition to afternoon and evening activities, there are full-day excursions and time with community members.
Meals offer a variety of options, including meat and vegetarian dishes. A few times a week, we have meetings in the evening to talk through the volunteer and exchange experience.
VISIONS is not a teen tour with a day-to-day travel itinerary. Instead we settle in to our homebase and are part of daily life and local happenings. The itineraries provide highlights of our time in Montana.