Summer Search & the Blackfeet Indian Reservation

August 12th – 25th

Dig Deep. Do Good. Amaze Yourself.

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.”
John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Packing List & #VISIONSdressCode

Don’t wait to check out the packing instructions and a packing list. You’ll see information about our dress code, as well. Hit the thrift stores at a first stop if you need anything that you don’t already have. Remember to ignore “sleeping bag” on the list, as we have one for you!


Your Experience: An Overview

  • HANDS-ON PROJECTS. With the highest percentage of Americans living below the poverty line, Indian tribes often lack adequate housing and social resources, so our service work aims to meet some of these needs. We will do carpentry improvements at an elder’s home, assist with social services for children and elders, complete painting projects and conservation initiatives with local nonprofits.
  • COMMUNITY BUILDING. You will connect sincerely with fellow Summer Search participants, your supportive VISIONS leaders, and Blackfeet community members who look forward to sharing part of their lives with you.
  • CONNECT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD. Head out and enjoy adventures such as a horseback trail ride, an introductory rock climb that relies on team building as well as personal achievement, short hikes and cooling off in mountain streams.
“I can truthfully say I have never had so much fun with such amazing individuals, completing projects that will benefit so many people.”
—Patrick Fleming, Connecticut



Our homebase is the Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary, a conservation ranch owned by the Blackfeet Indian Land Trust, located a few miles outside the main reservation town of Browning. Unobstructed views of Glacier National Park absorb us and we are mindful of our stewardship of the ranch’s rare ecosystem that includes one of the only glacial fen wetlands in the country.

Accommodations are basic but comfortable, and as part of our environmental responsibilities we are mindful of resources to minimize our impact. Read more about our Blackfeet home away from home.

VISIONS was originally invited to live at the ranch in the early 2000s by the late Elouise Cobell, a modern warrior for Indigenous justice whose impact lives on. We continue to live and work here in her honor, and in partnership with the Land Trust.


The actual schedule may be a little different due to impromptu events, weather, and options for activities.

Day 1: Summer Search students arrive at the Kalispell (Glacier International) airport, where VISIONS leaders greet you and make introductions. We then venture off for a two hour scenic drive along Glacier National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and our homebase at the Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary conservation ranch. 

After unpacking and settling in, we dive into orientation and workshops. We then have a big feast at our Welcome Dinner cooked by Joan Cobell, a local woman who looks forward to meeting you! 

That evening we’ll gather up for our first group Circle meeting to reflect on our goals and wishes for the experience that awaits us. Circle meetings continue approximately every other evening throughout the program and are an opportunity to reflect, share our voices, and listen to each other.

Days 2 – 5: We learn about hand tools and power tools, engage in our volunteer service and rotate around to the various project options each day, and start to make an impact for both the community and our own learning process. After work ends each day around 2 pm, the afternoons are for cultural and recreation activities* on the Blackfeet Reservation. These first few days also include group rotations of horseback riding on beautiful trails with local people who lead the way. 

Each day we have “homebase crew” rotations, where a small group of students and a leader get up a bit early to cook breakfast for the group, then run errands in town, purchase food for the next meals and clean our living space while the rest of the group is at worksites. Breakfasts are eaten at homebase; lunches are packed and eaten at worksites and excursions; and dinners are typically enjoyed back at homebase. 

Evenings are for unwinding, playing games, having occasional dinner guests and speakers, and also for Circle meetings. You’ll sleep well after our fun and fulfilling days!

Days 6 & 7: It’s the weekend, and we’ll get to have a sleep-in followed by a big breakfast and relaxed morning. Late morning we will join up with Blackfeet elders to learn more about their culture, heritage and traditions. We may even spend some time helping to set up a tipi lodge and spend time in it. 

Later in the day, we head out for a short hike and overnight camping, with your choice of a tent or sleeping under the stars. This is an introductory-level outing instead of a big hike, but it’s an opportunity to appreciate our environment and spend some time together in a new setting. 

The next morning after breakfast, we pack up and head into the quaint town of East Glacier to check out the bakery and souvenir shops before heading back to our homebase at the ranch. That evening includes a cooking workshop with Joan to make the ever-popular Indian Tacos

Days 8 – 11: It’s back to our worksites, which you’ll get to choose from each day. You’ll also be getting to know our local partners better and making some genuine connections. As with the prior week, we end work early- to mid-afternoon and then delve into our activities and excursions* (see below). 

Day 12: This is our last full day on the Reservation, and another chance for a bit of a sleep-in followed by big breakfast. The rest of the day has options for small and large group activities, which will include a final nature walk on our homebase ranch, writing cards and baking goodies for local friends, practicing for the night’s Talent Show, and cleaning up our space. 

That night is our farewell dinner with a few local friends, followed by the Summer Search Boston & Seattle Talent Show! Once we wrap up that event, your VISIONS leaders will present a slideshow highlighting all of you and our couple weeks together. 

Day 13: We say goodbye to the Blackfeet Reservation and take our drive along the southern border of Glacier National Park to our rock climbing destination. You’ll challenge yourself and encourage each other as we do an introductory climb with professional guides.

After the half-day climb, we spend time at a sandy beach and lake to cool off and swim, have our final Circle meeting, have a pizza dinner that’s topped off by an ice cream outing. Wrapping up from this big day, we head to a small forested property known as Whistlin’ Acres for an easy camp setup before next morning’s departure.

Day 14: Our adventure comes to an end. Leaders take you to the airport and see you off for your travels home. We will miss our Summer Searchers! 


Horseback Ride with Blackfeet Outfitters

Native America Speaks Presentation

Tour historic sites & Museum of the Plains Indian

Scavenger Hunt in Town (Browning)

Short Hikes & Cool Off In Mountain Streams

Rock Climb with Professional Guides

Camp a night under Thousands of Stars

Summer Search Talent Show

Spend Time with Tribal Elders & Learn Blackfeet Customs



Montana woman standing in front of the mountains


Elouise Cobell, also known by her Blackfeet name Yellow Bird Woman, left an indelible impact on communities far and wide. Her story stands out in history as that of what President Obama called, “A Champion of Native American rights.” For VISIONS, she represents the model of an engaged citizen and she connected us to the land, history and community of the Blackfeet Nation in a profound way.

Read More

Elouise’s legacy as an activist developed from her career in banking. She served as Treasurer of the Blackfeet Tribe, co-founded the first national bank located on a reservation and owned by a Native American tribe, and won a MacArthur Genius Award for her work on Native financial literacy. Her credentials do not end there, and most notably Elouise was the lead plaintiff in a landmark class-action suit against the Federal Government for mismanagement of Indian funds.

Elouise had discovered irregularities in accounting that showed the government had been short-changing tribes across the country since the 1800s. She spent more than a decade seeking reform before filing the Cobell v. Salazar suit in 1996. The case was ultimately settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion. By then it had spanned three presidencies, engendered seven trials and gone before a federal appeals court ten times.

The settlement was allocated to repurchasing land for tribal ownership and a scholarship fund for Native students. In the aftermath of the settlement, the Secretary of the Interior created a new commission to evaluate the Indian Trust system and in 2016 President Obama awarded Elouise with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Every summer Elouise took time out of her rigorous schedule to meet with VISIONS students, who were riveted by hearing her account of Blackfeet struggles and the throughline relationship of those struggles to the injustices that had been propped up by the case. We were also honored to hear about the Cobell case directly from Elouise, who brought clarity to complex and century-old issues.

In the early 2000s, Elouise invited VISIONS to be the summer caretakers of a beautiful conservation ranch, a responsibility and homebase that we continue to honor today. After Elouise passed in 2011, the ranch was renamed the Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary. Although she is no longer with us in body, Elouise is part of our program through spirit and family.

To learn more about Elouise, read an article by our Executive Director and check out the documentary, 100 Years.

Please check this out soon and contact us if you have any questions! Important note: You don’t need to bring a sleeping bag— we have one for you!