The other day three of us drove from Whitefish in Western Montana over the Marias Pass to Browning in Eastern Montana with a van full of food for the Blackfeet Foodbank as well as bags of warm clothing. This is a regular fortnightly run one of my hosts has done for several years – as he says there are a lot of people behind getting the van filled with food and clothing and still he reliably makes the journey winter and summer alike. And what a journey! Thankfully the weather was good, the roads were clear of snow and the temperature was a bit above freezing making the journey an easy one.
I’d not ventured out of Western Montana over the Continental Divide into the vast open expanses of Eastern Montana. The Rockies rising into the sky in white jagged spikes and spines are frankly improbable – seeing is to believe them real. We drove along the Eastern edge of Glacier National Park before the steady climb to Marias Pass where the flattened terrain gradually turned from lush and green to scrubby and dry in a matter of a few miles. Then the road leads out to reveal the vast arid appearing plains with Browning scattered below. We had entered the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with Browning the seat of government for the Blackfeet. I’m conditioned by the films I’ve watched, romantic scenes of indians riding bareback, tepees and open fires, head dresses and dancing. Well yes, along with the guns, bows and arrows and bloodshed.
Now to press reset and see for myself the conditions under which these noble people live now. I’m still processing as they say. I’ve not found it easy to write about the Foodbank run and the window we briefly looked through onto the lives of those who benefit from what we brought. Not pity, not guilt, not any of the kind of emotion one might imagine in oneself on encountering modern rural poverty first hand, especially poverty of the people native to the land. Poverty of a people who predate the explorers and the cowboys and soldiers, by centuries. I’d say sad-grief, a great grief has lingered in me these past couple of day. I will remember particularly the two native women who helped lug the heavy boxes of bread and bags of potatoes etc. into the store-room. I’ll remember the words Native Pride embroidered in bright colours on the back of their jackets.
The return journey was absolutely breath-taking with the Rockies spreading across the horizon. Again, seeing is believing. The photograph does not do the mountains justice. And for railway enthusiasts the nearly 100 mile track from Whitefish to Browning is….historic.