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Early Impressions

25 July 2011

Here’s what I know about the reservation and the Promise Neighborhoods initiative so far. These are my personal observations and information gathered from personal conversations with coworkers.

On this reservation, like many others, there’s very little for kids or adults to do. Tribal records indicate an 80% unemployment rate among adults. There is no public park, no recreation center, but plenty of space to hike, places to swim if you have a car to drive to them, and a small fitness center (with no membership fee).

Powwow clouds


Kids up to age 12 can come to the Boys and Girls Club to play in the gym, do arts and crafts, or work on the computers, but the Club is not a drop-in center. Kids show up around 9 am Monday through Thursday during the summer, and break into age groups for sessions of computer lab, arts and crafts, and gym time. Teens can play basketball or use the computers from 9-11 pm on weeknights. Breakfast and lunch are provided every day, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays the entire group drives 20 miles to the border town of Ashland to swim in the pool at the Catholic school. My two roommates both spend a lot of time with the kids, and say that many of them spend most of their time unsupervised. Kids are dropped off at the club by some relative or a friend, rarely a parent, and are often driven home by club staff, to homes with numerous children and absent parents.

Basketball is the pastime of choice around here. In winter, during high school basketball season, games take priority over everything else, including meetings or official business. My boss said today that here, “high school is like your peak, and everything else is downhill from there.” She left and graduated from Dartmouth, but I get the impression that reservation life revolves around high school events.

The high school in Lame Deer, the reservation’s capitol, is relatively new, but extremely low-performing by most indicators. My roommate went to the high school a few months ago to administer surveys, and said that teachers and administrators give students free reign, resulting in a chaotic and unproductive environment. Despite this, there remains a strong sense of pride in the school: parents claim that the high school in town is the only place where students can truly celebrate their Northern Cheyenne identity, that at any other school they would be giving up part of their culture.

(June 30)

FIreworks in the middle of town tonight. Powwow starts tomorrow. Drove out to the powwow grounds with Marissa and Paige, under the premise of talking to the powwow director to secure a place among the vendors for conducting surveys throughout the weekend. We didn’t find the director, but we did stop and talk with Marissa’s family at their campsite. Her father and brothers worked at setting up a tipi while we talked to her mother and sisters. Other families had pitched tents or driven RVs, saving their place for the weekend’s gathering. We walked among the vendor stands, already set up around the circular arbor at the center of the grounds. Corndogs and kettle corn for sale, primary-colored tents foreground to an unending blue sky. I watched the overstretched cumulous clouds in the east and pink sunset in the west, started to feel at home. Back in town at dusk, walking through clusters of children wearing glo sticks, adults perched on tailgates, I begin to get a sense of this town.

It’s nothing I can articulate just yet, only an idea of how people are here and how they behave toward each other. I wish I could be here for the whole powwow, but I’ve missed too many holidays, birthdays and funerals in the last three years to pass up a chance to go home for the Fourth.

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