The Northern Cheyenne lost a treasure
I love Montana, and this began in Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Some folks come to Montana to fly fish or ski, sticking to the mountains of the western part of Big Sky Country. But for me, at first glance I was smitten for Montana after moving to an Indian Reservation in Southwestern Montana.
Serving as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America-akin to the domestic Peace Corps) I was assigned to the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, and under the kind and thoughtful work of Rick Robinson, the Club's founder, and director. Rick had vision and guts. He often had a twinkle in his eye, right before he was going to pull one over on you or get us all laughing. (The other VISTA I served with was a vegetarian. So every time Rick introduced my VISTA partner Toby to others, Rick would warn them to watch out for their houseplants in case Toby got hungry!)
But jokes were to ease the pain. Rick saw a lot of suffering due to high unemployment, lack of jobs, fatal accidents and despair that comes with the many problems that can riddle life on an isolated Reservation. But Rick used his leadership and guts to begin many services and programs that found a home at the Boys and Girls Club.
Rick made sure that as unknown VISTAS, that we were befriended and given many social opportunities from Pow Wows, tours of nearby Colstrip, introductions at the Ministerial Association, and Rick's own family gatherings.
A true highlight of my life was helping Rick's family gather cows horseback one long day. We rode for hours out through gorgeous pastures, down through dried up coulees and past old Northern Cheyenne burial sites and pictographs. A few months later he invited us to his brother's outdoor funeral in the dead of winter. His brother's horse was saddled up without a rider, but with his brother's boots backwards in the stirrups. It was eerie when the tribal singing began in the frosty air.
Many only see the problems facing Indian Country, but Rick worked many years to tackle them with kindness and love for his people. He will be missed. I was heartsick to learn this week of his death at 61. May we see each other again.