Boot Camp On The Rez

September 30, 2019

You might read the title of this blog and wonder what in the world this blog is all about.  It is about bringing hope, love and health to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.  It has nothing to do with 'boot camp".....exercising/working we likely understand it to be, but it is just as intense as "boot camp."  A LOT is packed into just a few days on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana!


This August was my fourth time going to Fort Peck.  Each time I've gone it has been a unique and life changing experience.  This year was my third summer "boot camp" and I also had the privilege of going to the Reservation for Christmas in 2017.  Each trip to the Reservation I'm always amazed at the love that is brought to Fort Peck by so many people......and so many people who support those people in a so many ways.



What Is Your Favorite Part?


Prior to going to Fort Peck this year, someone asked me what my favorite part is about going there?  It's a hard question to answer, as there is so MUCH that goes on during our time there: Fun Days in two different towns on the Reservation, visits to youth and adult detention centers, building of hockey rinks, basketball courts and green houses, packing of food hampers, handing out of food hampers, providing naturopathic and chiropractic treatments, giving awesome Christmas gifts to each child, and so much more!  These are just a few things I've seen and been a part of over the time I've been going there. Where do you really start?!!


All those things mentioned are nothing short of amazing!  Each one of these things is special in it's own way!  You really can't compare them.


I think my most favorite part is how it all comes together.  Yes, granted, much work goes into communicating with people on the Reservation well before we ever get there.  Much effort goes into fundraising and getting the supplies needed for everything that gets done.  Then people show up on the Reservation from all over the USA and Canada and make it all happen. 


Although many people have been going to the Reservation repeatedly from a few to many years already, there are always "first timers."  First time to the Reservation or not, you fit in as if you've been going for years already.  You just help out where help is needed.  No one is better than anyone, as everyone is there for the same reason and purpose. 


It never ceases to amaze me that Kids Fun Days start out with an empty school yard or an empty street and turns into a full fledged kid carnival within an hour!!  Not only that, but we attract the crowds that day by heading into the streets with big signs that we make up that day.  



The Harsh Reality


As fun as all this sounds, the reality of it all is that we don't have to look far to find third world conditions in North America.  Poverty is rampant on many North American Reservations.


The Fort Peck Indian Reservation is located near Fort Peck, Montana, in the northeast part of Montana. It is the home of several federally recognized bands of Assiniboine, Nakota, Lakota, and Dakota peoples of Native Americans.


Here are just a few statistics of life on the Rez:

- 75% unemployment

- 40% high school dropout rate

- The highest suicide rate in the US (10x national average)

- Life expectancy, disease, poverty of a third world country

- Crime, drugs, and alcohol abuse that starts in middle school

- Disease rates unrivaled in the US (diabetes is 4x the national average)



Love Has No Color


Love Has No Color was started in 2005 by the chiropractor, Dr. Kevin Pallis.  Love Has No Color has brought hope, health, and dignity to the kids living in poverty and instability on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.


The following video was created when we were in Fort Peck in the summer of 2017.  It is such a powerful documentary of the experience on the Reservation.




I just watched the full video again and there were several parts that brought me to tears.  Just seeing people I have met on the Reservation over time stirs up so many memories.  It is also so neat to see some of what everyone does documented in this video.  Going to Fort Peck is truly life impacting in so many ways!


In recent days I also received a picture in my heart of bringing a whole truck load of supplies down to Fort Peck.  I have no idea how to even think about pulling this together, but I'm putting it out there for it to come to fruition.



Pictures - A Snapshot In Time


Any time I have gone to the Reservation, I have documented the experience through photography.  I have have also printed pictures for anyone that has wanted pictures when I have had the printer with me.  It is fun as it doesn't take long for the kids, youth and families to catch on that I am taking and printing pictures.  They find me in the crowd just to have their picture taken with their friend, their sibling or with their family.  


I have been told by some families that they have never had a family picture taken and they are so grateful for the picture that they get.  


This year an elderly lady also found me in the crowd.  She remembered that I took pictures of the young Pow Wow Dancers a couple of years ago.  She told me that the dancers all treasure their pictures and she went out of her way to thank me and express her appreciation.  It really touched my heart that she made a point to talk to me and share this with me.



My Personal Favorite Moments


I'm sure you can tell that it would not be easy to pick a favorite moment out of so many special moments and experiences on the Reservation.  Here are a few special moments that stand out to me personally.


When I was on the Reservation for Christmas, I loved handing out presents to the many excited kids!  Just experiencing their excitement is worth it alone!  I remember how the kids were fascinated with my big camera.  One boy told me that he had been good for a whole day so he could get a present.  At one point I was also swarmed by a whole group of kids who wanted help to open their presents and wanted someone to play with them and their new present.  That particular moment literally reduced me to tears.


During a kids fun day we also did a bit of a Rez dog first aid.  One dog had a cut on his leg.  A few of us cleaned his wound and we tried to patch up his paw the best we could.  The dog was mostly (surprisingly) willing to accept our make-shift first aid.


The voice of the lady that joined the band outside the detention center will forever resonate in my heart.


I love packing and handing out the food hampers.  


I got a kick out of it when Smoky the Bear made an appearance at Kids Fun Day.  He came with Firefighters from California who were fighting wildfires in Montana.


I can just be "me."  


I have had many people on the Reservation come up to me to shake my hand thank me for what we do.  It never ceases to amaze me how grateful people are for what we do on the Reservation. 



More Information


I have gone down to Fort Peck with Heartland Family Wellness.  If you care to get more information, feel free to contact Heartland Family Wellness, or get in touch with me.  


For more information about Love Has No Color, check out their website here.



I was inspired to write this blog by Emily, who was at Fort Peck as a photographer and helper this year.  She wrote a blog about her experience, and it resonated within me in so many ways.  You can read her blog here.



Enjoy this slideshow of photos from the August 2019 Summer Boot Camp in Fort Peck.



All images are from this year's summer boot camp on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

©Sigrid Sauereisen 2019



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