These are trying times for all of us. And it’s easy to get sucked into current events that make us feel like everything is going wrong.
Meg Singer of the Montana ACLU gave a presentation about things we can do to improve life on Montana’s Indian reservations the other night here in Bozeman. During the presentation, Ms. Singer talked about the media’s fascination with what she called, “Poverty Porn.”
So often the stories we see about Native Americans are about the despair in their lives. And I’m not saying there isn’t desperation on Montana’s seven Indian reservations. But there are good things happening too.
So it was great to be sent up to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northwest Montana by World Wildlife Fund to cover what’s working up there. I found that most of the efforts center around the bison, which is seen as an anchor for the culture of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, who call themselves the Buffalo People.
Here’s a few pictures:
The Fort Peck tribes now have a herd of bison culled from Yellowstone National Park that have been quarantined to be sure they are free of disease. The keep them at a place called, the Fort Peck Tribes Cultural Buffalo Herd Ranch Facility .
That was where they held the Buffalo People Summit, where local school children were bussed in to be introduced to the buffalo’s importance to the Assiniboine and Sioux identities.
Also on the Fort Peck Reservation, language skills are being passed on. Young Ethan Three Stars studies with Del First. Three Stars is said to be nearly fluent in the Dakota language.
Ramey Growing Thunder and her husband, Darryl, are big parts of the cultural preservation efforts at Fort Peck. Here, they pick wild turnips with their three children on the reservation.
Family is everything — people within the tribes are rarely just “friends.” They are often referred to as cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. The buffalo are also part of their cultural family.
See these pictures on my website.
Our daughter, Katie, has moved out and our nest is empty. While this brings Rena and I feelings of new freedom and pride in the person our daughter is becoming, it also brings an unexpected emptiness to our house and a realization that time moves ever forward.
We’ve been very lucky thus far and we’re grateful. May we all have such happiness in the days ahead.
We are a nation divided. And in our house, that doesn’t settle well.
I feel isolated, foolish and stupid to be so surprised that so many of my neighbors feel so radically different than I. And when I look to the future, I’m hard pressed to know what to hope for.
So when my wife suggested we attend a march and rally in Bozeman yesterday, we went and I’m glad of it. It was nice to connect with others with similar feelings. And the only gestures I saw from passing vehicles were peace signs and thumbs up. So that’s nice.
I had the great pleasure to work for the fine folks at Bleacher Report this summer on a story about smokejumpers — women and men who jump out of perfectly good airplanes into forest fires. I spent a couple of days at the Aerial Fire Center in West Yellowstone, Mont.
The jumpers are an elite group — experts at a variety of skills who have worked their way up through the ranks of Forest Service fire fighting.
They’re supremely fit people, each given 90 minutes a day to devote to their own personal fitness routine.
They jump wearing 100 pounds of firefighting and camping gear — enough to sustain their efforts unassisted for three days.
And the gear they use is so specialized, they must make most of it themselves. And what they don’t manufacture, they often adapt from other applications.
Time not spent fighting fires is spent maintaining and repacking gear. Parachutes are inflated and inspected before being repacked.
The hours are long and a lot of time is spent away from home and loved ones.
During the summer of 2015, the good people of the World Wildlife Fund hired me to spend a couple of weeks up on the Hi-Line in northern Montana photographing a multitude of things. Among those things were the birds in and around the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta. Here’s some of what we found:
To see these on my website, visit ThomasLeePhoto.com
Grain is a big part of the history of Saco and northern Montana, but locals say this elevator, standing above the railroad and U.S. Highway 2, Saco’s main drag, is scheduled for demolition.
Shaped like a sleeping buffalo, this boulder, once perched above the nearby Milk River, is honored by Montana native peoples in traditional stories and through offerings like tobacco. It was moved to its present location along U.S. Highway 2 just west of Saco in 1967, according to a sign nearby.
Nena Magmend waits on the regulars at the Cabin Cafe she owns with her husband, Andrew, in downtown Saco. Magmend says they remodeled the cafe a few years ago, but kept the original counters, showing the wear from years of elbows.
Robert Plouffe says that when his brother moved into a new home, there was no room for all of his hunting trophies. So Plouffe put them up in the Pay N Save, one of the main businesses in downtown Saco. Plouffe is renowned for his smoked meat products and has a first-rate custom meat processing business.
“We found a nice house for a good price,” says Patty Pollock, 19, of moving to Saco with her boyfriend and family about two years ago from Cut Bank. Pollock’s co-worker at the Pay N Save, Patti Minnerath says she has lived in Saco for 32 years. “It’s very quiet,” she says. “The way I like it.”
Saco lies in the northern great plains, described by some as a desolate place. Still, there was enough traffic at this crossroads for a candidate to think it worthwhile to put up a sign. The candidate, Bruce Meyers, won election to Montana’s House of Representatives in 2014. This picture was made almost a year after that election — or maybe a year before the next election in 2016.
Howard Pippin, 76, remembers his youth in Saco when a lot of small farms added up to a population of about 500. Now, Pippin says outside his home, those small farms have consolidated into larger ones and Saco’s population is more like 170.
Saco’s downtown faces south, toward U.S. Highway 2 and the railroad, so business owners like Dan Desler have to keep up with building maintenance. Desler says he lives most of the year in Eugene, Ore., but has been coming out to Saco for more than 25 years to hunt and fish. Some years back, he went in with Rick Nelson and bought the Saco Motel.
Saco sits atop a natural gas resource known as the Bowdoin Dome. The town has its own gas well and offers residents natural gas for their homes at low prices.
A short drive from Saco, Nelson Reservoir is one of the best places in the state to catch a walleye.
See these on my website: http://bit.ly/2c0Hl3n.
A batch of favorite things from a good friend with agricultural roots and an urban present:
And this acorn I found last fall but can’t throw away:
You can see more from this project at ThomasLeePhoto.com.