by Oscar Dring
This summer I participated in a service adventure program called Visions. I was stationed on the Blackfoot Native American reservation in Browning Montana. Visions (https://visionsserviceadventures.com/teen-service-programs/) has similar service programs in Alaska, The British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, and six other countries. For a month, I stayed in a small ranch on the reservation and, along with 18 other teenagers, helped with local community service projects that the natives had requested.
Although the community service work was very rewarding, the part of this trip that stood out for me the most were the cultural events to which my group was invited. We were able not only to watch but also participate in the Blackfoot Pow Wow; we learned how to create a Sun Dance lodge, and we were even allowed to join the Sun Dance festival, which included sweating in a Blackfoot sweat lodge.
One characteristic of the Blackfoot Tribe that was very visible, was their proud sense of generosity. I could really see this in the Sundance Festival, which celebrates their Creator’s good spirit and gifts bestowed to the tribe. In this celebration you dedicated your energy to the need of someone else. As a form of prayer, you eat, drink, and dance with that person in mind. I was really able to witness this first hand.
Unfortunately, on our way to a backpacking trip in Glacier, one of our cars was involved in car accident, which resulted in one of our volunteers needing to be medevaced to the nearest hospital. Thankfully, she turned out to have had only minor head trauma and has been since medically cleared. Needless to say we were all very shaken up by this event. Our backpacking trip was postponed, which in turn gave us the opportunity to attend the Sundance festival.
Having been told about the accident, an Elder asked our group to stand and place our hand on the center pole. He then explained to the gathered tribe what had taken place earlier that day. In their native tongue, the tribe prayed aloud for us, and the quick recovery of the fellow volunteer. In this sincere form of prayer, the tribe took time out of their festival to make sure that my group felt supported.
Unlike Sundances from other tribes around North America, the Blackfoot Sundance is a private festival. Very seldom do they invite guests to their Sundance, let alone allow them to participate in it. The Elders of the Blackfoot Tribe’s willingness to teach and welcome my group to the rules and history of the Sundance was extremely kind and generous. I truly felt honored to have been a part of the festival.
Since I’ve been back from Montana, I can’t help thinking about how lucky I am to live here in Irvington. I feel so lucky to have access to a good education. I am very fortunate to have been born into a family that has the freedom to choose where we want to live and how we want to be educated. Before this trip, I may have taken these blessings for granted. However, after experiencing the way the Blackfoot Tribe lives and some of the hardships they endure, I feel that I must make the most out of the freedoms and privileges I have—and not take them for granted.
Oscar Dring, who turns 16 this month, is a rising junior at Irvington High School.