For the last 12 years, the Department of Campus Involvement and American Indian Center does service trips every spring break to Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer Montana. Between 16-18 undergraduate students are chosen to volunteer. According to Ashely Mitchell, Civil Engagement Graduate Assistant and Program Advisor in the Department of Campus Involvement, states that all students from diverse backgrounds and ages apply.
Primarily applicants have been Sophomores and Seniors. Mitchell has also seen applications from students in backgrounds of the Asian community, as well as many Native American students, not necessarily from the Cheyenne tribe. Approximately 72 applications were started this year.
They got involved because it is a chance for the students to work with children at the Boys and Girls Club on the Cheyenne reservation. Mitchell explained the activity at the Boys and Girls Club is the only planned event of the trip, otherwise the rest of the activities are determined when they arrive.
“It’s determined by what the people need, that could be building, paining, or refurbishing things,” Mitchell explained.
During the week, students also get the opportunity to participate in different rituals or Pow Wows.
The Reservation was established in 1884 and has about 10,840 tribal members, with approximately 4,939 living on the reservation per the Cheyenne tribe’s website. As reported by the tribal page on the Montana state website, “Lame Deer is the tribal and government agency headquarters”, there are some smaller branches of their government in South Dakota as well.
A The State of Montana website also says major employers include the St. Labre Indian School, the federal government, tribal government, power companies and construction companies.
The tribe calls themselves “Tsis tsis’tas” which translates to “the beautiful people”, they are also known as “the Morning Star People”, which is represented by the symbol on their flag.
As for the larger impact of this trip Mitchell says, “It’s a chance for students to understand you can’t fix the problem, you’re not there to fix their lifestyle or the fact that it’s an impoverished community, you’re there to show people you care.”
Mitchell also says many students apply again for the opportunity to go on the service trip. She says there have been students that have gone back on their own during the summer and shared their time to volunteer.
The residents of the reservation also invited students to come back and share their time and talents.
“It’s emotional and empowering, you’re in an impoverished area that you don’t normally see; it connects students to what other lifestyles could be like.”
Mitchell shared that one of the essay’s is usually asking, “Why you would want to go on the trip?”. The cost of the trip is $285, plus any money student’s might want for spending money, and food along the ride to and from, transportation is covered by the University.
Mitchell encourages any and all students to apply if they want to get involved. “You get a lot more out of it than going and sitting by a beach in Mexico,” she joked.