Friday, May 15, 2009

The Sanctuary of My Country

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I don’t mind living on an Indian Reservation. Technically I live in the park, but just across the creek (within viewing distance) is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. There are some sore subjects between the park and the Blackfeet. I don’t want to go into detail, but in some ways we are inhabiting their land. The U.S. government purchased the eastern side of, the current, Glacier National Park. Since the Blackfeet (& all their different bands) have lived in this area for nearly 10,000 years, I don’t feel like it is really the park. They still have certain rights for hunting and entry into the park. Other than that, they live next to the park. The Blackfeet have given this area the name: “Backbone of the World.” It describes the mountains of the continental divide and it fits nicely.

The only thing I have a slight problem with, is the way outsiders are treated. I have a Toyota Corolla, with Illinois plates. When I drove up to Teeples IGA in Browning, I automatically looked like an outsider. It didn’t help that I still had my kayak strapped to the top of my car…that tends to draw attention. I met kind people inside the grocery store. The cashier kindly asked where I was from. I told him I work in St. Mary, but I’m originally from Illinois. They quickly found common ground—Chicago & the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. I’m not from Chicago, but I know the hockey team. The grocery bagger began to tell me that his team was Chicago, and the cashier told me that his team was the Pittsburg Penguins. They continued to have a conversation about how there were only 3 original teams left, Chicago being one, and another team that Chicago might get to play. I don’t follow hockey closely, but it was neat to see the way they found common ground to talk about.

When I got outside, it was a different story. I had a gentleman standing against the wall right by my car. It only took a few seconds for him to come over and ask for “help.” At the same time, a younger gentleman came out of no where to ask for “help,” too. I’ve seen beggars in Browning before. They are usually at the liquor store begging for a drink. The liquor store is an interesting cultural experience. The store is part bar and part liquor store. The store is really just a small room on the end of the building with shelves of liquor, protected by bars and a sales person behind the counter. I know there are stereotypes of Native Americans, but I’d like to think of a better life. So, it was hard to have beggars asking me for money at the grocery store! Some people have cash ready for situations like this, but I just can’t. The first gentleman had a cane and he looked like middle class. The second gentleman smelled like booze and looked a bit disheveled. I wasn’t going to give money to either of them…so I didn’t. I climbed back into my white-American-girl-car and drove back to the sanctuary of my country.

I wanted to talk about this story because I felt a sense of guilt. Guilty that the U.S. government has come into their lives and changed so many things. I eventually feel better, because not all Blackfeet Indians are doing poorly…some do quite well. I just think U.S. citizens forget that we moved into this land, that was already inhabited. I just want people to remember that these Native Americans are still alive and living their lives.

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