This fall, the great outdoors is your classroom! Learn more about the Montana Roots Gap program for ages 17 to 22.
Montana Northern Cheyenne
High School Group Service Programs
Elder Wisdom and Carpentry on the Reservation
“I have never done anything like this before but it was the best experience of my life so far. I stepped far out of my comfort zone, established relationships I hope will last for a long time and learned so much about myself and the meaning of what it is to be human and how to make an impact on the world.”
Embracing Projects That Matter
The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation was established in 1884, just eight years after the tribe joined the Lakota to fight the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army in the Battle of Little Bighorn (aka Custer’s Last Stand). Now a small, close-knit community based in Lame Deer, the residents struggle with issues that plague many reservations: a lack of adequate housing, sparse social resources and high poverty rates. VISIONS volunteers have worked with Cheyenne tribal members for nearly 30 years, learning the ways of the elders while making meaningful contributions. Your impact will be felt across the generations, from helping to educate children in the Kids Kollege summer program to serving meals to elders at the Shoulder Blade senior center. You’ll also do hands-on construction and renovation work, building wheelchair ramps, picnic tables and garden beds, improving insulation and making repairs. In the process, the people you meet will change the way you see the world.
“I loved this program! I love our little community that we formed, the friendships I made, circle meetings, and Lame Deer itself. For the first time in my life I got out of my comfort zone. Everything about this program was perfect. It changed me into a better version of myself.”
Making Meaningful Connections
When VISIONS began working with the Northern Cheyenne people in 1991, we received a welcoming blessing from Florence Running Wolf (see Spotlight) and the Tribal Council. Since then, we’ve grown deep roots in this community. While Native Americans living on reservations can be understandably slow to embrace outsiders, the trust we’ve built helps volunteers connect closely with locals. Based in the small town of Lame Deer (two hours east of Billings), teens will get to know the Cheyenne in ways they never could from history books. You’ll be invited to activities that few non-tribal members are privy to, such as a powwow, sweat lodge, drum circles, family meals and a visit to the tribal buffalo herd. You’ll play games with local kids, learn traditional beading and fry bread-making, hear ages-old stories in the native tongue and tales of contemporary life. Our service here is a way of thanking the Cheyenne for opening their lives and homeland to us.
“I loved rock climbing, white water rafting and backpacking. Along with these trips it was also nice to do smaller activities such as bowling, swimming or going to the Coalstrip Recreation Center, where we got to interact with local people.”
Setting Out To Go Beyond
Spending time in this part of the U.S. feels like an adventure in itself—the valleys, bluffs, sage bushes, cottonwood and pine trees create a cinematic, wild-west setting. You’ll get to know this part of the Rocky Mountain range by camping in the Bighorn National Forest, swimming at Crazy Head Springs, day hiking with a medicine man who’ll teach you to identify medicinal plants and going horseback riding with an outfitter. You’ll also visit historical sites, including the St. Labre Indian School, a Catholic mission established in 1884; the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho tribes beat back General Custer; Deer Medicine Rocks, where Sitting Bull is said to have predicted the Native American triumph against Custer during a massive Sun Dance; and the sacred Medicine Wheel, a massive, mysterious monument built into the earth by ancient people. A Fourth of July powwow with fireworks brings this vast history into the here and now.
Activities and Excursions
- Take an overnight camping trip in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming
- See the Medicine Wheel, a sacred site constructed of large limestone rocks by ancient peoples
- Experience an annual multi-tribe powwow celebration, with teepees, dancing, drumming, community meals and long-standing traditions
- Tour the Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s Last Stand, and Deer Medicine Rocks, an essential place in Native American history
- Attend a youth rodeo
- Visit historic reservation sites, such as the Buffalo Jump and St. Labre mission school
- Go horseback riding in the Rocky Mountains
LINWOOD TALL BULL
The Dog Soldiers were a group of Cheyenne military elite who fought against Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn, and in many other clashes as the U.S. Army made its westward push. These formidable warriors were said to strike fear in the hearts of anyone who saw them. Chief Tall Bull was one such revered Dog Soldier, and he was also the esteemed ancestor of Linwood Tall Bull.
Though his presence is commanding, Linwood Tall Bull isn’t likely to strike fear into anyone’s heart. On the contrary, this generous Cheyenne elder and ethnobotanist is known for enchanting youth as he shares his vast knowledge of regional plants and their medicinal properties—much of which he learned from his own elders. A part-time teacher at Chief Dull Knife College, where he previously served as Director of the Cultural Learning Center, Linwood speaks across the Northwest about the healing, nutritional and spiritual properties of plants, as well as native traditions and habitat protection.
He is also President of the Medicine Wheel Alliance, a group of Native Americans working to protect and preserve the sacred Medicine Wheel National Historic Site in the Bighorn National Forest. But what kids love about Linwood is hearing his stories during short hikes together, sharing a meal or two with him, and visiting the gardens, chickens and teepees on his property, which he graciously invites us to tour during our summer stay.