In August 2020, I had the immense privilege of working as a first year medical student on the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana for the RUOP experience with University of Washington School of Medicine. The perspectives I observed by working with the Blackfeet will stay with me for a lifetime. I will continue to process and learn over years. I have certainly fallen in love with rural medicine, and my heart aches to return to this community someday.
To listen and comment in a way that elicits not only the typical medical history, but social, emotional, and wholistic community history tied to land, water, tradition and so much more. This is the work of a lifetime. This was an opportunity to observe the art of listening from some of the most amazing human beings I have ever learned from. My attempts at listening with this level of skill will be ongoing.
I was honored with visiting several treasured elders, and listening to stories that wove through so many decades of life on the Reservation, and heard the emotion and history of family and community impact of stolen land. The Blackfeet people were moved three times prior to the current Blackfeet Nation, the actual boundaries of which, reach to the peaks of the mountains of Glacier National Park, but the treaties are not honored. I witnessed the resilience of strong community, and was honored to be brought to some of the sacred places of the Blackfeet People, where they have camped for thousands of years, which lie just outside the borders of the National Park.
The restoration of the Buffalo on the Blackfeet Nature Reserve is visible from the highway, and the Iini Buffalo Spirit Center is seen as a wholistic approach to restoring livelihood, and therefore a treatment for PTSD among other sicknesses through the connection of land, water, buffalo, culture and water, connected to the Blackfeet People.
A Blackfeet Healer spent more than half a day with me, took me to a holy site where the Sundance is held and we sat inside. The smell was still in the air from all the burning of sacred herbs during the ritual. He shared his path to becoming allowed to share his power with others, both in the traditional medicine ways, and in the sweat lodge prayer ways. The sacrifice is immense, it is total commitment.
He told me that in the Blackfeet ways, you never pray for death, or for an ending. You only pray for the journey. People call him from all over the world who have heard about him. I asked him what they ask, and he told me a lot of people want the answer. But the answer by itself is meaningless, without purpose. This goes back to the journey. You have purpose in the journey, looking for the answer. If you are lost, you should look in the four directions. North, South, East and West. The answer will come if you have purpose.