Message From Gregg
2022 Plans: 13th Annual Blackfeet Christmas Children Fund
December 6, 2022
Calendar (subject to change due to winter weather)
December 6: 2022 Blackfeet Christmas Children Fund launches
December 14: 1st batch Thank You certificates & benefactor gifts go out
Week of Dec 19: 1st gift handout events: Browning + gifts sent out to outlying communities
Week of Dec 26: 2nd gift handout events: Browning + gifts sent out to outlying communities
January: +-100+ gifts to Blackfeet Hospital, +-500 gifts put in storage for 2023 birthdays, etc
January 30: 2022 Fund drive ends, final batch Thank You certificates & benefactor gifts go out
February 6: Benefactor list updated & events photos appear on website
Oki Ni-Kso-Ko-Wa (Hello All my relatives),
This is the thirteenth consecutive year I write to let you know we are, once again, putting on large-scale gift hand-outs and Christmas and holiday events for our children living on the large, remote Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. (Where as I write this, it’s a blizzardy -22 degrees.)
This year we will again provide thousands of individual gifts for the children and babies in the care of Tribal Child Services (each child takes away several presents), as well as shared gifts for their group / foster / emergency placement / orphanage homes: musical instruments, TVs or game consoles or tablets / PCs, basketball hoops or other sports or games stuff, and special request gifts, which we encourage.
Memorable special requests over the years include a telescope, sewing machine, braille and audio-format bibles, a “pretty dress my baby girl got all excited about when she saw it at Faught’s… she hopes to wear it at a school event cuz she has nothing nice to wear… but I can’t afford to buy it for her...” (we called up the store and paid for it over the phone with a debit card), and “art stuff so I can make paintings for my daddy who’s in prison…”
The vast majority of our benefactors are with us year after year -many for all 13 consecutive years. And this might surprise you: nearly all of you live off-reservation. We could raise money on the reservation, but deliberately don’t. Here’s why: Generosity is the most highly valued of qualities for Blackfeet, so many tribal members would give us money if we asked. But very few here can afford to give, so we don’t ask. Many would, literally, be choosing between giving us a few bucks for children’s gifts or buying gas for their car or foregoing what they planned to eat that day. That’s not a decision we want to be a part of. The local economy is, well, pretty much non-existent, most of us are broke, so we made it a policy many years ago to not fundraise on the rez. Nor do we seek or accept any money from the tribal government (or any government).
Yet, for 13 consecutive years we’ve exceeded our financial goals thanks to the incredible kindness and generosity of those living off-reservation: our many loving, caring non-Indian friends, as well as dozens of Blackfeet and other tribal people living elsewhere. We only want money that comes from the heart, from those who can afford to give. $25 means as much to us as $1,000. The money always comes anyway, so what matters is the goodwill, the love that comes from over the horizon and can’t be measured in dollars. That’s what makes our Blackfeet Children’s program work, making every year magic and memorable.
NEW THIS YEAR…
In 2022, for the first time ever, we will have gift-handout events before AND after Christmas. Historically, we’ve had just one big event, usually in the week between Christmas & New Years, or shortly thereafter if harsh weather made it necessary to postpone.
Also, new this year we are busily scouting around to identify non-Child Services households that can’t afford gifts for their children. There’s lots, and we hope to find them all and get those children to our events.
Here’s why we can now do multiple events and expand our gift events to include other households: First, thanks to some wonderfully generous earlybirds we already have a decent budget on hand for gifts. Second, we ended up with a good number of popular, still-current gifts left over from last year. (Basketballs, Spiderman, musical instruments, blankets, baby & toddler items, and art supplies never go out of style!)
Having leftover toys is by design, because we learned over a decade ago that the best way for children to get the gifts that thrills them most is to put on display thousands of unwrapped gifts of just about every description, for all ages. Then they can excitedly survey their options and, always after some adorable, frantic indecision, make their selections. It’s impossible to know who will want what and get the gender and age mix exactly right when we shop, so the only solution is to wildly overbuy. We can do that these days thanks to your amazing generosity, and whatever is left is there for birthdays, to send up to the Hospital, and other special events throughout the year. This also gives us a good head start on buying for the next year.
So in 2022, with a flurry of shopping in the next couple weeks to fill the gaps in our eye-popping walls of gifts that the kids choose from, we will be all set for a pre-Christmas party. Then we will replenish our gift displays and do it all over again after Christmas. Extra work, yeah, but we know from experience that this new, split format will result in getting the maximum number of children to the events.
MORE NEW STUFF…
The American Indian Partnership has been doing some new projects and programs over the last year. So for those that like to know what’s happening, look for the BLUE box on our website inventively titled “NEW STUFF @ AIP!” and catch up.
A LITTLE STORY ABOUT AN EPIPHANY…
If you’re reading this you’re either tribal or care greatly about tribal people -our culture, our lives today, and the future of tribes. So I want to tell you about something that happened in 2022. For many years I’ve spent summers at the Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, MT, holding a federal contract to provide staffing and also leasing a portion to operate a gift shop, trading post, art galleries, and exhibiting artist areas. I like to give talks to groups, usually 30-60 people at a time that arrive on tour buses, but also to small groups if time permits. (Here’s a video of me talking to two little boys -didn’t know anyone was filming so was surprised to recently learn of the video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL-LfPNvyhc&ab_channel=BottomleyAdventures ).
One morning a group poured in from a tour operator that we see often. After I gave them a talk in the mural lobby, one fellow delicately, worriedly asked about the poverty and rough surroundings they saw driving through town. “Yeah,” I said, “we see it too, and we don’t like it either. But here’s the thing: The Blackfeet world is 90% spiritual and that part is healthy, thriving, happy. We know we need to do better at improving our physical world and, over time, we will. But do not feel sorry for us, my people are very blessed in all the ways that matter most. We wouldn’t trade our world for yours, or our ways or path for anyone’s.”
Two days later the same tour guide brought in a different group. She whispered in my ear: “When you spoke to the last group, you told them ‘do not feel sorry for us.’ The group was so struck and uplifted by your comments… could you talk about that to this group, too?”
This was an epiphany for me. In Indian Country, the victim-mentality is so embedded that many Indians, including me, sometimes reflexively (and unthinkingly) play the pity card when we talk about our tribes, our lives. So when good-hearted people hear us say positive things about our world, it can surprise them.
Pity and self-pity builds each on the other and hurts all of Indian Country and holds us back. Feeling sorry for ourselves and playing the victim paralyzes Indians as individuals and as a people, slowing necessary social and economic progress across Indian Country. We must stop being our own worst enemy by shaking off debilitating defeatism and replacing it with pride and determination. That’s how we achieve and exceed our former glory.
Which is why, just to share this viewpoint, I put the essay “The Indians Won the Indian Wars” on the website.
This year, as always, you will receive gifts from us to thank you for your generosity (see website for details and, by the way, we have several new necklace designs --you’ll see!).
Thanks So Much!
* * * *
2021 Plans: 12th Annual Blackfeet Christmas Children Fund
December 4, 2021
This is the twelfth consecutive year that your kindness and generosity will make Christmas brighter for Blackfeet children living on our remote Montana Indian reservation.
This year, we again focus on our young children (birth to 18) on the Homeless List, which means they are in the care of Tribal Child Services. They live in group & foster homes, our orphanage, or emergency placement. Their parents are incapacitated, incarcerated, deceased, or have abandoned them. We buy about 1800 gifts so 300 kids can each take home five or six. In addition, households with three or more children can choose a major shared gift like a piano, guitar, game console, basketball hoops, karaoke machine, TV, tablet or PC, or something else on their wish list (we encourage special requests).
On our website, the slide show gives you a glimpse of how we spend your money. But except for the few adults that help at the parties, no one can fully comprehend what a happy, beautiful, memorable difference it makes in these young lives to have big, exciting, wild, super-fun events put on just for them and have their choice of a half-dozen nice gifts.
Years out, our young cuzzins may not even remember the gifts they got. But they will always remember that, every year without fail, strangers from over the horizon cared about them and sent gifts, love, fun, and happiness. Believe me, an abandoned Blackfeet child living in a place like this in the dead of winter remembers every kindness and flash of light and hope that comes their way. They will know they matter and that people are good.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING THIS POSSIBLE!
Recently I looked over hundreds of pictures from our gift-giving events from the previous eleven years. Year after year, the same sweet little faces grew from babies to little kids to teenagers. Sadly, I’ve watched hundreds of children grow up in tribal group homes and age out of the system.
Those children have been dealt the worst hands, but fortunately we have wonderful, loving, caring, tireless group / foster / orphanage houseparents that do everything they can to make a good childhood for those in their care. But very few locals have the resources to give these children the sort of Christmas every child wants and should have.
THAT’S WHERE YOU COME IN!
What’s different this year: Both your Thank You Certificate (via email) and your donor gifts (via USPS) will go out at about the same time (2 - 3 weeks after you make your donation). This year we added a new donor gift: An arrowhead necklace of a new design --our first holiday design necklace ever (green / red)! I will put an image on the website in a few days. If you donate at the level that gets you a necklace and don’t specify a traditional design, that’s what we’ll send you.
Here’s this year’s plans: In 2020, COVID forced us to find new, safe ways to hold our holiday events. Instead of the raucous, packed parties we threw for many years, we brought in families one at a time, all masked up, spaced a half-hour apart, scheduled over several days.
In 2021, we hope to return to our traditional, group events with bouncy houses, indoor sports, toddler village, video games, jewelry-making, and arts and crafts tables. But now we know how to quickly shift to COVID-safe events like in 2020 if necessary. One way or another we will have our events and hand out tons of gifts.
This year, thanks to some large, early donations we had enough money to buy full frame, professional photography / lighting / photo printing equipment to do free holiday photos of children with their houseparents and families.
As in years past, we will send a hundred or so gifts up to the hospital so the nurses and doctors can give them to inpatient children over the coming months. We also will provide houseparents with birthday gifts for their kids throughout the year.
Here's a little story that goes to show how one good thing leads to another. Last year, your generosity allowed us to give away lots of musical instruments and art supplies. This new emphasis proved so wildly popular that we doubled the music & art gift budget for 2021. Once we saw how exciting this was to kids here...
Light Bulb! We realized that the Blackfeet Rez needs a special, separate, independent, self-contained place where young artists can learn, explore, and develop their art and talents (free of charge, of course). So starting a couple months ago, a few of us chipped in and we began buying a wide range of high quality musical instruments, visual and fine art supplies, audio / video production and performance gear, and teaching services to outfit facilities in a large “downtown” Browning building. These will include well-equipped art studios, especially for painting, beading, leatherwork, and carving, and comprehensive music teaching and audio / video recording / performance / production facilities. I know from experience that for any artistic and creative pursuit it’s best to learn on top, professional gear --it gives you the right frame of reference from the start, doesn’t limit you, and keeps you engaged / inspired / committed.
You probably already know that Blackfeet, in general, are unusually talented across a wide range of art and mediums. Encouraging and enabling our children to pursue their artistic ideas and passions is the best way I know to enrich their lives, help find purpose and inspiration, stay healthy and balanced, set life-improving goals, build character, further our traditions, preserve and revitalize our culture, and --hopefully-- keep them away from the kind of trouble that stalks and tempts every young one here.
By the way, I am a lifelong musician and also operate art galleries, artist studios, retail jewelry and arts & crafts shops, and trading posts, so everywhere on the Blackfeet Reservation I see great talent, soul, spirit, and inner beauty eager to burst out and express itself. The idea of getting as many musical instruments and art supplies as possible into the hands of young Blackfeet at our Christmas events and then giving them a place to pursue their art is very exciting to me.
For those who don’t know us well, a little about the Blackfeet: Our high plains home is 2,400 square miles (larger than Delaware), borders the Northern Rockies and Canada, and is the most rugged, beautiful, isolated, untrampled, pristine, coldest, windiest, 9-months-of-winter place in the lower-48. Recent archeology and DNA analysis shows our tribe has lived in the same location for 15,000+ years --more than 500 generations. Of 17,321 tribal members, over 9,000 live on our reservation, which is about 95% Indian. There’s not a lot of stores or much of a local economy here so if you need general merchandise, the nearest Walmart is either 105 miles or 125 miles, depending on whether you go west across the Rockies to Kalispell or east across the vast prairie to Great Falls.
We think this is the greatest place on earth to live. But it’s a very hard place for disadvantaged children to grow up and make a good life for themselves, which is why us grown-ups do what we can for our little ones.
Thanks So Much!
* * * * *
December 5th, 2020
2020 Plans: 11th Annual Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund
(For 2020, we will again have our annual children’s gift-giving events, as we have done for 11 consecutive years. But due to COVID precautions, we will do drive-through gift handouts, deliveries to homes, and outdoor events (like stay-in-your-car, drive-in movie nights). Our kids have been cooped up forever, so if there was ever a year that fun holiday events are needed, this is it! Attached are images from the 2019 events your gifts made possible, please take a look. Also, as noted on our website, we send out some pretty cool Thank You gifts (arrowhead necklaces and unique collectable postcards.)
Find us at www.americanindianpartnership.org (a 501(c)3 non-profit)
Most reading this have been devoted benefactors and interested observers of our eleven-year effort to bring a bright, joyous Christmas to our little Indians that might otherwise be have-nots. So I am not going to tell you what we do and how we do it because you already know, having long been a crucial part of it. Instead I will try to share with you what life has been like on the Blackfeet Reservation in 2020.
This morning was cold and clear in Browning, and as I walked to the post office to get my mail (we have neither mailmen nor mail delivery on the Blackfeet Reservation), I looked west to the sharp, magnificent outlines of the snow-covered Rockies, just a few miles away, and thought: “Doesn’t this sum up life today on the rez? --some things never change, even as other things change completely.”
In the background, the panoramic, majestic natural landscape of our 15,000 year homeland, unchanged for far longer than that. In the foreground, swirling around me, something never seen before 2020: Little kids, all masked up, waiting in cars, noses pressed against the cold glass, while adults quickly duck in and out of stores to grab some necessity. “Street people” already up and about, huddled together in the alley behind my building, sheltered from the wind, every single one wearing a mask. 20+ widely-spaced people in line at the post office, each masked up.
Blackfeet making quick, necessary, permissible trips out under interminable stay-at-home orders. Not a single bare face in sight. We live in a society that probably seems closed and inscrutable to many outsiders, but like all Indians we are highly social, wildly gregarious among ourselves, and like to circulate constantly inside our reservation boundaries. This is the first time in our tribal existence that so many of us have been isolated from one another to this degree.
Yet you will not hear a peep of complaint about the COVID restrictions we have been living under for most of 2020. Every time it looked as if restrictions might be lifted, they were wisely extended by the Tribal Council. I think most of us fully expect them to be extended again and agree they should be, given the worrisome health crisis now re-erupting over the horizon.
Here’s one reason the draconian restrictions on the reservation are so wise and why we accept them so readily: Drive through our land and in many of the thousands of small houses there are six or eight children being raised alone by grandma. These devoted, indefatigable older women are raising our children and what would happen if any of them took ill or died? Who would take care of the youngest and most vulnerable among us? Blackfeet Child Services is fantastic but already struggles to place new children added to the homeless list.
So protecting our all-important elders is one reason why here on the reservation, there is no debate about masks. Here, a mask is a badge of honor, a symbol of care and respect for other tribal members and anyone else we encounter.
We have lost over 30 tribal members so far on the reservation, with many more seriously ill. To understand how devastating this is, consider: In the outside world if you were to pick any two people at random in a large community, it would be unlikely to find a blood connection between them. But here on our reservation, pick any two people at random and they very likely share a blood connection to a person just one, two, or (at most) three generations back. So when we call each other “cuzzin” we often literally mean “cousin.” We have, essentially, zero degrees of separation here, so for us the heartbreak of COVID is not something happening off in the distance to other people, other families.
And so you can be sure we will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of all at our Blackfeet Children Christmas events. Obviously it isn’t going to look like the riotous madhouse you see in the decade of 2010 - 2019 pics on our website. We will, of course, hold the event (we have never missed a year, not even in 2012/2013 when the Tribe was in civil war and tribal government was essentially shut down). But we expect it will be some sort of drive-through gift-selection event (with home deliveries of gifts as needed) and then also stage outdoor, stay-in-your-cars, drive-in movie nights.
We are still figuring out these keep-everyone-safe-in-this-scary-new-world details. But later in December, once we get more input from local health and COVID task force folks, I will write you again with our plans to safely give our children the best events we can devise.
Thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts for your kind, generous gifts that allow us, year after year, to bring joy to so many Blackfeet children.
* * * *
December 8th, 2019
This is the tenth consecutive year I have sat down in December and written you about our plans to make Christmas brighter for Blackfeet children on our large, remote reservation. Most of you receiving this message have donated year after year, in unflagging kindness, caring, generosity, and love, and for that we thank you from the bottom of our 17,300 collective hearts. Here are slides of the nine years of wonderful events you made possible.
This year we again focus on those kids dealt the worst hands, the ones in the care of Child Services, which means the orphanage, group homes, foster care, or emergency placement. There are about 200 - 300 children (age 0 - 18) in the system at any given time. Our aim is to send each of them home from the big party with five or six gifts, as well as send trucks to the hospital and Heart Butte. So we buy about 1,500 - 2,000 presents total.
Last year we tried some new things that worked out well: here’s an article about it.
We’ll follow a similar format as last year, including longer hours for the party to reduce overcrowding and extend playtime, having it in early January so more children can attend and volunteers and caseworkers are more available (we now call it the Holiday Party instead of the Christmas Party), and having it in a 2,500 sf area in a big, old building I own in “downtown” Browning.
This year we will have enough floor space for additional durable play equipment. We still have the stuff you helped pay for last year (bouncy house, indoor basketball, large screen video gaming systems, toddler area play houses / slides / tunnels, etc.) and last week I noticed some big, sturdy air hockey and foosball tables at Costco that we will buy this year.
For individual gifts, aside from the usual toys, games, sports gear, arts & crafts supplies, fashion & make-up stuff, jewelry, educational items, books, traditional things, clothes, Indian blankets, backpacks, etc, we will add many more items so children can make bedrooms into their own personalized spaces: posters, bedspreads, pillows, decorations, cute clock radios and lamps, etc. When tribal police have carried you out of a meth house or crime scene to safety and a new life, wrapped in nothing but an emergency foil blanket because your clothes were toxic, it means a lot to have your own bedroom, your refuge and oasis, decorated just the way you want it.
As I was writing this, a scene from a music video playing in the background caught my eye. It was a beautiful, touching image of a young girl being handed an unexpected but much-wanted gift, her face beaming with excitement, happiness, gratitude. I see that face 200 or 300 times each year at the Blackfeet children’s party and it reminded me why we do this every year.
As I get older, I see life as a series of moments that we revisit in our heads, time and again over a lifetime. Like a long picture gallery where imagery of the best and worst moments of your life stay sharp, vivid, and alive, while mundane images fade, forgotten. This is what we seek to create for our Blackfeet children at these events: good moments of happiness, fun, and excitement that will last forever to offset the bad moments of sadness, despair, neglect, violence, abuse they have lived and may live again.
If there are any children in America that need more good moments to cling to, it is these ones. If any children need ready proof, always available in their mind’s eye, that the world is not against them, that hope is not futile, that they are loved and wanted and cared for and things will be alright... it is these ones.
I never play the pity card when I tell you about our children, but we all know vast, isolated, impoverished, closed-society Indian reservations are hard places. I was reading various studies the other day comparing Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores of children living on northern plains Indian reservations (i.e. our reservation and similar ones). Long story short, the incidence of traumatic, life-altering ACE events for children on reservations like ours is about 300% higher than for off-reservation children.
That 300% is an average, so imagine what that least-fortunate sliver of the 200 – 300 children in the care of Child Services lived through before they were delivered to the safety of our excellent, devoted caregivers!
All this is to say how much we appreciate your kind and generous assistance in lifting our children up.
THANKS SO MUCH!
December 8, 2018
As I have done every December for nine years, I write to ask your help in making Christmas brighter for our displaced children on our large, remote Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana.
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up neglected, unloved, abused, unprotected, bullied, ashamed, afraid, despairing. As a child I was never put to bed dirty and hungry, or woken up by violence or police at the door, or watched other children have everything I wanted while I had nothing. No, I don’t know what it’s like, and as the greatest of all my blessings, neither do my own three children (who are all Blackfeet / Navajo).
But here on the rez, far too many children do know what it’s like.
Fortunately, Tribal Child Services and their many devoted case workers, our orphanage, and numerous group / foster / emergency placement homes are taking good care of our children on the “homeless list.” These are the birth-18 age children in the care of tribal or federal child welfare agencies because the parents are absent, deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unable to raise their child. The homeless list usually has 150 or more names on it.
Some of these children are rescued by Tribal Police and Child Services from meth houses, stripped of their toxic clothes, and carried to safety and a new life in an emergency blanket. So they enter the system with nothing, not even the clothes on their back. (This is why we use some of your money to buy hundreds of nice Indian-design and Disney / Marvel / Pixar / etc. blankets --they are the single most popular item because every child wants their own blanket to wrap themselves in and to use as a bedspread.)
Now that you know what some of our children go through, when you look at our website and see these beautiful kids smiling and laughing, it really means something, doesn’t it? It means they are bouncing back and now have a chance at a good life.
It also means the Tribe is doing a good job with meager budgets for housing / clothing / food / necessities. But in budgetary terms, Christmas is not a necessity. Our goodhearted donors from around the world believe Christmas IS a necessity. They send us money and we use every tactic we know to stretch the budget to buy as many gifts as possible, get every kid possible delivered to the party, and make as fun, happy, raucous, and memorable a day as we know how for our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
Every year we learn new ways to improve the big event, often by solving an unforeseen problem. For example, last year the winter was so freakishly brutal that at the last minute we had no choice but to postpone the Dec 30 party until the weather eased up. But my daughter, who helps every year, needed to get back to Seattle for school so we fled Browning across Marias Pass hoping to outrun the storm (we got stuck anyway and other travelers had to stop in the arctic white-out and pull us out). Highway 2 (the only route over the northernmost Rockies) closed, and I couldn’t get back into Browning for over a week. So we had the party in early January, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise: We discovered that by having the party in early January, all the case workers are back in town after the holidays which means more kids in outlying areas can be rounded up and transported to us.
Also last year we experimented with having the party in a big old building I own in downtown Browning, rather than at a school or the senior center. We carved out about 2,000 square feet in the 6,000 sf building. This location worked great because kids get really excited and keyed up having fun and rough-housing (ntm, a sugar high from soda and candy) and they can’t damage much in that room. Kids don’t care what the room looks like so long as it’s warm, full of gifts, movies, and tons of fun activities. Plus, we didn’t have to haul everything back across town in the snow and ice after the party and stay up all night cleaning.
So this year we will have the party on January 3 in my building (with some extra space for more large screen TVs, air hockey, maybe an additional bouncy house). Most of these children live in small, overcrowded houses and facilities. In the winter, they are cooped up and not able to blow off steam, so you can imagine how out of control they get at our parties. Let them be kids and run wild, I think, just keep them safe.
Having their party after Christmas is good for another reason. These are the have-nots, often feeling left out and disappointed watching others have better birthdays, Christmases, everything. Giving them their gifts and party last gives them something no one else is getting. For once, they are the haves. For once, their better-off peers are a little jealous of them. For a few hours and in school the next day, these children are the most special on the reservation. Last year, other kids from around town peered in the windows, wanting to come in to the party and choose from the walls of gifts, but only those on the homeless list were admitted (along with the biological children of foster / group home parents --we don’t want to exclude “siblings”).
I split my time between MT and W WA, and Christmas is a big deal in our house, so I will be with my own children on Christmas at our place near Seattle. But Christmas night we will hop in the car and drive directly to Great Falls so we can get to Sam’s Club and Walmart on Dec 26 to see what toys have been marked down. I know from years of doing this that the larger the toys, the greater the discount because stores need to make room and don’t want to send merchandise back. I buy a mountain of toys and other gifts then call up to Browning to have a truck sent down. You would be amazed at all the great stuff we get for, overall, about half the pre-Christmas price. That’s one way we stretch donor dollars. Last year, every kid got six gifts at the party, and we were still able to send hundreds of gifts to the Tribal Hospital, orphanage, and households with kids who couldn’t get to the party.
Like most guys, I would rather dig ditches for eight hours than shop for four, but in December I love it because when I find great stuff I can just see little eyes light up. I also buy hundreds of items online (for example, basketballs, blankets, and other popular items) because I know stores won’t have the quantities and selection I need.
Thanks again for your kindness and generosity. It’s not money you are donating, you are sending love, hope, encouragement, and proof to little kids that the mysterious world over the horizon is full of people that care about them.
December 6, 2017
As I have done every December for the last eight years, I write to ask your help in making Christmas brighter for our displaced children on our large, remote Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. These are the birth-through-18 age children on what we call the “homeless list.” This means they are in the care of tribal or federal child welfare agencies (usually, in group / orphanage / transition homes on the rez) because the parents are absent, deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unable to raise their child.
Social services agencies staffed by our wonderful caregivers and protectors do the best they can for our children. They struggle to stretch Tribal budgets for housing / clothing / food / necessities, but in budgetary terms, Christmas is not a necessity. Our goodhearted donors from around the world believe Christmas IS a necessity for these children, and that’s why we do this every year.
Our reservation borders Canada to the north, Rocky Mountains to the west, endless rolling prairie to the south and east, and is one of the coldest, windiest places in the lower 48. Inside the reservation, if every man, woman, and child spread out evenly across our land, each would have 150 acres to themselves. Sparser yet is employment, money, health… and, for far too many, hope, inspiration, and spirit. Substance abuse, short lifespans, and violence persists at staggering, heartbreaking levels.
But this is not a woe-is-us plea: We stay here because we choose to. With 400 generations of blood under our feet, this high plains heaven is where we belong. Here, the Blackfeet Tribe began 13,000 years ago, and if the day ever comes, here is where it will end. Yes, after thousands of years of glorious freedom, happiness, and sunlight, the last 180 years have been dispiriting, bitter, and dark. Yes, starting in 1837 when smallpox brought to our lodges by non-Indians wiped out two-thirds of our tribe, one raw deal after another eventually forced us onto this 1.5 million acre reservation (1/20 the size of our original, homeland).
But for us, past cannot and must not be prologue. So now it is up to the adults here to pick ourselves up, remember who we are --and above all we are warriors, shake off bad outlooks and old habits that hold us back, and make our home a better place. We will get there. But today, I don’t know anyone who thinks we have been doing a good job of it so far. And…
…as always, it is the most vulnerable children that must pay for the mistakes and failures of us adults.
So, again, that is why you hear from me every year: to ask for help giving something exciting, joyful and gleeful, memorable, and spiritually-uplifting to these children dealt the very worst hands imaginable, to give them something their parents cannot. It’s not money you are donating, you are sending love, hope, encouragement, and proof to little kids that the mysterious world over the distant horizon is full of people that care about them.
Speaking of the world, think about this: Most Americans have awareness of Third World places overseas, but rarely do they consider the hundreds of desperate Third World pockets they can drive to without ever leaving the United States. Indian Country and the million-plus Indians living there are largely invisible to most Americans, as well as being absent from national dialogue. Today, Americans are, like never before, fiercely and passionately crowding on to the national stage to debate the question of who and what America is and should be. On that stage, there is not an Indian in sight, not even an empty chair reserved for the first Americans. Is it any wonder that adults and children alike on reservations feel forgotten, alone, isolated?
(Note: There are 326 Indian reservations and 567 federally-recognized and numerous unrecognized tribes in the U.S. 329 of those tribes do not operate casinos, and only 72 that do have casinos pay out per capitas to members from gaming revenues --most of those are near big cities. The Blackfeet have a small casino but it is so remote it historically makes little or no contribution to tribal services or per capitas.)
There are usually about 150 children on our homeless list. But thanks to your generosity, we have in recent years been able to buy major, multiple gifts for over 300 children so we have enough for group home parents’ biological children, too (we invite everyone in the home to the big parties so no child feels left out). We also send gifts up to the tribal hospital and maintain a stash for upcoming birthdays. And now we are also funding new projects and programs, noted below (”3 New Things for 2017”).
This year, as in recent years, we will have our children’s parties and gift handouts in the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s. Volunteers have more free time then, and we can really stretch donation dollars thanks to post-Christmas discounts on toys and other gifts in big stores in Great Falls and Kalispell. For example, $5,000 spent after 12/25 gets us about twice as much stuff as $5,000 spent before 12/25, and that’s a huge deal with our limited budget stretched over hundreds of children. Here’s the schedule:
Saturday December 30: Big party in Browning. 1 - 4 pm, Fun and games 1-3:30, gift handout at 3:30.
Sunday December 31: Smaller party(ies) in Heart Butte. (Local caseworkers arrange these.)
December 30: Gifts delivered to Blackfeet Community Hospital.
December 31, 2017: Last day to donate for 2017 tax deduction (we are a 501(c)3 non-profit).
January 31, 2018: Last day to donate to appear on final 2017 Donor List. (We buy birthday & special gifts year-round with January donations.)
3 THINGS NEW FOR 2017!:
1. We noticed at the gift handout last year that nice blankets were really popular. Within minutes, a mountain of plush Indian-design and Disney / Marvel / action hero / princess etc. blankets disappeared. That was puzzling until a caseworker told us lots of kids like to decorate their bedroom (makes sense, it’s the only place they can call their own). So this year we will be adding all sorts of stuff suitable for decorating bedrooms.
2. We have a secured a new, large permanent, year-round event room for children events in “downtown” Browning. There is no longer a youth center in Browning, and now we can start doing something we have wanted to do for years: regular events and a place to hang out for everyone on the homeless list --e.g. Movie / fun and games nights, birthday parties, and after-school study areas. Four large donors last year (Andrew Forman, Tony Sitzmann, Michelle Robles, and my kid brother, Scott Paisley) provided enough capital to buy big screen TVs and lots of other electronics and indoor play equipment that can be used year-round to give our neediest, most-excluded children a fun, recreational, educational, inspirational place of their own. A place they can bond with their peers: have lots of fun, help and encourage each other, feel a part of something good.
3. The new event room also gives us a place for a permanent “Donor Wall,” listing everyone who has donated to the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund over the years. Besides honoring donor kindness and generosity, it is meant to serve as a constant reminder to our children that people all over the world care about them.
Thanks very much!
Message From Gregg
November 15, 2014
Thanks to your generous donations, every year for the last five years the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund has found new and better ways to do something good for those Blackfeet Reservation children dealt the worst hands.
Our press page has articles that tell the story of our evolution from throwing huge come-one-come-all parties with thousands of kids and mountains of presents, to focusing ever more tightly on doing big, high impact things for children that have nothing and desperately need something good in their lives: displaced children, children abused and neglected in unimaginable ways, children that Tribal police pulled out of drug houses wrapped only in new blankets because everything in the house was contaminated.
As happens everywhere, it is adults guilty of bad decisions that makes hell on earth... but it is the innocent little ones that have to live in it.In 2013 I asked our various Tribal and federal child-protective agencies to find us the innocent little ones most in need. I got a lengthy list and on it were details of the child’s background (with their full names redacted for obvious reasons). So in one of the poorest, hardest places in America I’ve had children sit on my lap whose terrible stories were known to me: Children whose parents are dead or in prison, often for crimes against their own families. Children that have been abused, molested, beaten, starved. Children that literally have nothing other than what you and other kind hearted people were able to give them that day.
It’s one thing to read about it, another thing entirely to have your arms around these victims and know their stories. You smile outside, scream and cry inside, and never want to let go. This is nightmare stuff, as my own nightmares can attest.
But, you know, every single one of those children, at least on that day, was full of life, laughter, happiness, excitement, goodness, and hope. Children are resilient and even after the terrible road they've traveled it’s not too late for them. Little gestures like giving them a Christmas they didn’t dare hope for can, by the power of love, caring, and generosity, help them stay on the road to a better place and brighter future.
So this year we take it a step further. Here’s the plan:
1. Between December 1st and 20th, volunteers, my family, and I will be traveling the Reservation, visiting group and protective homes, distressed households, and the hospital, meeting with house parents and caregivers to find out what major Christmas gifts would be just right for those individual children, and what supplies, decorations, etc. we can provide the home to make Christmas morning memorable, exciting, and joyous. All those gifts will be wrapped and delivered to the homes by the 23rd.
2. We will also find out what the home can use to communally benefit all the children –e.g. a big screen TV with gaming console and games, outdoor play equipment, playhouses, toys, PCs / laptops / tablets / printers, etc. We will deliver and set up those gifts after Christmas and in to 2015 as funds and manpower becomes available. That’s what we will do with your money this year.
Thank you so much! Gregg
* * * * * * *
November 20, 2013
For the last four years, the second best day of my year has been December 30th, when the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund holds our annual event. (The very best day being Christmas morning with my own young kids.)
Every year we try something new, and it just keeps getting better and better. It all began in November 2010 when my staff and I were sitting around in a big old building I own in Browning talking about how sad it is that so many kids on the reservation don’t get much of a Christmas.
We had nearly 5,000 square feet of open space, so I suggested we try to raise some money, mainly online from off-reservation folks, and do something fun for the kids. It was a huge success that overflowed the building. So in 2011 we held it at one of the schools, which overflowed as well.
By the way, aside from much better volunteer availability, it turns out the best thing about having our events after Christmas is that we get great deals in Great Falls from retailers, especially WalMart and Sam’s Club who work closely with us to provide pallets of great toys at deep discounts. Averaged over the thousands of toys we buy on Dec 26th – 29th, we get about $3 worth of toys for every $1 we spend, and that makes a huge difference.
My part in this has always been to create the materials, do the large-scale emailings, raise the money, suggest ideas for the event to our army of volunteers, and oversee shopping. Then the volunteers make it happen, always beyond my wildest imaginings. It is something to behold watching all these good-hearted Blackfeet do anything and everything they can to make a special day for our children.
But strictly speaking, we are all volunteers, because everyone including me works for free on the Christmas Fund. And this might surprise people (especially those that don’t understand how Indian tribes are organized and govern themselves) but we never ask for or get a penny from Tribal government or the Tribal Council.
In 2012, I think I may have surprised the volunteers when on December 15th I said that given the tragedy at Newtown, CT of December 14th, I didn’t want to put on a big raucous party. Just didn’t seem right to me. I asked if instead we could enlist Tribal police and firefighters to go door-to-door delivering gifts in those neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of financially struggling households. It is not uncommon in these neighborhoods to have 6, 8, or more kids living in small houses, and these are the kids we wanted to surprise with gifts. What an amazing day that was, as you can gather from the pictures. Many of us thought that reaching the kids that need it the most and making it more personal was the best format so far.
In November I was reading the news and came across that Bat Kid story in San Francisco. It really inspired me to think about trying to focus on the neediest of the needy on the reservation, and rather than do small things for a large number of children, this year do something really big for a smaller number. I remembered that we had sent gifts up to our shelters and children’s protective custody houses every year, since those kids either had to stay on premises or didn’t have transportation. So I called around and found that the schools keep a roster of kids that are homeless.
There are 143 names on the list. And when I heard some of their stories it was like a kick in the stomach. For example, kids whose parents cook meth, so when police removed them they had to leave contaminated clothes and blankets behind. These kids literally have nothing --not even the clothes on their back. Think about that for a moment. A child is born in just about the poorest place in America, a place where violence, lawlessness, substance abuse, soul-crushing poverty, and despair is all around you. On top of that, the child is dealt a hand that includes parents that are drug addicts?
What chance has that child got? So the least we can do is let these children know that someone loves them and cares about them. The least we can do is give them a little happiness, and look them long and straight in the eye so they believe people really do care about them. Even little gestures like that can help get a child on a better path to a better place.
So that’s what we are gonna do in 2013: raise all the money we can and do something big for those 143 children that will not just make them happy and lift their spirits, but create a meaningful memory for them that will, we hope, help carry them through to a better place.
If you can help us do that with a donation, THANK YOU SO MUCH!
This Christmas, we will use a format similar to the 2015 Blackfeet Children Christmas Party, namely: 1. Host a large, boisterous 4-hour party just before Christmas where case workers round up and bring in their kids for gifts, games, movies, food, and activities. 2. Purchase major items for the Nurturing Center (the tribal orphanage) and other group homes. 3. Deliver gifts to the Blackfeet Hospital for the doctors and nurses to give to kids who are hospitalized in December and January. 4. Provide gifts for special cases: kids and families who need something extra or special for Christmas (we have a few referred to us every year).
We aren’t like some other 501(c)3 nonprofits that pester, hard sell, or play the pity card. Rather, we simply tell you what we have planned, how we will spend your money, and what good we aim to do. Your heart will tell you if you want to help. Your checkbook will tell you if you can.
Every donor receives a Thank You certificate and appears on our periodically-updated donor list which includes everyone who has ever donated, highlights current donors in color, and groups everyone in broad dollar totals based on cumulative lifetime giving. We do it this way because we consider all donors to be permanent friends and benefactors. We never stop being grateful for your donations and goodwill, even if finances or absentmindedness causes our friends to skip a year or two.
Again this year, anyone who donates $250 or more will be sent a beaded medicine wheel or beaded dreamcatcher (you can choose) made by a Blackfeet artist.
Thank you so much for your help in making Christmas brighter for our children!
As an aside, because the vast majority of you donate every year, I know from your comments that you have a great interest in life here and what can be done to drive social and economic progress, particularly to lift members up from pervasive, grinding poverty. I hear similar comments and questions from the thousands of visitors on the Blackfeet Reservation that visit the various companies and organizations I operate, oversee, assist, mentor, or have invested in. So, recently I’ve been working on a document that provides perspective, analysis, and ideas that might interest you. If you have a few minutes to read further, scroll down past my sign-off just below to find the Table of Contents, excerpts, and the link to download the full document. I welcome your input and thoughts. One more thing: Please, if you have friends who might like to know about the Christmas Fund or have an interest in the Blackfeet or Indian Country, forward this email to them.
To make a donation: please go to: www.americanindianpartnership.org Thanks again,
Message From Gregg
December 5, 2016
Dear Friend and Benefactor,
For the last seven years, in early December, I have written to let you know our plans to deliver a brighter Christmas to the most disadvantaged children on the Blackfeet Reservation. Thanks to your kindness and generosity, every year has been a joyously spectacular event, better than the last. To date, we have given out thousands of gifts to happy, excited kids.
To ensure your money goes where it does the most good, every year we call Tribal and federal child services on the reservation to find out how many children are on the homeless list (i.e. living in our orphanage / foster / group homes) and what is on their wish lists. We also ask what sort of major communal gifts would benefit the homes (e.g. playground equipment, PCs, tablets, game consoles, etc.). Then we plan parties, buy truckloads of gifts, and our many volunteers --we are all volunteers, including me-- create magic for surprised, delighted, gleeful children, many of whom have been dealt the worst hands you can imagine. There is a slide show on our website home page so you can see for yourself.
What feels better than showering a deeply disadvantaged child with love, showing them you value and care about them? I am sure you will agree with me that the answer is… Nothing.
308 N. Piegan, Browning, MT
Helping Our People Overcome Economic & Social Disadvantage