It was a sunny day in Browning, Montana, which is located in the Blackfoot Nation and is home to many of the tribe’s native people. Children arrived to a summer camp run by the De La Salle Blackfeet School. A typically irascible little boy by the name of Colten was one of the many children that attended the summer program. He was beloved by his peers who generally behaved similar to him, but he was disliked by many of the student volunteers. There were a number reports of him being rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate. One example being an instance in which Colten spit on one of my fellow student volunteers. Many of the student volunteers, such as myself, struggled to understand the reason for his behavior because we were oblivious to the adversities that the Blackfeet people face.
A number of outsiders, as I and many of my fellow students once did, consider some of the children on the reservation to be inherently immoral kids. Many volunteers refer to them as “too far gone” or “bay bay’s kids.” At first glance, these judgements may appear to be fair, accurate even, but little did we know.
The Blackfeet were a notoriously fierce Native American tribe. This was largely due to the fact that they were one of the first tribes to acquire horses from European settlers. Due to their reputation, the Blackfeet people take great pride in their heritage and identity. But in recent years the reservation and its inhabitants struggle tremendously. The high unemployment rate, which nears 80% coupled with the prevalence of drug addiction and alcoholism have made the reservation a place in which poverty runs rampant. Because of drug abuse about 50% of the babies on the reservation are born already addicted to meth according to the Glacier Reporter. Furthermore, death is also alarmingly common in the small nation. Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church on the reservation reportedly hosts about seven to eight funerals a week according to Mrs. Rides-at-the-Door who is a tribal elder.
The children of the Blackfeet Nation face a number of hardships that are unique from those of the adults. One difficulty may be stressing over not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Another common issue that a number of the children face is being vulnerable to domestic abuse from parents that may be under the influence. Finally, many of the kids deal with being all too aware that life is fleeting and due to this worry about the survival of themselves and their loved ones.
Keeping all of these circumstances in mind, it is understandable that a child may act out; however, many of us outsiders may not be cognizant of this reality. The fundamental attribution error is the tendency for human beings to believe that the behavior of others is a reflection of their personalities; however, this is seldom the case. Other people’s behavior is more often than not a result of their circumstances rather than their disposition. Being mindful of this tendency, we understand why myself and many of my fellow student volunteers were tempted to deem the ill mannered children of the reservation to be “bad kids.”
It was when I dug deeper and was introduced to existence of this difficult reality that is the Blackfoot Nation was when I began to understand the reasons behind the behavior of the children. I have been to the reservation twice now, both times to volunteer. There I encountered two kinds of kids. The children who are endearing, and easily lovable, and those who can come off as impolite, and hot-tempered. However, these two kinds of kids have a common characteristic: they are both good natured deep down inside. Each time I visit the reservation I am forced to exercise patience and compassion. I am then able to implement these valuable qualities not only when I am volunteering, but also into my daily life.