aliAfter a jam-packed day of driving through the plains, our van turned the corner into the campground of the tiny town of Choteau, Montana and our instructor exclaimed, “Home sweet home!” My immediate thought was, home? A few measly tents scattered around some picnic tables in this middle of nowhere town, and we’re calling this home?

Then another quote popped into my head. “Home is where the heart is.” And I thought, my initial criticism couldn’t be more wrong.  We spent nine days backpacking in the Badger Two Medicine wilderness.  Together we climbed up and over the high elevation passes, across ice-cold alpine streams, through the tall grasses of native wildflower, all while absorbing the incredible plains and mountain front views along the way.  There’s not a doubt in my mind that this region of Montana has a piece of my heart and I can call it home with ease.

I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, New York and spent summers and winters exploring the mountains of Stowe, Vermont. The roots I formed in these two places taught me that my sense of “home” couldn’t be limited to a single place. Just as this portion of Montana that we backpacked and lived in for over a week has recently become a part of this list, I’m constantly on the search for more places to feel at home.

What are the qualifications for making this list, you may ask? Well, it’s more of a pure feeling and not so much a checklist I can relay to others.  What I have been able to find the words for is the extreme gratitude and humility that I feel towards these areas. Living in each of these places has given me so much that it’s only right to offer something back in return. One way of doing so is to protect the integrity of these areas, as individuals but also as parts of the overall landscape I’ve come to love.

As part of this trip we had the opportunity to read about, talk to members of, and step onto land with the Blackfoot Community.  The Blackfoot Reservation, which is located to the north of this area known as the Rocky Mountain Front, is one of only six in all of the United States that occupies the tribe’s ancestral homelands.  Unfortunately, now this extraordinarily unique and culturally important land is in danger of being tapped into for precious resources underneath, causing rifts among people in the surrounding areas and even within the Blackfoot community.  A few members believe the ancestral lands should be preserved as they are now for their cultural significance, while others are looking at the resources as an opportunity for much needed economic development.

Tribal leaders and environmentalists who hold this inherent devotion and connection to the landscape are pitted against the harsh realities of our nation’s issues of resource scarcity and need for domestic economic boosts. In this type of debate, as well as countless others across the country, the question becomes: do personal relationships and deep devotion for your home have place in formal decision making? Or does emotion need to be left out?

As Marvin Weatherwax, a Blackfoot tribe member puts it, “We’ve been here forever. It’s part of us. We’re part of it.” His and many other tribe members’ connections to this area are of magnitudes that many people can’t even comprehend. And who’s to say that this love has to be put aside in the “real” world? If loving and rooting yourself to a place has enough power to make it your home, I think it’s reason enough for emotions to be present in current land conflicts.