Service at Blackfeet Community College by Gabriela Rodriguez-Velez

February 23, 2024
Gabriela is an AmeriCorps College Coach serving at Blackfeet Community College.

I began my service at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana in September. For the past five to six months, I have had the pleasure of getting to know this community on the reservation. One of my favorite things about service so far has been getting to know a whole new culture and the people in it. One of the most gratifying aspects of immersing oneself in a new community is the opportunity to forge genuine connections with people from different backgrounds. Each interaction becomes a doorway to unraveling the intricacies of daily life, cultural norms, values, and traditions. Whether through shared meals, lively conversations, or participation in local festivities, every encounter offers a glimpse into the tapestry of human experiences.

I have had the opportunity to serve and interact with the youth, adults, and elders. From the beginning I have been granted the opportunity to witness many ceremonies, powwows, and other cultural events on campus and in the community. One of my most memorable fall events was the Iinii (Bison) Harvest. Admittedly it’s not for everyone, but it was an interesting experience, nonetheless. True to Native form, every piece of the bison was donated to community members in attendance, elders first of course, and an extra was given over to FAST Blackfeet and to someone who knew how to cure the hide. I have also been able to attend two naming ceremonies, one for our college president and the other for our new Knowledge Carriers Lodge. This new space will be home to the elders on campus so that students can have easy access to get to know, learn, and seek advice from.

Over winter break the Student Success Team along with the Student Senate hosted a sober disco party for the campus and surrounding community. Our student treasurer had the great idea after noticing that all the other events taking place nearby were at the casino or other bars in the area. We are always seeking new opportunities to host fun activities for students and their families so we jumped at the idea of providing a safe sober space where everyone could still have fun and celebrate the New Year. This community is really centered on the importance of family, and it shows. Community members are always coming to support their family in school and at all the ceremonies and events.

Most recently, we held a commemoration over the Bear River Massacre for all the men, women, and children that were killed during the brutal winter of 1863. While part of the commemoration focused on grieving and remembering the lives of those lost, part of it also focused on the strides the Blackfeet people have been able to make since then. Still standing strong on two feet, teaching their youth about their heritage and resilience.

Ultimately, the pleasures of getting to know a new community and culture lie in the sense of interconnectedness it fosters. It is about recognizing the beauty in diversity, celebrating the richness of the human experience, and embracing the boundless possibilities that come with mutual respect, empathy, curiosity, and understanding. In a world marked by division, the journey of cultural exploration serves as a reminder of our shared humanity on this earth. It is a journey I recommend everyone take. There is an abundance of diversity to explore if we just step out our front doors.

Soon we will get to have a celebratory dance for Valentine’s Day where we will all learn (if we do not already know) a handful of traditional dances while a local drum circle plays for us. I am excited to see all the girls in their ribbon skirts. A colleague from campus has graciously offered to make me one for the event, so I am very excited. I have only seen some of the dances at powwows, but I will attempt to learn. If you see me offbeat and lacking rhythm, no you didn’t. Until next time, kitakitamatsino.