Remember Our Past…Build Our Future by Donna Stuccio
Five months have passed since my previous blog. I couldn’t remember so I had to look through the archives to remind myself how much time passed since I wrote it. My feet feel so firmly planted in Browning, that I was certain it was much longer ago. In my first couple of months here, I couldn’t foresee how seamless this transition could be. There has been huge swath of generosity that has continued to surround me since I arrived in Montana, starting with all the leaders of Montana Campus Compact, the wonderful AmeriCorps members in my cohort, the people who have housed me, others with whom I have randomly crossed paths and formed friendships, and everyone at Blackfeet Community College.
My incredible experience is built on what feels like a lifetime of quietly powerful little moments, like wandering through the aisles of the local grocery stores, the post office, or the Trading Post and catching the eye of someone I now know, and we smile, maybe linger to catch up. I often eagerly visit with the local dogs with less trepidation now, and trade Milk Bones for their portrait or the occasional selfie together. Some have families to go home to, some do not… Horses, bison, and cattle graze on the land that sits below the Rocky Mountains, while listening the Thunder Radio… well, this is worlds apart from my daily commute in Syracuse. I have yet to channel my total Montana tough, but I survived the drive on Highway 2 in absolute zero visibility and remained upright as I trudged through the BCC parking lot to the door of Beaver Painted Lodge in monstrous wind gusts, finding rightfully amused co-workers on the other side of the door. The little things…
Surrounded by talented artisans, I’ve engaged in numerous workshops and embarked on outdoor adventures sponsored by fabulous Student Success Services, where I am assigned. I took on beading, starting with a beautiful piece of white deer hide, but the tips of my fingers were soon covered in Band-Aids to mitigate the faint evidence of multiple mishaps with the needle. I had a bit more luck – and less need for the first aid kit – when my co-workers, armed with saintly patience, guided me in the making of a ribbon skirt. A field trip to Chief Mountain provided the opportunity to finally see this Blackfeet sacred site with students and some of my closest colleagues.
So many events occurred throughout these past 5 months, too many to write about in detail, the richness in their totality is so mind boggling, that it apparently warped my sense of time. There have been holy ceremonies and celebrations, holidays, funerals due to untold loss within the community, windstorms, snowstorms, wildfires, community feeds, helping to improve community food accessibility at FAST Blackfeet, campus clean-ups, a trip to Helena with my fabulous MTCC cohort, an Open Mic Native poetry reading, Earth Day with tons of little kids, Stick Game boot camp, MMIP awareness march, a raucous Spring Fling for students to celebrate the end of the school year, infinitely interesting final papers written by promising voices at BCC, and Browning High School senior portfolios that filled my heart. I am in awe of my boundless fortune and know that many other new experiences await during my precious remaining few months. It will not be easy to leave but I most look forward to catching up with my daughter, Julia, who will soon complete her AmeriCorps assignment with the City Year Program in Philadelphia. Knowing the fortitude required to stay with it, especially as COVID still looms, I am proud of Julia’s drive and commitment, and it will also not be easy for her to leave her students.
The Blackfeet community is innately inclusive and supportive, and warmth and humor are abundant. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t share a laugh with somebody, more often many somebodies. But this is also a community that struggles with the increasing challenges seen in many others throughout the country. It is no secret, though, that tribal communities are hit particularly hard. Their resilience is remarkable, and because of my immersion within the community, I understand more clearly now the lasting value of Blackfeet Community College as an integral part of fostering this resilience, rooted in the growth, healing, and honoring of the Blackfeet Nation’s critically significant and sacred history. The college’s motto is “Remember Our Past…Build Our Future” and it is woven securely into the very fabric of the day-to-day operations, thanks to the commitment of faculty, staff, administration, and the students, some who have worked to conquer significant challenges. In my visits to various shops and functions out in the community, I am always touched by the collective value placed on BCC. Since this is a community in which just about everyone is familiar with each other, and who is from here and who is a transplant, I am often asked, “Are you here as a nurse or a teacher?” I explain that I am here with AmeriCorps at the college, and their faces light with a warm smile, one that lets me know that they know the value of their community college, one which embraces the role of “Community College” in the truest sense of what one should be.
The campus is a hub of cultural knowledge, and all are welcome to come in and take part, share what they know and help preserve this precious knowledge for the future. It is a safe space for students, with a multitude of herculean efforts across campus aimed to reduce barriers and cheer the students on towards their goals. I’ve spent my time at Blackfeet Community College with wonderful students, discussing their academic writing, often drifting into conversations about their lives and their futures. Many are women returning to college after years of caring for others, and often still doing so while managing the demands of school, and part of the workforce on top of everything else. There were the sharing of stories and ideas as we discussed whatever assignment was looming, the conversation often detouring to family history, hopes and dreams. These moments, anything but small, have been an invaluable gift that will inform the remaining trajectory of my life. I will head back east in the fall, my heart more than a bit off balance as I leave this treasured community, especially my dear friends on campus, but home can be many places and I know this door will always remain open. The resilient and incredible Blackfeet Nation will continue to move forward as it honors its past, knowing that Blackfeet Community College is one of its most vital paths to secure the future.