Fort Belknap to Montana Gumbo
At the crack of dawn, those who had to leave to return back on campus woke up and got their belongings. By the time most of us got up and stopped baking in our tents, they were gone, showing up sporadically throughout the day as groupme messages about chick-fil-a and flight information. Meanwhile at Enrico, we had a relaxing breakfast with time to chat about different lakes in the world and making plans to go to Canada. All in all, it was a slow morning, that is, if your name is not Noah. If so, you were running around trying to find a lost wallet.
At 11, it was time to go. Plan for the day: Fort Belknap to get a tour of the Native American reservation and possibly an interview with a resident about the buffalo. The ride over to Fort Belknap barely had a hitch. We pulled up to a gas station on the side of the highway, where we were going to meet Ray, our tour guide. After short trip to his office, he led us onto Native Plains, land that belongs to the reservation, which was then decided belonged to the buffalo and all animals that live there. In the distance, bison were galloping, running away from the rumbling of our metal boxes. After driving around for couple of minutes- slowly, because how else is there to take in the landscape- Ray stopped and popped open the back of his pickup truck, settling in. It was story time.
It would be foolish to say that his stories and views were not a little problematic to our millennial and gen Z ears. We heard about cannibalistic « little people » and how women had to be protected because they brought life to this earth. His heart was int he right place, calling for intervention if a woman was being abused, but his reasoning was a little more difficult to comprehend. Shouldn’t the primary reason of respecting woman be that we, too, are humans? Not simply that we can carry a fetus in our uteruses for nine months? In the car, while driving back into the town, we tried to reconcile the fact that the culture and time period that Ray grew up in was completely different from our own, and that our prejudices and associations of his views may not actually be true at all, with our staunch collegiate, liberal views.
Before heading out, Ray introduced us to Junior Horsecapture, a respected member of the Grovont tribe. We met him on the side fo the road before conducting an interview at a park that was reconstructed after a fire. If I had to describe the interview in two phrases, it would be riveting and thought- provoking. He went over racial identity, freedom, and prayers. I can confidently say that Junior Horsecapture is one of the only people I have met who is so in touch with his racial identity and background. While describing the release of the first bison on the American Prairie Reserve, he got emotional, believing that this was the prayers of the Ghost Dancers being answered. I will be the first to say that his views on racial identity were eye opening, not simply in the controversial manner, but also in a way that made me think about my own thoughts on being Chinese American. When asking for our racial backgrounds (including those of the group who were caucasian, which was very refreshing), he called me out on saying my parents are from China, as if I was not accepting that part of my background. Chinese- American was not a satisfactory answer to him. He wanted soley Chinese, rejecting assimilation. Similarly, those who were Caucasian were European. This led to a long discussion in the car about racial identity and being « American, » and I cannot say that my views on this topic are any clearer.
While in the car, we saw a thunderstorm in the distance, flashes of lightning dancing across the sky. It starts raining, but we were on the reserve already, driving towards Enrico. Noah drove, since he was the resident off road driver, and since we had a flat tire. We watched as the thunderstorm closed in on three sides, before we had to turn and drive directly into the storm. Six miles from Enrico, our car gave up, the tire warping in on itself. Here, I learned a new vocabulary word: hydroplaning. We were stuck, deep in Montana gumbo. Somehow, I still had cellphone service, Verizon being our savior. We called for help, and for thirty minutes, we thought we were going to be rescued. Per Jonathan and Will’s request, we played EDM music with the bass turned all the way up, shaking the car. Avicii (rip), Marshmello, etc. The typical list. That was when we got the news that it was too muddy for a car to get us, and that we would have to walk 2.5 miles back to another house, in Sun Prairie North. After accepting our fates, we packed our stuff for the night, and embarked on our hike. The walk over was probably the most « backpack-y » experience we’ve had, trudging through a mix of clay, mud, and dirt, (Montana gumbo), everything sticking to our shoes until it felt like we were walking with five pound cinderblocks on our feet. Morale was high- there were even some lines of « Glorious » by Macklemore sang. On the way there, we decided that the best way to pass time was telling horror stories and talking about horror movies. You could say that we were setting ourselves up for a rough night.
Two miles in, we saw a light flashing in the distance. It was Dan, a worker at the Prairie Reserve who later brought us pasta and tortilla chips for dinner (If you are reading this, thank you!). However, despite the hospitality and the coziness of the cabin, we were set up for a night on edge, entering the house with horror stories in mind. We took a video of the house- a video that is more revealing of our paranoid and frazzled minds than anything else, if I am being honest. This is not to say that we did not enjoy ourselves there. It was probably a highlight of the trip, us freaking our and laughing about everything. The fact of the matter is that we would not have had nearly as good of a time if we were rational about the entire situation. The one downside was that Jonathan had an interview the next morning and we did not have any computers with us. It all worked out though, with him getting the job! (Congrats again!) After a slightly restless sleep, we were rescued by Chuck in a pickup truck, and made our way back to Enrico. All in all, a day packed with adventure and stories.
Here’s a short compilation of the videos we took chronicling the day: