- On this native report, we revisit the Chief Mountain Hot Shots and learn more about fighting fires within the boundaries of the reservation.
And we talk with Leslie Harper who is the President of the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs.
Plus, we hear from artist John Pepion as he shares his passion in Pictographic Arts.
We also learn what we can do to lead healthier lives and hear from our elders.
(upbeat flute music) - [Promoter] Production for Native Report is made possible by grants from the Blandin Foundation, Anishinabe Fund and Alexandra Smith Fund in support of Native American Treaty rights administered through the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.
The generous support from viewers like Jack and Sharon Kemp, DSGW Architects personalizing architecture online at dsgw.com.
And viewers like you.
(upbeat tribal music) (upbeat tribal music continues) (upbeat tribal music continues) - Welcome to Native Report and thanks for tuning in.
I'm Rita Karppinen.
In this episode, we visit the Blackfeet Nation where the love for fighting fires is evident in the Chief Mountain Hot Shots.
This elite crew is one of the most highly-trained type of wild land firefighters.
They're responsible for all wild land fire management within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation.
(gentle music) - We're region one, which is all of Montana.
The mountains are, geez, 33, 45% grades, big trees, a lot of coniferous, like it's rolling hills, like it's rocky.
When you think of what a mountain range would be we gotta go up that and then some.
Go down it and go right back up the next day.
So it's some of the toughest country in the world.
We're working on the backbone of the world, every fire usually.
And geez, that backbone's pretty damn steep at times so.
- In my experience, well, you've got to be, you gotta be dedicated, you gotta be committed.
And we're fortunate to have this program here where we can develop young firefighters to become a career.
I know people and they can work at it maybe 20 years.
- Out of the people that are here I'm definitely the rookie.
I was born and raised right here in Browning.
I grew up south of the town about 15 miles.
So, kind of a little country kid.
You bring up Chief Mountain, wherever, whatever fire camp, there's someone that, oh, we worked with your uncle back.
Or you know, like they have a Chief Mountain story.
Had family members that did it.
And yeah, it was just kind of a, but it's a big deal on the res, it's kind of a known thing.
- Just being a Hot Shot in general is an experience.
It's awesome when you get out there and you get to help out a community.
- Get up 05:30, breakfast at 06:00.
Just get your assignment, usually on the line by 08:00.
You get a hike, they will look at us as close as we can.
We're not, you know, hiking 10 miles every day, like to the place we'll get safely, good camp safely.
And then just depending on what we have to do, whether we're dropping trees.
(tree crashing) And we usually do it all, but we'll have diggers, cutters.
We'll have overhead and helicopters.
We'll be burning out and then off she's 16 hours maybe, that's a good long day.
That's some good pay too.
Say 12 hours at the most.
Get back to the camp, and if you're lucky there'll be a couple showers there.
If that, dinner, go to sleep, wake up, do it again.
You know, live, breathe fire for up to 21 days at a time.
When you do it and you realize what you're doing and get back to the camp that day.
And it's just a surreal feeling.
You just like, I just did something, jeez, no one's ever, not many people do.
- I look all year love fighting fire with some of the dirtiest terrain ever.
Hardest work you wanna do.
Then you have the off-season to kind of wind down and then you get bored and you're like, come on, come on, let's go April.
Come around April so we can get started.
Bring the guys back.
It's a big family of being a firefighter.
It's a huge family.
And we wouldn't be who we are if we didn't all work together.
This is my office today, you know.
In two weeks, my office is gonna change every day.
And it's gonna be some of the most beautifulest country that people will pay to go see.
And we go there to preserve these places.
Us as the Blackfeet people, we used fire to burn the prairies out before the buffalo.
So we'd have new grass and stuff to eat.
And we also used it as war techniques, strategies and stuff like that.
It's not just a title.
I think it's the pride that we take in helping in doing what we do and being able to work with other people out there to do what we do too.
What you put in is what you get.
And most of the guys put 150% into this job.
- If it was easy, everyone would do it.
And if people go on their first fire and they never come back, you know, and they just weeded out.
There's more people that quit then stick around.
I got two kids myself so, but they keep me going too.
A lot of times you might not have cell service or anything, so yeah, you just carry your pictures and get up every morning thinking of what you're doing it for.
When I first applied, I wanted to do something that was a service.
I wanted to make a difference somehow.
And I knew like this was something that I always thought about.
So, I said I'm lucky and grateful to be here.
- At the end of the day, we're all Chief Mountain.
There's no standouts.
We're all one, one identity.
- Chief Mountain is one of only seven Native American Hot Shot crews in America.
(upbeat flute music) - A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye.
The lens is clear and shaped like a telescope lens and is inside your eye.
The lens changes shape in order to help you focus.
Over time, proteins build up in the lens and make it more difficult to see through.
Cataracts are common as people get older.
Sometimes they're caused by injury, but most of the time they're age related.
You may not notice a change in vision when cataracts are mild, but as they grow, they cause vision changes.
Your vision can become cloudy or blurry and sometimes colors are not as bright.
Lights can seem too bright and road signs can have halos at night.
Changing the prescription for your glasses or contact lenses doesn't help as much or last as long.
Some things put you at higher risk for cataracts, smoking, alcohol use, eye injuries a family history of cataracts, taking long-term steroids or having spent a long time in the sun, all increase your risk.
Most of the time cataracts are related to your age.
A dilated eye exam is the way to check for cataracts and you should have this done every one to two years, if you're over 60.
An eye doctor will put drops in your eyes to widen your pupils and check your eyes for cataracts and other problems.
Using brighter lights, getting a new glasses prescription and using magnifying lenses can buy you some time, but the definitive treatment for cataracts is surgery.
This is a safe and common operation during which your cloudy lens will be replaced with an artificial lens.
Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.
Most people don't need to rush into surgery and waiting won't make the eventual surgery more difficult.
And remember to call an elder.
They've been waiting for your call.
I'm Dr. Arne Vainio and this is Health Matters.
(upbeat flute music) - We sat down with the President of the National Coalition of Native American Schools and Programs, which advocates for the use of indigenous languages as a medium of instruction.
(gentle music) - Hope.
(Wesley speaking in Native American language) I am Wesley Harper, I'm a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
I'm the President of the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs.
That is a grassroots organization that is made up of Native American language immersion schools and programs all around the US.
We're a coalition that came together to advocate for the rights of Native American languages.
Several years back, I was involved locally in helping to start and to build an Ojibwe language immersion school at Leech Lake at our reservation within our communities.
And that was one in which we used the Ojibwe language for all subjects and English would not be introduced until third or fourth grade when it would be taught as a subject.
We modeled that on some earlier efforts that were happening in Hawaii with Hawaiian language medium schools that were happening in New York with Mohawk language immersion sites.
As a way to reclaim time with our families and with our kids to revitalize our languages.
There was like so much pressure that discouraged us from using our language, because it looked different than education systems in English.
And so it's really hard to go against those kind of institutional pressures when you're all alone and when you're doing something that's totally out of the norm.
And so we reached out, we would reach out to each other across these state lines and across these language lines and say what are you doing in your area that works?
How are you facing down these pressures to teach in English when we really wanna be providing an all-native language environment for our kids and for our families.
We were really informally organized for many years in the early 2000s, kind of, you know, 2000 to 2010.
And then there were more efforts for federal policy.
So, we started coming together to start advocating for our rights at a national level.
In 1990, United States Congress itself passed this law called the Native American Languages Act in which they made these really great statements in which US Congress finally took responsibility for all of the genocidal actions, all the institutional pressures that they had pushed against Native American languages.
And think of it, there's something like almost 600 tribes, American Indian tribes across the US.
There's the peoples of Hawaii, the Native Hawaiians and their language.
There are all of the Alaska native languages up in that area.
There are the like the Marianna's territories and the Chamorro language.
There are all these places where the United States came in and colonized and worked intently to wipe out languages, and we're somewhat successful in a lot of areas.
So, when we got down to operating our schools, operating our childcare sites, our daycare sites in our languages, and saying, we can get public funding for this.
We want the same funding that English schools get for educating our kids in English.
They haven't been doing a great job for a long time.
We're gonna try this and this is our right under the Native American Languages Act.
So that's been kind of the rallying or the umbrella of the effort of the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs.
And every word in that whole big long title of our organization is really necessary.
We say Native American languages, 'cause that's a legal definition.
And that brings us all together so we know exactly what populations we're talking about.
Native American languages, we've linked it to a piece of public policy, a really positive piece, that is really optimistic and we say put teeth into that law.
And some of our language immersion sites are schools, some of them are their own school on their own, some of them are merged with another school, some of them are a charter school or they might be a track in a school, so they might be a program.
Some are childcare sites, but these are all places in which local Native American language speaking community has said, our kids are gonna be in this compulsory space.
Why don't we reclaim it and use our language, promote our language, really promote our own localized culture, our own Native American way of understanding and being and make sure that we too are being responsible to carry this forward and to generate new life in our language, in our culture.
- Having formally been established in 2014 the National Coalition of Advocates have been informally meeting for more than 20 years.
(gentle flute music) - I believe it's important for the youth to come out and learn our ways so that they're not lost and connect with nature in one way or another.
A lot of youth today we're losing our traditions and it's very important that we pass those on to our children.
Children like to be outside and the youth are really our future, and we seem to be losing a lot of them lately.
So, the more we pass on our traditions and knowledge and language, the better we will thrive.
(gentle flute music) - Growing up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, John Pepion didn't care much for school and eventually, dropped out.
Years later, Pepion is now an art teacher at Heart Butte School and a Plains Indian graphic artist specializing in pictographic arts.
He shared his story with Native Report.
(gentle music) - Welcome to Blackfeet Country.
We are in Heart Butte, Montana on a Blackfeet Indian reservation.
And standing in front of one of the murals that me and Lewis Still Smoking did for the Heart Butte School, we're at the Heart Butte schools where I'm a art teacher.
My name is John Isiah Pepion.
I consider myself a plains Indian graphic artist.
And what I mean by that, I do more of the pictographic art based off of and inspired by winter accounts, which were done on buffalo hides and deer hides.
Also, the petroglyphs and pictographs and ledger art.
I'm not just limited to ledger paper, but I do the pictographic style, like these horses here.
But it's just based off of a lot of designs off our teepees here as in the Blackfeet country.
Our war shirts, our quilt work and mainly our culture and creation stories.
I feel like I'm still telling our stories, but more days and the times we're now, we're reclaiming what was taking from us, our designs, our land, our stories.
Because we work with a lot of museums and I say we a lot of indigenous artists, our groups and galleries, and they always have this idea of where they want to tell our story, but we're going in these spaces and we're telling them the world of who we are.
What I brought was a skateboard, a buffalo skull, a couple wood panels and a current ledger piece I'm working on.
So, the preferred medium I work with is ink drawings, but do all kinds of things, painting, mixed media.
So, on this mural is Heart Butte Mountain, and Heart Butte Mountain is one of the sacred places to the Blackfeet Confederacy.
People still go there to fast, pray.
A lot of people got their power from there, get their power from there.
So, it's very powerful place to be out here too.
Oh yeah, being in the mountains is truly inspiring.
You can feel the power, see the power, the animals, the horses, the bears, the game, our culture.
Our culture is alive and well, our ceremonies.
So, being part of that, being witness to that, that's why I choose to be here in our community.
People always suggest that maybe I should go live in Seattle or Santa Fe or New York to be a successful artist, but I'm in my community being a successful artist.
And people will say, well, what is success to me?
Success is being able to be in my community, creating and being here.
And during COVID like so much death.
We lost so many people, and everything we were going through, that's why we decided to use the word hope.
- [Speaker] Yeah.
- Especially for people graduating still and finishing school because during COVID here across the United States, everybody dropped out, everybody quit school.
I myself was a troubled youth and I felt like I couldn't be reached growing up or going to school.
I was a high school dropout.
Now, I'm a high school art teacher and I feel, hey, I'm giving back to my community, and reaching students is through art.
We are alive, that we are still here, and that we are not going away.
Working here, I'm letting these students know like, hey, you could be proud of who you are, where you're from.
There's nothing wrong with that.
You could be anything.
You could be any kind of artist nowadays.
Especially, with graphic art, computer art, digital art, music, everything.
So, but me, like I said, I feel like I am carrying on a tradition of storytelling.
So this is probably our most favorite mural.
And it was the first mural we did.
It probably took a whole summer, because of COVID and a wildfire and scaffolding.
But these are warriors from this community, leaders.
This one is mountain chief, also known as Big Brave.
The other warrior there with the hat on is Running Crane.
The other warrior with the feather is Arrow Top Knot.
And the other warrior back there is John Spotted Eagle, the son of Spotted Eagle.
And all these people here that are painted on are actual warriors from this community.
And a lot of their relatives and students here come from these warriors and leaders.
There were several other leaders, but this is what the community chose.
And then, a lot of the design work on the murals represent the Blackfeet nation.
And then the buffalo, we have a buffalo theme going on in the school.
As a member of the Blackfeet Confederacy and being Plains Indian, The horse culture's very big.
When the horse came to the plains and it changes our lives rapidly.
And back then the more horses you had the more wealthy you were.
So, nowadays you'll see a lot of horses on a Blackfeet reservation.
Everybody has a horse, rides horses or draws horses.
A lot of art tribute horses, like on this mural picture graphic ledger style horse here.
Got the lightning on a leg.
Sometimes we paint lightning on the legs to believe it makes a horse run faster.
then a circle around a eye.
Sometimes we paint that around a horse's eye to make it see farther.
Yeah, so especially, if we're going to war, but we don't go to war nowadays.
Nowadays we do different things, racing.
And on the reservation, there's still wild horses in these mountains from Blackfeet long time ago, having so much horses.
As being a native artist, someone working with native artists in other communities, it's hard to be like, look at me, I'm an artist.
I don't even really identify like, hey, I'm an artist.
It's hard to say you're an artist, but I come from a huge artist family.
I've been doing art all my life.
It wasn't just like, hey, I'm an artist, I'm still learning.
So, it's just a constant growth, yeah.
- Pepion wants to carry on the tradition of storytelling through his art.
Keeping alive cultural and creation stories for future generations.
(gentle tribal music) - My name is Sam Zimmerman.
The title of the book is "Following My Spirit Home".
And it's a collection of paintings and stories.
I would say, I began to paint professionally when I moved home to Minnesota in the summer of 2019.
Blackberry Blueberry Publishing had reached out to me about an interest in illustrating some children's books.
And after our first meeting with them, not only did I begin illustrating children's books for them they were very excited to be my partners and teach a new author, a new bookmaker about what I needed to do.
Well, all the paintings that are within the book have the stories.
They're partnered with them in English.
But there were stories that also were very personal to me.
Either stories shared from my family or my own experiences.
And so, those stories were not only written in English, but Ojibwemowin.
All the paintings that are in particular in this book were created between July, 2019 and July, 2020.
So it was a year.
It's funny, I've never sat down and read the entire book myself since it came out.
I haven't been ready to, but I think there's like 110 total paintings in this book.
And this, I think I'm really proud of the Moose Story.
It was the first painting I ever did for to honor my grandfather who used to tell us kids moose hunting stories as a child.
And then I was able to moose hunt with elders in my family.
I think Nemi, she's an Ojibwe character.
She's the only character that I paint.
Nemi means she dances.
She's a Shaw dancer and she's a story that I like, I enjoy telling, 'cause I've painted her as a little girl and then I painted her as a woman coming home and starting her own family.
Her stories are really personal to me as a two-spirited artist, male and female.
And so, that's one way that I get to celebrate the beauty of the female.
Through writing this book, I actually learned more language.
I, as a child, I don't remember seeing the Ojibwemowin written down as like a children's story.
My grandfather would share language with me, but I never saw a book.
So that was what really got me excited about doing that.
This was a present to my family to put all of a lot of our stories that we grew up together with.
And then also just to thank them for being so supportive of my own work.
- If you missed a show or wanna catch up online, find us at nativereport.org and follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for behind the scene updates.
And drop a comment on social media if you enjoy the show.
Thanks for spending time with your friends and neighbors from across Indian Country.
I'm Rita Karppinen.
We'll see you next time on Native Report.
(upbeat tribal music) (upbeat tribal music continues) (upbeat tribal music continues) (upbeat tribal music continues) - [Promoter] Production for Native Report is made possible by grants from the Blandin Foundation, Anishinabe Fund and Alexandra Smith Fund in support of Native American Treaty rights administered through the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.
The generous support from viewers like Jack and Sharon Kemp, DSGW Architects personalizing architecture online at dsgw.com and viewers like you.