Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana—it borders the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the west

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana—it borders the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the west

With the latest current events, I've been thinking even more about the notion of enforced and de facto borders—internationally and right here within the United States. A border can be of course both a literal and a mental divide.

Growing up in greater Boston, a trip to another New England state or even New York City felt like it was a totally different world (not to mention "far"—which would be considered laughable here in Montana, California, or Texas). Living in the Bay Area, there could be something psychological about the divide across the Bay to get from SF to Oakland—it was often suggested that whenever a person moved across the Bay, you assume you'd see them a lot less. But it was just a few miles away.

And then there are the borders that can be more pernicious—or borders that are not often thought about because of where we may be residing in our own respective silos. Teaching in South Los Angeles, I saw how de facto segregated that part of the city was from the rest of LA. An Angeleno could very easily spend the entirety of one's time in West Los Angeles and never know about anything that is going on a mere 15-20 minutes away. So, the issues and situations that were occurring so close—could be so far from the consciousness of many.

Living here in Cut Bank, Montana—as I've written about before, there can be tension among some of the borders.

Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and Cut Bank, Montana

Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and Cut Bank, Montana

When I was driving east from Kalispell, Montana (on the western side of Glacier National Park), things felt a little different. The tourism of the National Park brought in slightly more diversity. Although it was definitely a remote area, it didn't feel too remote. And there's something about the common denominator of it being a National Park that brought a certain level of familiarity to it.

Continuing my drive east on Route 2, almost immediately upon entering the Blackfeet reservation, things changed drastically. As I've cited in past posts, reservations are among the poorest communities in the United States. There was trash everywhere. The buildings themselves were constructed shoddily and looked like they were made only of plywood. Many homes had holes in their windows. And I was told that many tribal members on the reservation would be without heat this winter (and this is an extremely harsh, cold climate).

Being here for almost a month, I've started to immerse myself in the complications of a tripartite government: on the federal, state, and tribal levels. Despite multiple jurisdictional layers, things can fall through the cracks—there can be confusion. And boundaries and borders can often be used as a wedge.

I feel that bordered reservations are the most segregated places in America. The Blackfeet reservation has a casino on it and a few places to stop and grab a bite to eat in the main center—Browning. There's a Holiday Inn that advertises itself as being the gateway to the National Park. Other than that, I'd wager that most people who don't live on the reservation wouldn't feel like they have many reasons to come here. But it's so important that we do.

A major reason why I decided to embark on this project is to deliberately cross some of the borders where I typically would not go, or am not "supposed" to go, etc. 4 1/2 (!) months into this journey, I have confirmed my initial suspicion that our society isn't traversing over our own domestic borders enough. And this is just within America.

I've also had to cross other types of borders: such as personal comfort levels (a mantra of mine is: "to be comfortable with being uncomfortable"); and others' comfort levels (some may not agree with my ideas, opinions, or how I try to agitate for social change).

Taking the concept of borders and applying it to an international level—not only is it often used as a political pawn (ahem, immigration policy, the current Syrian refugee crisis, etc.) but it continues to divide us—when the truth is—we actually belong to each other.

Great Falls, Montana—prepping for a mediation on behalf of the Blackfeet tribe at the end of last week

Great Falls, Montana—prepping for a mediation on behalf of the Blackfeet tribe at the end of last week

Most of last week, I was in Great Falls, MT preparing for a mediation with a dozen or so members of the Blackfeet tribe. It was for an impact litigation case that affects hundreds of individuals and families on the reservation. I was the only non-tribal member present during this time. And to be honest, I was aware of my visitor/non-tribal status—as I've written about before.

I wanted to be quietly observant. This particular time wasn't my space to take up or agitate—as I am temporarily visiting; I am not a tribal member; I'm someone new for the tribe to get to know; and this was their case and people it was affecting. These last few days, I was mostly silent but tried to offer my total attention—listening to lighter-hearted stories that were important to the community and deeply painful stories of marginalization. And I admit that I wondered how I was being perceived and how people felt about me being there.

Before we all walked into the mediation room today, one of the tribal leaders put his arm around me and told me with a warm smile on his face: "Today, you're one of us now." I'll never forget it. And I am so glad I listened—I learned so much.

And aren't we all a part of each other? It all reminds me of a quote that a friend shared earlier this week:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
— Lilla Watson

A border is nothing more than a man-made construction. We are all where I am here in Montana, where you are—and all the spaces and places in between.