Montana Blackfeet FAQ
Khan Lab School 2019
Meet Your Leaders
Nick discovered his love for volunteer work at the age of 19 when he spent ten months with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. His work included Hurricane Katrina recovery and running a chainsaw on an emergency ice-storm response deployment in Missouri. That year, he forged lasting friendships and developed a passion for blending meaningful work with exciting adventures. He now dedicates himself to cultivating similar experiences for the next generation.
Nick served as lead carpenter on the former VISIONS program in Mississippi and has now led many programs on the Montana Blackfeet reservation. He earned a B.S. Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University, led youth trail crews in Oregon, guided an outdoor-ed teen program in California, and directed a college-level program that involves volunteering with the homeless.
More than anything, Nick enjoys learning new things, reading, being creative, telling long jokes with minimal punchlines, recreating in the great outdoors and traveling. He is excited to get to work on the Blackfeet Reservation this summer—alongside his team of leaders and participants—helping the community and making some memories!
Cat grew up in the quaint town of Northborough, Massachusetts. Childhood travels in Eastern Europe with her family contributed to her love for adventure and fascination with foreign cultures. She spent most summers at her cabin in the Adirondacks of New York, where she could be found climbing mountains, drifting in a kayak and playing guitar around campfires.
Cat claims to have done most of her teen development in the summer of 2010, when she spent three weeks with VISIONS on the Blackfeet program. The experience changed the course of her life, and after falling in love with the big skies of Montana, she moved to Bozeman to attend college at MSU. She earned a B.A. in English with a Secondary Teaching focus and a minor in Native American Studies.
Since graduating in 2016, Cat has taught English to rural kids in a Montana ranching town near the Breaks of the Missouri River. She also coaches track and is involved in a variety of local and school activities.
Coming full circle, Cat has also returned to VISIONS for many seasons as a program leader on both the Northern Cheyenne and Blackfeet Indian reservations.
The schedule below illustrates the general flow of the program and the highlights of what will take place. Some of the timing will change once we’re on the ground according to what works best with the community.
Day One (Sunday, June 16)
- Flight arrival to Kalispell met by VISIONS leaders
- 2 – 2.5 hour drive to homebase, stopping to see some sites in Glacier
- Settle in / unpack / orientation
- Welcome Dinner
- Campfire & group meeting
Day Two (Monday)
- Tool training / worksite training
- Worksites begin
- Lunches at the worksites
- End work ~ 2 pm
- Afternoon activity: Hike & swim at Two Medicine Lake
- Dinner guest speaker
Day Three (Tuesday)
- Afternoon activity: Scavenger hunt in Browning & community interviews
- Dinner at the ranch
- Native American Speaks talk at Museum of the Plains Indian
- Group meeting / reflection before bedtime
Day Four (Wednesday)
- Afternoon activity: Historic “Rez Tour” with tribal friend / historian. This is a driving tour to some of the most important historic places on the reservation. Common stops include: Buffalo Jumps, the old mission school, Camp Disappointment, and a vantage point to see Chief Mountain. We also often stop to see the tribe’s buffalo herd and learn about its significance.
- Dinner at the ranch
- Games and optional beading workshop
- Group meeting
Day Five (Thursday)
- Afternoon activity: Horseback riding in Glacier National Park
- Spend some time in the small town of East Glacier checking out the shops & perhaps buying some homemade pie!
- Dinner at the ranch
- Street Dance in Browning
Day Six (Friday)
- Afternoon activity (small group rotations): Museum of the Plains Indian, visit with artist Donna Edwards, and guest DJ’ing with Julene Pepion, a respected elder and sister of the late Elouise Cobell
- Dinner at the ranch with community guests / speaker
- Campfire / group meeting
Day Seven (Saturday)
- Full day excursion into Glacier National Park: hiking, swimming, seeing fire damage, having packed lunches, etc.
- Goodbye Dinner
- Last group meeting
Day Eight (Sunday)
- Pack up & clean homebase
- Morning departure to Kalispell for flight at 2 pm (2 to 2.5 hour drive)
When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do
VISIONS places a high value on respect of the community members who welcome us year after year. We are not tourists. We are temporary community members, and as such must strive to honor the standards of our host community. We all need to be conscious of adapting rather than imposing our usual day-to-day conduct or dress on the places we visit, as tourists tend to do. The community where we live and work will want to welcome you as a friend, so we must do our best not to alienate local contacts.
In addition to the cultural considerations, conservative dress protects you from the sun, heat, mosquito bites and minor cuts. Long-sleeved gauzy fabric is breathable and cool, and the body adjusts to protective clothing. You’ll be more comfortable if less of your skin is exposed.
- Articles of clothing NOT permitted on VISIONS programs:
- Short-shorts (shorter than mid-thigh) or short skirts
- Crop tops or shirts that reveal midriff
- Spaghetti strap shirts or dresses
- Low cut shirts
- Clothing that reveals undergarments
- Spandex or yoga pants (wearing these under other clothing such as shorts is permitted)
- VISIONS is a cell phone / tech-free program, but [non-phone] cameras are allowed and encouraged. If you choose not to bring one, leaders will be taking photos throughout the program and we will share the photos with everyone at the end of the program.
- Cell phones, music devices, e-readers and any other gadgets will be collected on the first day and will be returned on the final day. We make every effort to safely secure electronic devices, but VISIONS is not responsible for lost or stolen items.
Why the tech policy?
- First: The absence of these devices encourages us to take in the full texture of the community—the sights, smells, sounds and rhythms of daily life. Participants consistently comment after their VISIONS program that they were able to form deeper friendships, and they felt more connected to the community when the distractions of technology were removed.
- Second: Because we are a group of non-locals, we will naturally stick out. Bringing gadgets only makes us targets for petty theft, and it accentuates the differences between our hosts and ourselves.
Tuition covers almost everything during the program, but some participants like to bring extra money (around $30-50 per week) for personal items such as souvenirs, snacks, and baggage fees. VISIONS leaders encourage participants to turn in cash and cards at the beginning of the program and then check the money/cards out as needed. Please refer to your airline’s website for baggage fees (if applicable).
- ATM Card: VISIONS recommends bringing an ATM card. They are more secure than cash and ATMs provide local currency. Additionally, they can be held in a parent's name because ATMs do not require identification.
- Credit Cards: We recommend bringing a credit card for things like baggage fees and other expenses where cards are accepted. Since many small shops will not accept credit cards, however, you will still need a means for cash.
- Cash: Please do not bring more than $150 cash—VISIONS can lock up cash in a secure area, but we don't want to accept more than $150 per person. You can rely on the ATM card for additional money needs.
- Prepaid Debit Cards: These cards often do not work well in small local shops, so please do not plan on this as a primary payment option, especially if traveling outside the U.S.
- Carry medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. Confirm that you have enough for the entire trip.
- We recommend that you travel with your medications in your carry-on, so you will still have access to them if your luggage is delayed or lost.
- It is recommended that participants carry a doctor’s letter that lists the diagnosis, treatment, and prescription routine (including generic names of the medication).
Please download and print the following packing list:
Please note that the program is based near the town of Browning on the Blackfeet reservation and that excursions to other areas include Glacier National Park. The hospital in Browning typically only serves tribal members, except in emergency situations. Most medical situations would be treated at the Northern Rockies Medical Center in Cut Bank, which is a 45 – 60 minute drive. Serious medical situations would be treated at the full-scale hospital in Great Falls or Kalispell, and participants carry the medical evacuation policy in case of any emergency during backcountry excursions.
To learn more about health and safety on VISIONS programs, please refer to this FAQ link.
Program Expectations & Zero Tolerance Rules
Zero Tolerance Rules
The “Airplane Rules” are in place for everyone’s safety, health and welfare, common sense, group dynamic, and with local laws in mind. It is important to remember that local laws may be different than what you are used to, and in some locations, repercussions and penalties are severe and may have a long-lasting impact on your future. VISIONS rules and policies are in place to protect you.
VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program regarding consumption, possession, or attempted possession of alcohol or drugs/illegal substances. Consuming, possessing, or attempting to possess alcohol or drugs/illegal substances will result in immediate dismissal from the program. Participants may not abuse over-the-counter drugs or use medications not prescribed to them. Exclusive relationships, including clique forming or intimate relations, are also not permitted on an VISIONS program. These types of relationships can have a negative impact on the group dynamic and may result in dismissal. Please review the Enrollment Contract for the complete Terms of Participation.
Sending a participant home is difficult for everyone, but it will happen if an Airplane Rule is broken. Being sent home, even in final days of a program, results in forfeiture of the Certificate of Service and recognition of service hours. Again, the safety, health, and wellbeing of participants is at the core of our policies.
Buddy System and Boundaries
If you want to leave your homebase area during the occasional free time – for example, to stop at a store or to go for a run – you need to find someone in your group who is willing to go with you, and you must remain inside the pre-determined boundaries. You and your buddy check out with a leader, establishing where you will be and how long you will be gone. When you return, you check in with the same leader.
The boundaries are explained by leaders on the first day of the program, and usually encompass our immediate neighborhood and the nearby places we know well. Our leaders need to know where everyone is at all times for your safety and for maintaining the general flow of the program. Participants will be with leaders at all times during non-daylight hours, unless there is a special case such as a dinner with a local family.
Getting Enough Sleep
VISIONS programs are demanding. We start early, work hard, and explore with passion. Free time can be used to catch a short nap, but to keep everyone healthy and energized throughout the program, we establish a set “lights out” time. Leaders consider the daily routines of our host communities and our personal program needs when setting those times. There are occasional exceptions including staying up for a social event, or sleeping in on a morning when leaders determine some extra rest will be beneficial for the group. Participants are welcome to use a headlamp to read after lights out, but we suspect that you will welcome sleep.
When we refer to the community of participants and leaders in VISIONS, we mean it as best defined by M. Scott Peck in “The Different Drum”:
[A] group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to . . . delight in each other, make others' conditions (their) own.
On a VISIONS program, we place a premium on building a sense of community and getting to know everyone in the group. Sometimes, community can mean “neighborhood” in the sense of sharing resources like power tools and physical labor, as we do in the communities where we work. On a deeper level, it can mean creating a kind of family out of strangers and it is this sense of community that we strive to create among our groups and leaders.
Community means embracing your responsibilities within the group rather than hiding in anonymity, respecting others, communicating clearly, and living together cooperatively. To encourage growth in each of those areas, your leaders will facilitate evening meetings that include every participant on the program. Your group will meet three or four nights a week for about an hour to speak and listen to each other. We almost always start by reflecting on the day, including the overall volunteer and cultural experiences. Sometimes an incident or event raises questions that deserve everyone’s perspective and input. When it’s called for, we also use the time to hash out issues and iron out differences. This is a time to communicate openly and to listen to others’ perspectives. It can also be an occasion for us to see how others perceive us, which is a valuable gift.
Through this forum, we stand to gain insight as well as more confident and effective communication skills, which are as useful as the physical skills we learn and apply during the day. Our focus is the here and now, and the integrity of the community, of both leaders and participants, living and learning together.
It is your time, our time, to build a foundation of trust and cohesiveness in the process of becoming a strong community.
There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace — and ultimately no life — without community.
- Scott Peck
Code of Ethics
- Travel with a spirit of humility and a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
- Be aware of the feelings of others. Act respectfully and avoid offensive behavior, including when taking photographs.
- Cultivate the habit of actively listening and observing rather than merely hearing and seeing. Avoid the temptation to “know all the answers.”
- Realize that others may have concepts of time and attitudes that are different—not inferior—to those you inherited from your own culture.
- Instead of looking only for the exotic, discover the richness of another culture and way of life. Learn local customs and respect them.
- Spend time each day reflecting on your experiences in order to deepen your understanding. Is your enrichment beneficial for all involved?
- Be aware of why you are traveling in the first place. If you truly want a “home away from home,” why travel?
Compiled by The North American Center for Responsible Tourism, San Anselmo, CA