A beautiful crest of the Rocky Mountains forms the background as I enter a handmade home on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana. I enter and a warm woman greets me at the door to offer coffee and hot chocolate. This helps to break the semi-awkward ice. We go outside and look at a lush area right in the middle of a rolling bare hill. Pauline Matt, the quiet and warm host, tells us that the area we are overlooking is called a fen. This area is is her spiritual center where she gathers her plants to create her herbal balms and creams that are able to calm and heal her customer holistically. I’m intrigued by her aura and they way she speaks with us. Her demeanor doesn’t match the description of the women who walked 80 miles and single handedly took on oil and gas giants in order to protect water rights. The woman that stands before me is my Native American teacher for the day. She taught me humility in the face of adversity and to have strength and perseverance when giving up seems like the only option. She’s a powerful force who’s lived many lives and who’s humility and grace surprised me every passing second. As I listened to Pauline’s soft voice and her words of wisdom my preconceived notions about Native Americans changed swiftly.
As I spend more time with Pauline and absorb her wisdom I wondered why certain people hold negative stereotypes about Native Americans. During this meeting, I came to the realization that I have to formulate my own opinions and thoughts about a culture and populations that I’ve never personally been exposed too. This defining moment in my life opened up numerous thoughts and memories of how I’ve been negatively impacted by others’ opinions of me and my racial group. Being a person of color in a field dominated by people who don’t look like me has impacted my life and made me feel like an outsider in a field that I love. My own negative experiences made me realize that I was perpetuating a cycle of misinformation and disrespect towards a minority group that did not deserve it and who were the most knowledgeable and humble people I’ve ever met. I’ve internalized my own struggles and projected thoughts and feelings that were put onto me by others.
My name is Kasei and through WRFI I had the amazing opportunity to meet with Native American leaders that were at the forefront of their community and leading the charge to reverse images that are incorrect. My limited time with Blackfeet tribal members helped me see that their effort to educate people about their knowledge and culture helps to connect with outsiders and create advocates. As I spent more time with different Native Americans across the Canadian border I learned that a group of people can uplift each other in the face of adversity. I’m overjoyed at the opportunity to grow my knowledge of Native Americans and their rich history and culture. WRFI gave me the opportunity to learn about such a rich culture and I’ll be forever grateful and hold these experiences close to my head and heart for years to come.