Montana Blackfeet FAQ

Program Preparation Information

Program Life

COMMUNITY

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 might mean “neighborhood.” 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.

Community means embracing your responsibilities within the group, respecting others, communicating clearly, and living cooperatively. To encourage growth in each of those areas, your group will meet three or four nights a week for about an hour to speak and listen to each other. We reflect on the day, including the volunteer and cultural experiences, and sometimes 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 each day. Our focus is the here and now, and the integrity of the community that is 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?

Compiled by The North American Center for Responsible Tourism, San Anselmo, CA

Program Expectations & Zero Tolerance Rules

Participant Contract: “VISIONS expects that all participants understand that they will be asked to put the group’s needs ahead of their own. Participants are ambassadors for VISIONS while in our host communities, and are expected to uphold an ethic of service and goodwill. Appropriate, considerate conduct, and respect for program policies are essential. We live and work in the public eye, and appropriate behavior, language, and clothing are necessary. Participants assume responsibility for their conduct and their part in creating a productive group experience.”

VISIONS leaders create opportunities for participants to succeed, easily behave within our expectations, and have a healthy, fulfilling experience. We want families to be aware of some of the ingredients we view as fundamental to a successful experience for all involved. 

Zero Tolerance “Airplane” Rules

VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program regarding (1) consumption, possession, or attempted possession of alcohol or drugs/illegal substances; (2) sexual activity—meaning conduct deemed unacceptable in public places. These activities will result in loss of community service hours and immediate dismissal and thus are referred to as our Airplane Rules. Remember that VISIONS focuses on an inclusive group dynamic, so cliques and romances are out of sync with the goal of a powerful and life-changing experience. Please review the Enrollment Contract for the complete Terms of Participation.

The rules are in place for everyone’s safety, health and welfare, common sense, group dynamic, and with local laws in mind. If a participant is sent home early, the parent/guardian will be responsible for booking the next available flight. Purchasing a new ticket is sometimes necessary.

Sending a participant home is difficult for everyone, but it will happen if an Airplane Rule is broken. Breaking an Airplane Rule, even if on the final day 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.

Dress Code 

All participants are required to comply with the dress code as outlined on the packing list. The modest dress codes have been developed intentionally to be appropriate for the cultural and social standards in our communities. As guests, temporary residents, and collaborative partners in our host communities, insensitivity to the dress code interrupts the program and undermines important local relationships. Participants may only bring clothing that falls within dress code parameters. If dress codes are not followed, the participant may be required to immediately purchase appropriate clothing at their own expense. 

Buddy System and Boundaries

In order to leave homebase during the occasional free time, you will need to find at least two others in the group to go with you and you must remain inside the pre-determined boundaries. You and your buddies check out with a leader, establishing where you will be and how long you will be gone.

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 for your safety and for maintaining the flow of the program. Participants will be with leaders 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. To keep everyone healthy and energized, we establish a set “lights out” time. Participants are welcome to use a headlamp to read after lights out, but we suspect that you will welcome sleep. There are occasional exceptions to the bedtime, including staying up for a community social event. 

Appropriate Language

Participants are expected to speak to each other and leaders respectfully and avoid inappropriate language. If a participant needs repeated reminders about respectful communication, it will be grounds for a Behavior Contract and/or reduced service hours. 

Work Ethic

We know that most of our participants haven’t done the amount of physical labor they will be doing while on a VISIONS program. We respect the decision to be part of an ambitious service trip and we expect that participants will uphold their commitment to the service work at hand. Not everyone will have the same capabilities or endurance, but we look forward to seeing each person push themselves at the worksites and contribute in ways that will make them proud, reflect well on VISIONS with our host communities, and get the job done.  

Please feel free to review the Enrollment Contact that each primary parent/guardian signs upon registering for a VISIONS program.

Health
Please note that the program is based near the town of Browning on the Blackfeet reservation. 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 hospital in Great Falls or Kalispell.

To learn more about health and risk management on VISIONS programs, please refer to this FAQ link.

Being In Touch
Program Updates

While VISIONS leaders do not post constant updates from the field (their primary job being to be fully present with the program and kids), a few times a week they do post photos and updates to VISIONS Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as brief journal entries to the VISIONS blog, to which you can subscribe.

Communication

Kids make a quick call home upon being met by a VISIONS leader at the program airport. (For international sites, we encourage kids and parents to download WhatsApp on your phones before the program.) After that, participants’ phones are collected for the duration of the program and families are encouraged to follow program updates through our social media and blog pages. 

Parents are called if a participant is taken to a clinic or if another situation deems calling home. For urgent matters and questions during the summers, parents may of course call the VISIONS office. During off-hours, a 24-hour number is provided on the office message system. 

Mailing Address

We don’t receive mail on the program. If you need to send something to your child, please contact the VISIONS office.

Recommended Resources

Looking for something to read or watch before the program in order to learn more about the Blackfeet Nation and more? Check out some of these resources below.

100 Years, directed by Melinda Janko. “Over 100 years ago, the U.S. Government broke up Indian Reservations and allotted millions of acres of land to 300,000 Native Americans. The government promised to manage their land, establishing the Indian Trust Fund to disburse revenues generated by mining, oil, gas, and timber leases. The federal government was supposed to manage the Indian Trust…what it really managed was to cheat Indian families out of billions of dollars. In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet Warrior, filed the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the Federal Government. This is the story of how she prevailed and made history.” 

  • Elouise Cobell is one of the most well-known Native Americans of modern times. She is revered, and VISIONS was proud to call her a close friend. Many years ago, it was Elouise who invited VISIONS to live at the conservation ranch where we still reside today (now named after Elouise, the ranch is called the Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary). 

Elouise Cobell’s Accounting Coup by Julia Whitty. Mother Jones article about Elouise Cobell and the case against the U.S. government.

Shadow of a Nation by Gary Smith and Kenneth Jarecke. This is a Sports Illustrated article that is a classic and award-winning. It features basketball among Montana Indian Nations and remains relevant to this day. Highly recommended even if you’re not a sports fan. 

Sixty-Four Flood, by PBS Indies. “On June 7-8, 1964, a driving rain buckled dams and flooded vehicles on the Blackfeet Reservation, sweeping crying children from mothers’ arms, and ferrying homes and bodies across the prairie. This mobile documentary narrative tells the story of the worst natural disaster in Montana history: the 1964 flood on the Blackfeet Reservation. This project provides the opportunity to archive interviews with survivors and tribal leaders, as well as present a mobile narrative of the tragedy that viewers can experience online as well as ‘in the field’ at the site of historic events.”

An article about the flood: Montana’s Worst Natural Disaster, by Aaron Parrett

Why Save a Language, directed by Sally Thompson. “More than half of the 300 indigenous languages of North America are now extinct.  But a movement by Native peoples to resurrect and preserve these languages is thriving in many places around the continent. In this film, Native people from various tribes and languages discuss the heart wrenching loss of indigenous languages, and the importance of keeping what remains alive.  An important film for any interested in linguistics, saving Native American Indian languages, and saving global languages.”  —This film includes some focus on Darrell Kipp, a renowned Blackfeet Indian who was a long-time friend of VISIONS and influential force in bringing back the Blackfeet language. Darrell died in 2013.

Badger-two Medicine: Too Sacred To Drill by Rebecca Drobis. “The Badger-Two Medicine region is an almost entirely un-roaded expanse of mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front that is sacred to our people. Over thirty years ago, this area was leased illegally without tribal consultation and approval.”  —A current affairs issue of natural resources, drilling and environmental concerns on the Blackfeet reservation.

Winter in the Blood – James Welch. Novel about a young Native American man living on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana, and written by James Welch, who is part Blackfeet Indian. 

Blackfeet Nation online

Blackfeet Papers, Volumes 1 – 4 (includes excerpt re. Flat Iron ranch, VISIONS homebase and now called Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary)

Glenbow Museum website

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (a classic) by Dee Brown

 

WHAT & HOW TO PACK
Don’t wait to review your packing list, as there may be a few items that you need to get in advance of your trip.

Travel

Booking Flights
  • The VISIONS designated travel agent is Aileen Setiawan at Discover Travel, 215.925.6174 or aileen@discovertravelinc.com
  • VISIONS strongly recommends that flights are booked with Aileen since she has the arrival and departure parameters as well as an overview of all participants’ itineraries in order to facilitate travel days. It is not guaranteed that there will be more than one participant on every flight, but participants booking flights through Aileen will be placed on the same travel itineraries whenever possible.
  • If families choose not to book with Aileen, the itinerary must be submitted to VISIONS for approval prior to booking. Neither VISIONS nor our travel agent will be able to assist with travel issues associated with flights booked through an alternative option.
  • In cases of flight delays or changed flight dates, Aileen is a resource, but there will also be instances when parents may need to call an airline to assist.
  • Unaccompanied Minor (UM) Service is required by some airlines for minors who are not traveling with an adult. Aileen will inform you of the requirements, and please also check the regulations of your carrier. UM assistance is arranged directly with the airline, but you will need to share the details with VISIONS so we can pass it along to program leaders. If you are not booking with Aileen and are booking directly with the airline using miles, the airline might not advise you of the UM requirement, which can cause last minute issues at the airport. It is each family’s responsibility to take care of UM requirements well in advance of travel day.
Trip Insurance
If you wish to purchase Trip Cancellation Insurance, please read more here.
TRAVEL DAYS
  • Copy, paste & print the information below for participant to take while traveling
  • Parent & participant review it together before the trip


Pre-Departure Checklist

  • Keep your passport or other ID safe and accessible
  • Have your money / debit  card safe and accessible
  • Carry your cell phone and charger in your carry-on (rather than packing in checked bags)
  • Put your home address (not program address) on your luggage tags
  • Wear your VISIONS t-shirt on flight day


Airport Arrival Instructions

  • If you have a connection during your travels, go directly to the gate of the next flight, even if it’s a long connection. Check the flight screens for the gate number; ask for help from airport personnel as needed. 
  • You will then exit the secure area and into baggage claim, where your VISIONS leaders will be waiting for you. Do not leave the airport until you’re with your leaders.
    • Leaders will be holding an orange umbrella and wearing VISIONS t-shirts!
    • There are often a lot of people meeting friends and family here, so it’s important that you actively look for your leaders.
  • Once with leaders, participants make a quick “arrival call home.” Note: This call may occur upwards of 1.5 hrs after the flight lands, due to the logistics of gathering the entire group. Kids do not make another call once they reach our homebase since they are now with leaders.
  • Leaders & participants then drive together to our homebase.
  • If arriving from outside of the US, provide the following info to Customs:
    • The primary purpose of the trip is “tourism,” since this is not for a job
    • The address you’ll be staying at is:Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary Ranch, Browning, MT 59417

Airport Issues Help

The VISIONS office is available 24/7 while participants are traveling at (406) 551-4423.

  • If there are any flight delays that will affect a participant’s arrival time (to the program), participants should contact the VISIONS office immediately. 
  • If bags are lost, leaders will do their best to handle it on the spot and will be in touch with parents if assistance is needed.
  • If you cannot find leaders in the airport:
    • Remain inside the airport
    • Do not leave the secure pickup area
    • If after 10 minutes you have not found a leader, call the VISIONS office

Departure Day

Leaders help participants check in to their flights, see them through security, and remain in the vicinity of the airport until each flight has departed. Parents are welcome to check their child in online (and pay for bag) beforehand and text the e-ticket to their child, but this extra step isn’t necessary. Participants should have their ATM or credit card to pay for any baggage fees, if needed.

Participants’ phones are returned to them upon arrival at the airport.