Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Heart Butte and Featherwoman

A couple of weeks ago a man in the Midwest asked me via email what I thought about him and his family coming to teach in Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation.  I didn’t know what to tell him.  On the one hand, there were joyful times of real success.  Other times were full of despair.  It’s one of those “inkblot” things, except sometimes there’s real danger.

Rarely do I go up to Browning any more -- not much reason to, lots of work to do at home, pickiup is aging, and so on.  But I had a box of books to give someone and the best destination was the Blackfeet Community College’s “Medicine Spring Library.” I know Ginnie Weeks and she was happy to have the books, though some were duplicates she’ll pass on to someone else.

Medicine Springs Library

Last night there were thunder storms lingering over town so long I wondered whether I’d be able to post at 10PM.  The Baptist church next door attracts lightning strikes.  (Don’t ask me why.  I’ll tell you it’s the new metal roof.  Maybe.)  At dawn we had a pelting rain.  By the time I was headed out the door, the mountains were visible for the first time after weeks of smoke from the Northwest and from Alberta.  

This year is the second wet cool summer, which is both good and bad.  The mustard (rape) is just ripening its bright yellow geometry and each field has a stack of bee hives alongside.  They used to be white wooden boxes but now someone has suggested that since flowers are bright colors, the bees would like colored boxes.  Bees are endangered, but not by the color of bee boxes.  

Colors after a rain are so intense that they look as though they’ve been “enhanced” by a computer program.  Snow is gone from the mountains.  Hay fields are mostly cut and the roadsides are maybe half done.  The wheat is headed up, but still green.  Every time I pass chemical fallow fields the color of putty I feel sick.  They’re poisoned on the theory that it saves moisture, but this year there’s plenty of water.  The potholes still gleam, mirroring the big cumulus sailing the sky.

highway engineering for erosion

I was interested in the construction continuing on Highway 89 at Two Medicine river.  It was drastically recontoured last year, massive amounts of earth and stone moved from the descent over a bluff into a valley created by the melting of glaciers ten thousand years ago and used as buffalo jumps for millennia.  This year there is the same kind of close-detail earthwork as on the way to Bynum.  In Portland my clerical assignment was with the soil engineers who did site development, and when times were slow, I read their professional magazines.  

This work is far more extensive than anything we’ve seen around here in the past, a combination of granite chunks laid into coulees as though they were fitted stone walls, coir pathways for run-off, spray planting on inclines, and work being done by hand with crews of men, small detailing.  It looks to me as though 89 is being prepared to be a highway suitable for industrial or military use -- as though there were any difference.  Some people continue to be convinced that there is as much oil under the East Slope in Montana as there was in Banff.  The Frakkers have boners for everything.

East Slope of the Rocky Mountains -- note pumpjack at the right

Along the way I got a whiff of sour gas and then worried that I hadn’t checked the oil this morning, so I pulled over to do that and add a quart.  I always carry oil.  The dash light hadn’t come on.  Though I was into a field and ranch access side road, the massive vehicles -- partly 18-wheelers and partly huge RV’s towing cars -- were coming so fast (I’d guess the speed limit, which is 75) and so close that I decided I’d better pull down into the field.  In the process the screw-on lid to the oil input fell into the motor somewhere.  It’s still there despite my search for it.  It didn’t fall onto the ground.  The case is not pressurized as the coolant is, so I finally stuffed the hole shut with paper towel and continued.

By this time the morning coffee had been processed, so as soon as I hit the BCC campus I stopped to use their facilities at the new science building.  This campus was mocked in the 1990’s as a loser mudhole, but now it is as grand and maintained as any high grade hotel -- far better materials, construction, and supplying than the U of Chicago.  Everything is polished, scented, carefully matched, and computerized.  Wave your hands under the faucet -- water.  Wave them under the towel dispenser -- down it comes.  The striking photovoltaic buildings stand in the midst of fields of white top, sweet clover, escapee alfalfa, tall weeds waving in the breeze.  The fabric of Montana.  

At the library Ginnie and I had a bit of a visit but a very polished upscale lady came to take Ginnie's photo for something promotional.  She was from a NGO called “Global” something.  Eco or Cultural or Peace -- some kind of volunteer do-gooder outfit.  I tried to give her a quick verbal map of the rez.  Wheat fields to the east, old-timers to the West (Heart Butte and some in Starr School) with housing projects imposed on them, and the three resort towns along the edge of the Park.  She disagreed that Babb was tourist businesses. (??)  I tried to tell her about Metis, but it didn’t register.  She’s from Moses Lake where she just sold her fine wines and art shop.  Now she just wanted this photo op for an article.

Quick tour around town.  Still graffiti on Bob’s little studio home.  Not many people circulating.  All quiet at the booze and white powder shop.  Piegan Institute buttoned up.  On to Cut Bank.  Many more horses with mustang blood, judging by colors: claybank, gray, dun, lined down the spine and striped on the back legs.  Kneehigh in grass and pothole water.

Charlie Reevis

I rarely go into Cut Bank past the little shopping village at the west edge.  Alco for 50¢ cat food.  Albertson’s -- which I have to think to remember it’s not Buttreys, which it hasn’t been for decades.  In the soup section I ran into a tall Blackfeet man and introductions revealed that we know each other on paper.  Larry Reevis is a descendant of Charlie Reevis, who is the Pipe Keeper in Bob’s sculpture of the ceremony.  His relative Gordon Reevis is one of the most gifted writers I ever taught.  He died young.  Larry is in his fifties, a graduate of U of Montana, and has studied water law.  He is a dedicated editorialist on the Glacier Reporter, always fighting for the righteous.  We haven’t talked much, so our talk was mostly exploration.

The rez, for those who are far away, has been in the midst of an emotional and damaging deadlock on the Tribal Council that has gutted any confidence in progress, while waiting on the money owing because of the Eloise Cobell lawsuit.  Larry puts a lot of emphasis on law and order and testifies to the lack of policing that lets criminals and the violent dominate everything.  I agree with him.  

In fact, earlier I had twittered in response to an article by Saul Elbein in The Texas Observer ( ) that Elbein’s “take” on Guatemala also applied to the rez.  That is, resources have been devoted to the situation enough to maintain order and supplies for the more public parts of the rez, but that the back country has been allowed to run rampant.  Families and toughies (interpreted as gangs) do what they want without intervention.  That nice lady at the Medicine Spring library will not run into them.  If she did, she wouldn’t recognize what they were.  She would not be interested in figuring out the arcane laws, the fine social groupings, or the water entitlements of the rez.  Larry was trying to explain some national “Guardian” program to me, but I couldn’t get my head around it.  I'll try to follow up.

Somehow we have all everywhere managed to go from governments that protect everyone --including dissenters, the needy, and the minority -- to “winner take all.”   No rest for the wicked and no help for the poor.  This is global.  Thugs rule. “Game of Thrones.”   So I told this Midwestern man who was a potential teacher here to reflect on his appetite for adventure.  And suggested he read my book about teaching in Heart Butte:

1 comment:

Laura Long. said...

Thanks for the ride with you via this post!