Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Rocky Boy tourism director Jason Belcourt sat at a conference room table Thursday surrounded by a mishmash of papers and discarded snacks. At 4:30 p.m., he looked up at the day's work, the latest schedule of events for the Rocky Boy leg of the national Lewis and Clark commemoration. Belcourt had rewritten the schedule that day.
Belcourt and his team were visited early Thursday by two representatives of the National Park Service event, Corps of Discovery II, who offered to book a few additional guest performers, Jack Gladstone and Stephanie Ambrose. That was great, Belcourt said, except for the reorganizing.
But with the schedule set, he is satisfied.
"You'd think after six months I'd be burned out, but I'm getting more excited" as the date approaches, Belcourt said.
The bicentennial commemoration, which is traveling the country following the Lewis and Clark route, comes to Rocky Boy June 17-20. Belcourt's team has also planned events for the preceding two days, beginning June 15 with the setting up of teepees for the Cree Language Institute camp, a local organization that preserves and teaches traditional Cree language and culture. It will make presentations and lead activities throughout the Corps II event.
Corps II has traveled the country, putting on displays and events along the route of the original Corps of Discovery.
The traveling national exhibition will make a couple extended visits for so-called Signature events, including a 34-day commemoration, Explore the Big Sky, which began Wednesday at Loma and is based in Great Falls. At the same time, the National Park Service is inviting visitors to other spots in the state for visits of several days, including Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, and a recent three-day-long event in Glasgow, where people can learn more about the region.
Belcourt hopes the event at Rocky Boy can help combat racism, an issue spotlighted recently by the University of Montana School of Journalism's 2005 Native News Project. One of the project's stories, which examined how Native Americans are treated in businesses in Havre, prompted local controversy and discussion.
"The mayor (of Havre) has called for dialogue, and some of our prominent people have called for dialogue," Belcourt said about local reaction to the article. "We challenge the outside community to come in" and have that dialogue.
Longtime educator Lloyd Top Sky of Rocky Boy, who is scheduled to make presentations during the event, agreed.
"I think it's going to be really important that the outside community come in," he said. "People should feel free to come over. Things like this are very important for youth and I think it will be instrumental in promoting better communication between two cultures. There seems to be a gap in between them and it can close the gap a little."
Top Sky said cultural events are a better way to address the problem of racism.
"We can look at that as a positive way of healing without going to the extremes of boycotting and of making hate remarks and taking sides," he said.
Belcourt does not know how many people to expect at the events, but he hopes the last-minute addition of some outside speakers will help give the Rocky Boy event broader appeal.
"We didn't want it to be soley a local activity," he said.
The local offerings organized by the Cree Language Institute, as well as the Tent of Many Voices, a traveling multimedia display the Corps of Discovery II brings to each site, will provide lot of variety, he said.
Each time the tent moves along the Lewis and Clark route, new speakers are invited, said National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson. A traveling group of presenters also moves with the tent, staying with it on its trip through the state.
"There's a uniqueness to each stop along the trail," Olson said. "Rocky Boy will be the 59th venue. That's going to be the 59th unique set of programs."
Visitors to Rocky Boy can expect to hear about some things that are unique to the area and to the cultures of the Chippewa and Cree tribes. The Cree Language Institute, under the direction of Louise Stump, has planned instructional activities and discussions on topics such as star gazing, sign language, food preparation and the significance of plants and horses. Presentations on the Chippewa language and history are also planned.
Belcourt said Rocky Boy couldn't organize the event without addressing the fact that the Chippewa and Cree tribes that make up the reservation were not living in the area when Lewis and Clark made their journey 200 years ago. Both tribes came from further north or east, the Cree from Canada and the Chippewa from the Great Lakes area, he said.
Belcourt said his team has not shied away from presenting the truth of their history and giving voice to the fact that the westward expansion that began with the team of explorers devastated Native American populations.
"We're not celebrating it, we're looking at it from both sides," said Annette Sutherland, operations manager at the tribal Department of Natural Resources, which includes the tourism office.
Thursday's whirlwind planning session was the second re-organization. Two weeks ago the tourism committee decided to move the event from the powwow grounds in Rocky Boy to the Sybil Colliflower Memorial Rodeo Grounds in Box Elder, to avoid interfering with a traditional ceremony that will be held near the powwow grounds.