Leadership Montana Classroom Reflection: Indigenous Immersion Initiative Reflection: John Morrison, Helena, Class of 2005 and III 2022
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Major Robinson, Helena, Class of 2006 and III 2023

Indigenous Immersion Initiative Reflection

Major Robinson, Helena, Class of 2006, and III 2023

I was born and grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.  As a Northern Cheyenne tribal member, it was my whole world because it was all I knew. I lived in our tiny house in the heart of Lame Deer, Montana. I had nine brothers and sisters, 30 cousins who were also my brothers and sisters, and 10 nephews and nieces who were also my brothers and sisters. Our house was where everyone would gather, eat, play, and laugh. There was a big ditch next to our house that we would play in from time to time, and we called it paradise. It was like our own secret world of plants and trees and creatures.

So fast forward a few decades, and I can truly say it was a pleasure to share the place I call home with the inaugural class of the Leadership Montana Indigenous Immersion Initiative when we traveled to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in September. For many of the class members, it was their first time ever to travel to Lame Deer, and for all of them, the first time they had stayed there overnight. Some of them even elected to stay in a tipi, courtesy of tribal member April Martin, owner of the Wild Rose Center near Busby, Montana.

Our Northern Cheyenne immersion began when Chris Warden and I arrived at Tom Mexican-Cheyenne’s home and unloaded the wood I had picked up in Billings from a fellow tribal member. As I cut the weeds down around the fire pit, Chris helped Tom cover the sweat lodge in preparation for our guests that evening. I was glad we were starting our first night at Tom’s place with a community sweat, offering blessings to welcome everyone to our homelands.

Over the course of three days, our classmates and friends had a chance to meet many relatives and community members who are doing wonderful things on the reservation for their people. From nonprofit leaders to business owners to tribal government officials, they all shared their knowledge and love for their community and home. As we traveled from one side of the reservation to the next, I was not surprised to see our III class members embrace the local tribal members, and they didn’t hesitate to begin creating their own friendships.

One of the many highlights of the whole experience was when we gathered with each other and local tribal members to partake in a barbeque dinner with steaks purchased from the People’s Partners for Community Development store. Afterward, we were all invited to participate in a traditional Cheyenne hand game hosted by tribal members, which included drumming and singing and lots and lots of laughter. The perfect end to a perfect day.

It has been an honor to work closely with Marci and the rest of the Indigenous Advisory Council to play a part in creating these unique and hopefully life-changing cultural exchanges. And it was especially rewarding to share a piece of my Northern Cheyenne paradise with our friends.