Meet Joan Cobell, Montana Blackfeet Cook

Joan is a special part of VISIONS Montana, crafting delicious traditional meals for our participants. Let’s meet Joan!

By Owen Clarke

Joan Cobell has served as the cook on the VISIONS Montana Blackfeet program since 2015. She crafts plenty of tasty dinners during our programs (including her legendary “Indian Tacos,” which she often teaches participants to make)! “I have always loved to cook,” says Joan, who also operates a small catering company. “I love seeing people enjoy the food that I prepare.” 

She especially enjoys her time cooking with VISIONS participants. “I love instructing the students about Indian tacos,” she says, “and letting them make them has always been a way to get to know them a little better. It makes them—and me—feel like they have accomplished something.” 

In addition to her work as a chef, Joan studies at Blackfeet Community College, working toward a degree in Health Science. She hopes to take this degree and go on to study microbiology at Western Montana College. 

But Joan isn’t just our program’s cook or a passionate student. She and her family also have a long-reaching, intimate connection to the Blackfeet land. The conservation ranch where the VISIONS program is based originally belonged to Joan’s great-grandmother, Irene Schildt. In fact, the one-room cabin where Irene raised her four children is still standing today! 

This ranch, Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary, is named for the late Elouise Cobell, whose Blackfeet name was Yellow Bird Woman. Elouise was Joan’s aunt, and is among the most renowned Native Americans of modern times. From The Nature Conservancy: Cobell [was] a heroine for native people across the U.S. … waging a 15-year legal battle over the federal government’s mismanagement of billions of dollars in Indian trust lands – ultimately winning a settlement, in 2009, for $3.4 billion dollars.

It’s safe to say that Joan’s roots run deep here, from the people to the buildings to the land itself. “You could say I was destined to be there, at the ranch,” she says.

Another noteworthy family member is Joan’s son, Chazz Racine. Chazz is one of the best Indian Relay racers in the country. “He lives, eats and breathes horses,” Joan says. Chazz and many other members of Joan’s family—including her father, brother, nephews and cousins—run two relay riding teams. 

“[Relay racing] is a big part of my family,” Joan says, “from training to taking care of the horses all year long. Let me tell you… horses come before all!” Both of her family’s teams are widely successful, with wins at races from Canada to Wyoming to Oklahoma, and even at the legendary Emerald Downs racetrack in Washington. In fact, VISIONS participants who partake in the first session programs often get to see Chazz crush the competition while relay racing at the annual Indian Days powwow!

Above all else, Joan says she loves “when the leaders and students get involved with the people of our community” during VISIONS programs. “I love meeting all the new people, from the leaders to the students,” she adds. “It’s been wonderful seeing the diverse people who attend VISIONS.”

Owen Clarke is a writer for VISIONS. A career outdoor journalist, his work appears in 30+ international magazines, including Iron & Air, Climbing, Outside, Rock and Ice, SKI, Trail Runner and The Outdoor Journal. He is also the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.

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