Okii (“hello” in the Blackfoot language),
As the first winter of COVID-19 approaches, the Blackfeet Nation (located in northwest Montana), is preparing to provide a novel and exciting, safe winter sports initiative for our people amidst the losses & challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Context & Vision
While our Indigenous community faces many challenges – including the highest per capita infection rates of COVID-19 of any ethnicity in Montana, the highest rates of suicide, poverty, chronic illness and a lifespan 20 years shorter than our fellow Montanans – a Blackfeet founded NGO and a group of local families, teachers and leaders are working to create hope with an alternative path to wellness this winter season.
Ssto Ipapoki Tsimaan means “Winter Movement '' in the Blackfoot language and is the name of the winter family wellness project. Our vision here is to provide safe & quality groomed cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and traditional games experience for all 11,000 residents of our Tribal Nation in the winter of 2020-2021, beginning with outreach to as many of this population as possible via this effort and building outwards to positively impact the entire tribe. For thousands of generations, the Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet) people have moved sustainably in close relationship with the mountains, lands, and Biosystems, across the four seasons. Unfortunately, due to disenfranchisement, our relationship has been near severed with what is left of our traditional mountain homelands and within this region now known as the Crown of the Continent and Glacier National Park (1901 and 1910 respectively).
With this winter sports pilot, we would like to provide a COVID-19 safe opportunity for reconnection to the land, mountains, and biosystems, through the provision of transportation, equipment, and weather appropriate, sanitized attire. In collaboration with donors, tribal leadership, and programmatic workforce, we will build community relationships and reconnection to our homelands while participating in formal community ski/snowshoe/traditional winter games days or open access cross country skiing after work and weekends. Within this novel outreach, our people will have a covid-safe opportunity to reconnect with themselves, each other, and our land, in a population that has never experienced a winter sports program. Ultimately, we aim to improve our health & wellness during this winter and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In collaboration with tribal leadership, Red Eagle Campground, bordering an east entrance to Glacier National Park, has been chosen as the site for our communities to enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and Blackfeet traditional games this winter. A site with ample snowfall and protected from harsh winds, we will be able to groom approximately 6 miles (10km) of trail with beginner, intermediate and advanced loops and a flat winter play area for instruction and traditional games. With cursory polling, more than 150 local residents and families would like to participate. Balancing this level of interest with safety considerations, we estimate a minimum of 250 unique user days through organized ski outings, within the parameters of Tribal COVID-19 safety resolutions, and global health guidelines.
A trusted local 501c3, Indigenous founded and led, health research and (as of late) covid-relief response organization, the Piikani Lodge Health Institute (PLHI)* (a co-author of the original vision of seasonal recreation and reconnection to Amskapi Piikani lands), will serve as a local springboard for this pilot winter effort. Longstanding Blackfeet One-Stop Manpower Program (a tribal program strongly working to provide individuals and families in need with resources such as childcare, job readiness training, GED courses, leadership training, and employment opportunities), is also currently working to develop and implement the Ssto Ipapoki Tsimaan program. Our mission is to provide equipment, clothing, and transportation towards Indigenous people’s ability to access traditional homelands in an effort to heal, reconnect, promote wellbeing while decreasing health disparity and the wounds of the past century. Renewal of physical and mental health via locally-led programs, reconnecting people with their identity and land, lead to real improvements in resilience, human health & well-being.
Our pilot expects major impacts across demographic participation, physical & mental health, job creation, and community development while tracking 10 key indicators of health. This pilot will also encompass a baseline study into winter nature-based tourism, providing both local jobs and seasonal economic development, while providing a venue for Native family wellness. Complete monitoring and evaluation of the pilot are planned for spring 2021.
So far we have received generous in-kind support from Crosscut Mountain Sports Center with grooming equipment, transportation, and labor through the Blackfeet One-Stop Manpower program, and vehicles and trailers to haul course grooming equipment, skis and gear, elders who will teach traditional games, and project management through PLHI. We are immeasurably grateful to the support of Rossignol for their initial support with a fleet of youth and adult cross-country ski equipment at cost and are now asking for your support to make this pilot a reality.
We need to raise $25,000 by February 15th, 2021, to support the remaining costs of the entire winter community outreach and a second fleet of skis. This vision of a healthier Native American population via the goal of COVID safe, Ssto'Iipapoki Tsimaan program IS GRATEFUL for any support you are interested in providing and EXCITED to JOIN WITH YOU in EMPOWERING AND CHANGING LIVES!
Your contribution will be used to cover the purchase of additional skis, gear, snowshoes, winter clothing for youth and adults, grooming operations, site maintenance materials, instruction, project support, documentation, and core operational costs (and maybe some hot chocolate!). Donations can be made here using Go Fund Me or by check to Piikani Lodge Health Institute PO Box 187 Browning MT, 59417, please note “Ski Piikani” in the memo line. Individual donors, organizations & foundations will be featured as sponsors on our trail maps and end of year video documentation and receive a thank you letter from our skiers.
Many non-Indigenous are avid skiers and mountaineering people. The Blackfeet do not experience their own homelands in this way, nor have they had the opportunities of other Montanans…to know the joy and the physical and mental benefits of time outside in winter months. As this COVID-impacted winter approaches, we invite you to support Ssto'Iipapoki Tsimaan to help share the joy and wellness winter sports provide, and to invest in Indigenous well-being in Big Sky Country.
We are grateful for your support,
-The Ssto Iipapoki Tsimaan Community Planning Committee at Blackfeet Nation & Piikani Lodge Health Institute
Project Contact: Christopher Carter AICP, Piikani Lodge Health Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-406-600-3807
*Piikani Lodge Health Institute, is an Indigenous-led 501(c)(3) organization. EIN: 83-2766318. Address: Piikani Lodge Health Institute PO Box 187 Browning MT, 59417. Your contribution is tax-deductible. This is not financial or legal advice. Please consult your tax advisor regarding your particular situation. Donations can be made at www.piikanilodge.org/donate.
*** Special thanks to local Indigenous photographer and rider Dylan DesRosier for the beautiful winter images and Piikani language steward Robert Hall for help in naming the pilot!