Respect the land, and the land will respect you

A Visit to the Flathead Indian Reservation

By Karina Carrasco Henriquez

 

Definitely, the Flathead Indian Reservation was quite different from the idea I had in my mind before visiting it. This place, which is managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, is more than just an extended area. It is in fact, a reservation that has land in four counties of Montana, and which is inhabited by more than 28,000 people.

Considering this, in addition to the experiences lived in the reservation during the visit, I could confirm that the difference between this reality and the one that is perceived in the ‘Mapuche’ communities of my country is astonishing. Not only because of the contrast in terms of land extension, but also due to the lack of resources Latin American Native Tribes are exposed to.

However, the idea is to let you know something about the different stops we had during our visit to the Flathead Reservation. And the first one was at the ‘Two Eagle River school’, a place where the students are supported and provided with different kinds of tools so as to form them as lifelong learners, who can grow and succeed in different aspects of life.

The superintendent, Mr. Rodney Bird and the teacher Kathy Tapia provided us with accurate information about the school and their students. The first of them made emphasis on the idea of strengthen the students’ identity in order to be active participants of society considering land end environment as main issues in life, but as the scholars do not always have certainty about their roots or origins, it was a hard and long term task for them to integrate these kids into the academic routine. Likewise, he also stablished that there is a continuous struggle with the problems of behavior and non-attendance, since the students cannot always accomplish with the simple task of going to school, due to matters of distance; due to the state of abandonment some of the students confront, or because girls get pregnant and they don’t have no one to take care of their kids.

But all these aspects can be overcome with the care and support the school and its representatives provide to the students, helping them to regain what they have lost in terms of cultural identity and providing them with different kinds of facilities including hands-on activities or even curricular adaptation of certain contents that could be more difficult for them. Actually, the teacher Kathy Tapia mentioned that she is always guiding the students according to the activities they have to develop, so she is usually working hand in hand with them in the diverse lessons they must do. And as the students mainly work with practical activities, Ms. Tapia invited us to see some of the products the scholars have done within her class, including quilts; shoes; a dress; women accessories and different designs that could evidence part of the Native American craftsmanship beauty.

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And not only the vision of ‘Two Eagle School’ was based on an environmental friendly message, but this impression also could be seen at the ‘Tribal Governance’, where the Communications Director, Mr. Rob McDonald was in charge of letting us know about different aspects regarding the Salish and Kootenai tribe’s history and relation with state and federal government, emphasizing on how important natural resources are for them, confirming they are considered as sacred elements and referring to them as their ‘church’. Coinciding with the version of ‘Salish Kootenai College Health Department’, whose ideals were associated with keeping a healthy lifestyle by practicing sports and having a good nutrition. Added to the significance of cultural preservation through Native games that were taught and practiced by the coordinator of this project, Mr. Paul Phillips. Who – the same as the other two institutions’ representatives – highlighted how relevant the land and its care is for him and his fellows citizens, and the relation they have with wildlife and natural resources.

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To complete the constructive day we had, on our way back to Missoula, we were very fortunate to stay for a while in the ‘Garden of 1000 Buddhas’ and appreciate a little bit of the history of this place as well as the purpose and eventual contributions it can provide to society by being an area where people can trespass problematic issues of life and feel save and quiet inside its mystic and sacred atmosphere.

Personally, I can say that it fulfilled all my expectations, considering it as a place full of peace, wisdom, positivity, and an impressive beauty of its statues and architectural disposition. Contributing to end the day full of optimistic energies and obviously loving and respecting the land more than ever.

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