My Big Sky Watershed Corps Term: The Start of Shifting Perceptions

My name is Kendra Allen, and I have just started as the 2019 Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member jointly serving with the Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. After growing up in Minnesota, I headed east for a bit to the University of Massachusetts Amherst graduating with a BS in Environmental Science. While studying there, I took a semester abroad to live in a remote eco-village in Iceland studying “sustainability through community”, finishing off my degree a year early. Eager for my next adventure, AmeriCorps seemed liked the right fit, a perfect merge between my education and my new professional career. As an avid outdoorsman, I was also looking forward to getting a taste of the mountain lifestyle, while simultaneously getting to do what I love. It seemed almost too good to be true for a recent college graduate and reiterated my ideology that everything happens for a reason. 

Kendra at the AmeriCorps swearing in ceremony in Bozeman, Montana – Courtesy
 of Libby Khumalo and Jacob LeVitus 

An unusual first week…

What I couldn’t predict, however, was how the federal government was about to play a big role in my first week’s activities. Starting December 22nd, 2018 part of the US Federal Government shutdown and had yet to reopen by my start date of January 7th, 2019. As my first week of work began and I started diving into readings and research on beaver, beaver mimicry, and climate change, talks of the government shutdown seemed to be constant background noise in the office. Fish & Wildlife staff were quickly planning for a range of scenarios and by the middle of my first week, the Director had made a plan to keep our office open as long as possible amid the longest shutdown in history.

When I showed up to the office Wednesday morning, my third day of service, I was met by a very surprising offer. The Tribal Council, along with Fish & Wildlife, had decided that Game Wardens would be given rights to harvest a set amount of elk to help provide meat for the Tribe’s commodity office, and I got invited along. With future furlough letters weighing on people’s shoulders, people who have families to support, the commodity office wanted to have enough resources available to provide for any furloughed Tribal member in need, unsure of how long the government shutdown might last. Growing up in a family that hunts for meat, this concept wasn’t foreign to me. I was taught to have a huge appreciation for the land and animals that I hunt, and that there is pride in being able to sustain yourself from the land. I noticed that same level of respect was felt amongst my colleagues as I got to know them over the next few days. I got to spend my work days exploring the vast beauty of the area, which included wide-open plains and deep valleys resting at the bottom of the most majestic mountains I have ever seen. When we first spotted elk, they were so far off in the distance they looked like tiny ants through our binoculars. It was an experience I will never forget. However, I can honestly say as I headed into the office for my third day on the new job, I was not expecting to exhaust so much energy chasing elk herds and packing out meat (that weighed as much, if not more than myself).

One of the biggest take-aways from my first week was how much the community supports and cares about each other. I was out in the field with Game Wardens who knew furlough letters were in the near future for them, and I never heard a complaint. They were just happy to be out doing what they love. And come Monday morning when staff was cut back, my colleagues were texting the office wishing they were still there, asking if they could come in regardless. 

An AmeriCorps pledge…

The next week, I was officially sworn in as an AmeriCorps member and got to spend the week in Bozeman with my fellow members for training. As I spent time meeting everyone, sharing all of our future project goals, I was met with people commenting how jealous they were that I was fortunate enough to get a position right outside Glacier National Park. “I have to visit since you live outside the park” and “I am so jealous you get to live outside Glacier,” were some of the phrases I heard. As much as I told everyone about my project goals and what I would be doing and how none of it is directly related to Glacier, the park and the natural beauty around me seemed to be the main thing that stuck in most people’s mind, and I don’t blame them. The park is beautiful, and I am very fortunate to live on its border. 

What some people didn’t understand, however, is all the other unique and amazing things that are in the Blackfeet Nation. The last morning of our training was filled with speakers sharing their vast knowledge of watersheds and informing us about small town living in Montana. One speaker pairing that I was most excited to hear was Loren Birdrattler, manager of the Blackfeet Agricultural Resource Management Planning team, who spoke with Graham Gaither, a former BSWC member. They talked of engaging with the community up in Browning and many things the Blackfeet Tribe is doing to prepare for climate change. As I listened to the talk, I thought that Loren did such a good job representing the community, showcasing many of the unique cultural experiences I will be exposed to throughout my term. By the end of the discussion many colleagues were approaching me, saying how jealous they were of the opportunity I get working with the Blackfeet Tribe. That I am in such a unique opportunity to work both with a nonprofit in addition to many different Tribal departments. Some of my colleagues are now reserving their spot on my couch for North American Indian Days, an annual celebration held here in Browning. It really inspired me to see perceptions of my work change and made me appreciate the opportunity even more. My fellow AmeriCorps members, like many others, were unaware of the planning and adaptation efforts happening in Blackfeet Nation regarding climate change. 

Beavers are an integral member of the community and an important key in preserving wetlands, and the Blackfeet Nation is working on implementing beaver mimicry strategies to increase natural water storage and manage flooding. I think this was one good example on how inspiring the Blackfeet Tribe’s work is.

As I now start the third week of my term and have been brought up to date on some of the amazing work done on the Ksik Stakii Project last year, and all the new goals for this year, I am beyond excited to be joining Jacob, Dustin, Libby and the rest of the team as we continue to move the Ksik Stakii Project forward. 

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