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There at Hell’s Gate

Loren Waters’ film Meet Me at the Creek ᏗᏂᏠᎯ ᎤᏪᏯ world premiered last month. Her film is a story of hope. We attended the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival awards ceremony just hours after arriving in Missoula, Montana. The room filled with filmmakers and their teams. So many films had made the cut to be shown that week.

This young talented native woman did not dwell on how our land and waters were damaged but that we have to start believing and loving this place as ours and wanting it better. It and us all deserve second chances.

Both her Mother, Lisa who works for Norman Public Schools as the testing coordinator, and her Sister, a younger Loren, had come. It was such a delight to see their family together but to see the sisters, mirrored as they walk and talk the happy talk sisters can have. (Or as I believe that to be, having myself only brothers.)

Loren’s partner Robert Hunter is Blackfeet and went to high school 12 years ago in the film festival city. Robert, Loren and I went to his former school to show the film to native kids, on “Fry Bread Friday,” just like it had been years before for him. The smell of cooked grease came in on the clothes of the youth as they entered the room. I loved it.

Robert learned the craft of filming and did some of the camera work in Loren’s film. He actually held a camera in my face while I stood in a most beautiful stream and longed for our own beautiful Tar Creek to be safe enough to enjoy again. And then there he was facing kids just like he had been at Hell’s Gate High School, not that long ago.

Hell’s Gate had been a real place not far from that school, where unsuspecting travelers could be surprised by the guardians, the Blackfeet Nation. The canyon had a narrow passage out, known as Hell’s Gate by those who lived after having gone through it. Missoula, itself was first called Hell’s Gate.

After showing the film we walked throughout the building during their lunch period. It was calm with large rooms and long halls. Art everywhere. It was nothing like the first day walking into the halls of Miami’s Will Rogers Junior High 15 years before any of us knew so many of you were experiencing lead poisoning and were affected by the heavy metal that made learning hard and your inability to sit still and pay attention unintentionally made learning hard for others in your classrooms. And the halls were chaos. I remember clearly thinking, “this must be how intercity schools are.”

Robert’s parents came to spend time with him and the Waters family in an Airbnb in an older home on a bus route in that city. His father had met his mother and transferred to attend law school there, to be with her. They had fond memories of the place and the mountains surrounding us.

It has been a treasure to be among these gentle and happy people supporting their children in their quest to help us lift up the story of hope for Tar Creek. I met families who have raised children who see the world differently and want to share those visions. I spent several days seeing these families in the process of becoming one.

There were many films, but the big winner, I believe because of that place, the shear landscape we were experiencing could have influenced the judges. Bring Them Home, how the Blackfeet over a decade made the decision to bring buffalo back to their lands and the joy and pride they brought the tribal members.

In The Wilma, a theatre the size of the Coleman Theatre, I was lucky to find seating with Robert’s and Loren’s families way up in the balcony, in a sold out crowd, all there to see how this happened. How did the buffalo come back to these lands? The tribal members gathered on the stage after the last image, the last word spoken, by the narrator, Lily Gladstone. They gathered and sang the Beaver Song, and then in the audience beneath the balcony, out of sight for us, below us. many Blackfeet spontaneously sang their prayer song.

We exited the theatre, almost silently. All moved by the images of the buffalo at full speed across the plains, back at last! Only on the way home we learned that Robert very humbly never bragged, had filmed them, had been beside them in that herd, been one with them.

Montana ended and Loren’s Meet Me at the Creek is entered in more film festivals but will be coming to Tar Creek soon. Filmmakers are doing important work. Encourage them all. We must tell our stories. We all have them. I would love to Meet you at the Creek to listen.

Respectfully submitted ~ Rebecca Jim



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