Rez Protectors and the Red Feather Crow Agency Study Hall Build

 

We were on the Oprah Winfrey Show!  And, by we, I mean Red Feather Development Group's founder, Robert Young.  Since I was an active supporter, a member of their Board of Directors and a RF volunteer, I was in the audience with his wife and the parents of the four young Crow girls - The Rez Protectors.


It is a great story, and a beautiful journey to get to Oprah! Rob was invited on the show, and was the recipient of the Oprah Winfrey "Use Your Life Award".  The entire show was dedicated to the subject of Native American people, both their success as well as struggles.  In addition to Rob, the show hosted Rick West, the then head of the new Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, in Washington DC.  Also, it hosted the Rez Protectors!

The four young girls who called themselves the Rez Protectors are Lucretia Bird in Ground, Kimberly Deputee, Omney Sees The Ground and Brenett Stewart. Because of a severe housing shortage on their reservation in southeast Montana, they took notice of the straw bale home constructed earlier by Red Feather.  As middle school students, they entered a national science competition to prove that straw bale was indeed a viable building technique for their land.  Winning the competition and the $25, 000 award got the attention of Oprah, as the girls donated their winnings to the tribe. The money was to be used to build a study hall that would be available to all elementary and middle school kids on the rez.  Oprah matched the $25, 000, Stanley Tools donated a truck full of necessary supplies, and "the build" was scheduled for July 2002!

 

I spent two weeks camping on the land next to the build, which was right in the heart of Crow Agency, MT.  The work force was compromised of tribal members, Red Feather members and volunteers from all over the country.  Stone Gossard, guitarist from Pearl Jam, was just one of the many dedicated volunteers who weathered the strong winds and blazing heat common during July on the northern plains. Our nightly ritual of gathering around the fire was filled with song, drumming, prayer, laughter and storytelling.

The Crow tribal members were gracious, appreciative and generous about sharing their culture.  In addition to my spiritual sweat lodge experience, visiting homes of tribal members, and hiking to collect sage in remote areas of the reservation, our effort culminated with a blessing of the building and a feast, with a sacrificed bison as the main entre.

I have stayed in touch with the Rez Protectors, who are now young women with families, and in 2010, I returned to Montana and Crow Agency.  The study hall is being used daily by tribal members and it remains in wonderful condition.  It stands as a testament to the generosity of so many, and what a small group of dedicated people can achieve.