by ALEXA SCHMIDT & SAMANTHA WALLA, Asst. Editors
Okee, or hello.
Our names are Samantha Walla and Alexa Schmidt, and we spent our spring break in Browning, Montana on a L.O.V.E. trip. We had to give up our phones for a week and not have contact with anyone back home, which raised a little alarm in the mom department. Plus, the motto was “Participate, don’t anticipate,” so we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do there. But, the late grilled cheese nights, the weekly preparation meetings and the time commitment turned out to be entirely worth it. In Montana, we stayed on the Blackfeet reservation where we got to experience the culture and meet some incredible people. The Blackfeet community is deeply rooted in its history, language and culture.
The Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience, or L.O.V.E, as its more commonly referred to on campus, runs out of the Social Action Suite in Kelly Commons. At any point during the week, you’ll find groups of 10 to 12 students gathering to prepare for their trips that occur during school breaks. The motto, “Participate, don’t anticipate,” encourages participants to embrace the unfamiliar and engage without bias. For this reason, we will not focus on what we did on the Blackfeet Reservation, but what we took away from our trip.
L.O.V.E. trips are usually associated with service, but participants make the distinction between immersion and service. An immersion trip is a chance for students to experience another culture and have the opportunity to leave an impact on a different community.
Our group that visited Browning, Montana was the smallest of the four other groups to travel during this spring break. Also a destination for Lasallian Volunteers, a post-graduate program, the Blackfeet Reservation only has one volunteer placed for the 2017-2018 year. The unpopularity of this location speaks to the lack of awareness that most Americans have regarding Native life. When answering inquiries about our plans for spring break, we were met with many confused questions, such as “Why Montana?” and “What exactly are you going to do there?”
By being attendees of a private college in New York City, we forget that there are places in America that are struggling. Reservations are pieces of land the government forced Native American tribes to live on after claiming Native land as their own.
The Blackfeet Reservation originally had 125 million acres of land. Now, they only have 1.5 million acres.
Ever since the conception of these reservations, the U.S. government has ignored the rights of Native people as American citizens. The statistically higher rates of alcoholism, suicide and illiteracy stem from years of systematic ignorance by the U.S. government and are not recognized even today. Our purpose in sharing our experience is not to spark guilt or pity, but to motivate others to educate themselves on the origins of privilege and how it affects different people.
While preparing for our trip, we viewed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” The talk emphasized the consequences of overgeneralization when regarding the unfamiliar, especially when it comes to marginalized communities.
The most important thing we learned in Browning is that the Blackfeet community is more than their circumstances. They consider everyone family and love and happiness are the most celebrated qualities of life. Despite the misconceptions often portrayed in the media that Natives are brooding and full of resentment, Native American life is beautiful.
When returning from an alternative spring break, everyone expects you to say that you’ve been humbled and made your mark on the world, but the reality is not so simple. You will not learn everything about the Blackfeet community from this 700 word op-ed, but our hope is that you step away from the business of everyday life, and experience something outside of your comfort zone.
The immersion program also has a motto, o ki ni soo ka wa, which translates roughly to “come and see.” The Blackfeet community welcomed our interest and respect of their culture and hopes that more people immerse themselves in cultures that are not their own. We hope that you consider going on a L.O.V.E. trip to experience the unknown.