A small notice caught my eye about a gathering called “Our Land, Our Future” for folks working towards a positive outcome for the many forces coming to bear on our landscape, but particularly the area called the “Badger/Two Medicine” after the two rivers that originate there. There would be a performance by Jack Gladstone, the Montana Troubador and enrolled Blackfeet. http://www.jackgladstone.com/Oki,_Welcome.html I decided to attend. since I’d had a small donation that covered the gas. Ironic, eh?
Here’s the url for a movie of the place we’re talking about. http://glaciertwomedicinealliance.blogspot.com/ This movie is by Tony Bynum, a fine professional photographer working out of East Glacier who maintains a stunning website: a map of all the oil rigs on the rez. http://tonybynum.com/oil-map/ If you open any of the wellhead locations, you get photos and videos of it against the spectacular land.
I knew about Jack Gladstone and had heard his music. The man is famous and much beloved, but I’d never really seen him except in photos. Jack Gladstone’s cousin was Curley Bear Wagner, so I thought Jack would be something like wry and wary traditionalist Curley Bear, but NOT. Jack is huge, a football lineman from Seattle, a man of glowing power and energy who lifted a heavy speaker over his head to put it onto a stand and, while it was up in the air, did a few power lifts just for the heckuvit. Dr. Kendall Flint, slightly smaller, was Jack’s roommate at college, came out to visit him, loved it here, stayed, and now plays mandolin and harmonica with Jack to thrilling effect. Dr. Flint has been a doc here for twenty years (once took care of Bob Scriver) and loves the place, loves the job, throws positive energy alongside Jack. These two men are intriguing because they project power, but as a local person said to me, “They are so gentle.”
I just had no idea -- how could I have missed out all this time? The answer is complex. I do not go into the mountains. I do not participate in ceremonial life anymore. I do not relate well to Missoula, which once was very active in this unique organization that blends “white” with “red.” I should get over it.
The Commons room of the Blackfeet Community College was bouncing with energy as environmental leaders who knew each other gave bear hugs and those who’d just met made firm handshakes. A lot of these people are hearty backpackers as well as skilled writers, photographers, organizers. I visited with John McGill, the editor of the Glacier Reporter -- or rather pretended to have a conversation though I couldn’t hear much of what he said due to the pounding energy of the big pow-wow drum group from the high school. They included girls (yikes!) and the leader was so strong and hit that last blow of each song so hard I really thought the drum might split, but it didn’t.
Larry Salois, my former UPS man, showed up and I didn’t recognize him at all. A little gold earring, no brown uniform -- he laughed and then I knew who he was -- the guy who took on the MTTL high tension electrical line and changed the game altogether. Lou Bruno, one of the earliest, most steady, and healing presences on the rez for decades, hugged me before I recognized his voice and knew who he was. Wayne Bruno, a former student. Crystal LaPlante, another. No one fails to recognize Earl Old Person. An intriguing Canadian Buddhist, Stephen Legault, a writer of environmental murder mysteries shook hands. (www.stephenlegault.com). He was there because he does consulting for environmental organizations and is currently working with Crown of the Continent. Darrell Norman, artist, was there. Deana Leader, former school administrator and present activist. Hugo Johnson from St. Marys. Woody Kipp, journalist, teacher, force of nature. Ron Bloomquist already works at BCC where he manages the campus. We taught together.
Most of the white people who live locally are professionals, teachers or doctors. They’ve often lived here a long time, though as Dr. Flint remarked, being there for twenty years still defined him as a “newcomer.” Many have married enrolled people. I used to try to make a “typology” of rez people but gave it up because it’s too complex -- to say nothing of controversial and possibly risky. This particular group might be defined as the heirs of Walter McClintock. They are hip, political, and exasperated with the BIA and Tribal Council because these educated activists are “big picture” people and the local administrators of every sort are working inside limits. There are still many people here who are just trying to survive the day.
In his opening words, Earl Old Person emphasized that he was a main translator for the Blackfeet old people in the Fifties. The preoccupation of those oldtimers was land, the protection of the land and especially the mountains, which they saw accurately as a refuge and provider of both food and power. Earl, who has been around the planet, emphasized that water is the most vital resource of all. It comes from the Rocky Mountains where it is left in winter as snow and paid out to the prairie all summer. But now the storage system of glaciers is dwindling. This will determine the future of the People.
The background that no one was talking about was frakking, which requires huge amounts of water and always carries the possibility of contaminating the existing ground water. The Blackfeet just finished an enormously expensive system for bypassing the ground water in Browning which is limited and naturally saturated with interfering minerals like iron. The People are prone to diabetes and often require dialysis which cannot be done with impure water, so there could not be local dialysis centers. But it appears that many people are already locked into legal contracts from oil exploration companies. There are not enough safeguards or monitoring.
Much of these issues are highly technical, hard to grasp, not intuitive. This is the great value of someone like Jack Gladstone who can call the spirits of the charismatic mega-mammals as well as those of his own ancestors and the land, this sweeping, rising, challenging collision of forces we call names like “Badger/Two Medicine” so that people can speak of them plainly in conversation with each other. So we can make policies and laws that will protect them, just as they protect us.
The next Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance gathering is September 21 and 23 at Rising Wolf Ranch. http://www.risingwolfranch.com/ Fall is the sweetest month, and sweetest of all, as Bud Guthrie used to say, is close to the bone: the Backbone of the Continent.