Montana Northern Cheyenne
15 Day High School Service Program
Below is the VISIONS Montana Northern Cheyenne summer program itinerary for our teen volunteers! The actual schedule may be a little different because of the flow of community service projects, weather or cultural events that we are invited to, but the primary activities are always woven into our Northern Cheyenne reservation teen service projects.
Day 1: Arrive at the Billings airport, where VISIONS leaders will be waiting to meet each student volunteer. All teens make a quick call home before the group heads out. (Additional calls home happen about once a week but as with all VISIONS locations, this is otherwise a tech free teen summer program.) We leave Montana’s biggest city and make the two-hour drive east through beautiful Big Sky country to the small Reservation town of Lame Deer, our homebase. Upon arrival, we settle into our new digs and get to know each other with a program orientation and our first Circle meeting (a regular event during which we deepen our communication and listening skills), and have a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Our VISIONS carpenter gets us started with a tool safety class and carpentry training, during which each student will complete a small project, such as a picnic table for the Head Start school. Afterward, we hike together to a hillside vista of the Tongue River Valley, and begin to learn some of the rich history of this special place, including historic battles that happened here. When we get back to homebase, we’ll have our second Circle meeting to touch base before embarking on our regular work schedule.
Days 3 – 6: Time to dig in! Rotating groups take turns getting the hang of each project, whether serving meals at the Shoulder Blade Senior Center, assisting at the summer day camp for local children, and doing construction projects, such as building wheelchair ramps and doing repair work on elders’ homes. We also begin “homebase crew” days, when a rotating subgroup helps with grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up our living space.
Afternoons and evenings include a visit to the Spang Ranch, where we learn about cowhand culture, watch roping, check out the horses and ponies, and talk with Mr. Spang, who was a bronco and bull rider in rodeo circuits. We also visit the Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s Last Stand, and leave “the Rez” for a trip to Colstrip, where we swim at the public pool and get ice cream.
Day 7: Northern Cheyenne Annual Powwow! This is the tribe’s primary powwow, attended by tribes from across the Northwest whose members set up camp in teepees all over the grounds. We get the rare privilege of seeing traditional dancing competitions, drum circles, native games, food stands, and a community feed.
Days 8 & 9: Gear up for an overnight camping trip to Pine Island in the Bighorn Mountains, just over the border in Wyoming. These two days also include outdoor games, building a campfire and making s’mores, doing short hikes and exploring a nearby alpine lake, enjoying the wilderness and sharing what we’ve learned at a Circle meeting.
Days 10 – 13: Return to home base and get back to community projects. Post-work activities during this week include an easy day hike during which we learn about native plants and medicinals, a swim at Crazy Head Springs, and learning traditional arts, such as beading and dancing. As a special treat one evening, we have dinner with elder and ethnobotanist Linwood Tall Bull, whose captivating storytelling reveals the history of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.
Day 14: After packing up, we say goodbye to our local friends and head to Red Lodge, a Wild West mountain town nestled in Montana’s highest peaks. We go horseback riding with an outfitter group in the Beartooth Mountains, then have time to explore the town and souvenir shop before heading to Billings, where we have a pizza party, look at photos from the program, have a final Circle meeting and hit the sack (at a Billings hotel) before catching flights home the next morning.
Day 15: Flight departures from Billings, where our leaders see off each participant at the airport.