Week 52: Volunteering at the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana
My legs and back were stiff from sitting on the ground for the last hour, but there was no room to stretch or move in the tiny sweat lodge full as it was with tribesmen/women and invited guests.
I had never been in a place so dark. Covered with branches and then thick blankets, absolutely no light entered the space. The air was humid and thick enough that you felt you were breathing in gel.
Although it was as dark as the endless depths of space, it was not silent. Every so often the chief, or one of his chosen assistants, took large boughs of fresh sweet pine, dipped them in a bucket of water and then sprinkled them on the hot rocks in the basin dug into the center of the hut. You could hear the sizzle and feel the new steam rising. Members of the tribe chanted and sung prayer songs of thanks and wellbeing. Some were accompanied by seed rattles or drumming.
From time to time the Chief interrupted the darkness by burning offerings over the stones. Participants brought bits of tobacco to be burnt in offerings to the heavens. The tobacco became part of mother earth – she took all the troubles offered to her, cleansed them and turned them into nourishment for humankind. The smoke would take the prayers and messages up to the Gods.
To my left, the pipe woman prepared and passed the ceremonial pipe around the room and everyone took a puff, releasing the smoke to the heavens while praying.
You could see the tiny light of the tobacco in the pipe glow red hot when someone inhaled. Like a dancing firefly.
At one point the Chief passed around hot sweet pine needle tea in a large wooden scoop and everyone took a sip.
The sweat lodge ceremony was divided into 4 sections – each about 30 minutes long with a few minute break in between. During the breaks you were able to take a cold drink of water that was passed around in a shared jug.
New rocks from the bonfire outside the hut were brought in to keep the hut hot. During those few minutes you could catch a wisp of cool air and see the night sky and bonfire outside.
Then the blankets and door were closed and you were once again encased in thick darkness.
I felt completely relaxed and a bit dizzy. I could be anywhere, or nowhere.
I imagined this was like the darkness that existed before the Universe was created… a thick darkness everywhere, unending.
This was the last week of my 52 week journey. I was on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, working with a team from Global Volunteers.
Fantastically unique and special moments like the sweat lodge ceremony happened all week as we met and worked alongside the families of the tribe.
I slept in a teepee, worked dried elk hide to create a traditional par fleche, learned all about the history of the Blackfeet and the Reservation, their traditions and system of government.
I watched a traditional Blackfeet ceremonial dance, met tribal artists, ate traditional foods, and spent my volunteer days helping the team take care of an expansive working farm.
It was an amazing week and a spiritually special way to end my 52 weeks of charity. I will definitely be back!
To learn more about the Blackfeet Indian program and other programs run by Global Volunteers, please check out their website at: https://globalvolunteers.org/
THANK YOU for coming along on my 52 week journey. I’m not sure what’s next for me with this – I’ve LOVED my year and am sad to see it end. I’m going to think about next steps for 2019… stay tuned 😉