The Global Volunteer team is seen here with State Park staff.

Courtesy Global Volunteers

The Global Volunteer team is seen here with State Park staff.

Buds on the Tree of Life: Mohegan Students in Crow Country

The vision of the Mohegan Tribe references thirteen generations guiding its youth—the “buds on the tree of life”—in discovery and learning. A significant part of that learning for one group of Mohegan youth came over the past summer on the Crow Reservation of Montana—more than 2,000 miles across the Great Plains from their Connecticut home. With an intensity to serve and observe the Crow way of life, the group of teens and chaperones joined Global Volunteers for six days in August to help the Crow people improve local facilities. While the two tribes are different in many ways, their spirits are aligned in reverence and respect for Indian country.

The opportunity to volunteer with a Western tribe engendered respect and kinship, said the youths, and opened their eyes to a new perspective of Indian country—on the vast front range of the Rocky Mountains. Noting that the land west of the Mississippi River varies greatly from their east coast home, 19-year-old Alexa Strickland offered her perspective of their cross-cultural service program: “I did not go into this trip with any assumptions or expectations,” she said. “I gained so much knowledge and experience from talking to members of the Crow Nation while working alongside them, for instance, that we both have similar traditions, just different ways of doing them. One example of something that stuck with me was when I was told by one person that you can overcome any obstacle—although it may take days, weeks, months, or years, we should never give up.”

Alexa Strickland, 19, said she gained a lot of knowledge and experience from talking to members of the Crow Nation. (Courtesy Global Volunteers)

Courtesy Global Volunteers

Alexa Strickland, 19, said she gained a lot of knowledge and experience from talking to members of the Crow Nation.

What projects did you work on?

Our work projects included: Cleaning out the Headstart shed—the purpose of this was to help organize the items in the shed so the teachers could access materials easily. We also weeded the college parking lot and cleaned cabins that could be used for freshman orientation. Lastly, we stained Chief Plenty Coups house—(the landmark) in the state park on the reservation.

How did you interact with the local people you met and served with?

We worked alongside members of the Crow Nation. Although we were working on projects the entire time, we were able to listen and learn about who they were as individuals and as a nation. The people we met were friendly, caring, and most importantly comedians. They were patient and answered questions, while taking the time to compare and contrast our traditions. They made our time there worth every second.

Volunteers worked alongside members of the Crow Nation, and also learned about the nation and individual members. (Courtesy Global Volunteers)

Courtesy Global Volunteers

Volunteers worked alongside members of the Crow Nation, and also learned about the nation and individual members.

What was the most important lesson from this service program?

Our Crow friend Carlton shared that you should have confidence in your identity. Once you know in your heart who you are, where you come from, and where you want to go, no one can take that from you. We must embrace it and pass it on to generations that come after us.

What do you want others to know about the Crow People?

Enter the Crow Reservation with an open mind and heart. The Crow People are a nation with stories, knowledge… and care, and are open to sharing with people who are genuine and want to learn. They have a beautiful way of life that they don’t mind educating others about.

Bighorn Canyon is one of the many sites the students were able to see while in Montana. (Courtesy Global Volunteers)

Courtesy Global Volunteers

Bighorn Canyon is one of the many sites the students were able to see while in Montana.

I cannot stress this enough,” Strickland concluded. “Just be open. You’re the person controlling how much you gain from the experience. Learn, listen, and you will have a much more enjoyable experience.  You’ll even return home with some lifelong friends.”

Those friends reside in forested hills and canyons, on the windy plains and along river banks—on lands passed on through generations. According to the official Crow Nation website: “The Crow Nation, also called Apsaalooké or Biiluuke, has lived in Crow Country, around the base of the sacred Big Horn Mountains, from time immemorial.” The largest reservation in Montana by land area, its two million acres contains three mountain ranges and two river basins—and is home to 13,000 members.”

By contrast, the urban Connecticut Mohegan Nation with a little over 2,000 members is located on minimal acres largely along the Thames River south of Norwich. Broad economic development projects support its members and surrounding communities. A youth service-learning initiative led to their journey with Global Volunteers out to Montana, said Darcy Russell, group chaperone and Development Programs Manager for the Mohegan Tribe.

“It was life changing for the youth in our tribe. Not only were they able to travel across the country, but they were able to learn more about themselves with the help of the Crow Community. To witness their openness to learn, explore, and personally relate was priceless,” Russell said.

Volunteers Corrie and Cassie work on the house. (Courtesy Global Volunteers)

Courtesy Global Volunteers

Volunteers Corrie and Cassie work on the house.

Global Volunteers, an international community development assistance organization, maintains a 16-year service partnership with the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, and has also served the Navajo, Lakota and Crow Tribes over 30 years. Summer volunteering opportunities in Indian country are open to all Indian and non-Indian groups and individuals. The non-profit organization also offers service programs in 16 other countries year-around. Call 800-487-1074 or email@globalvolunteers.org.

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