Tuning in to community
Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:40pm admin
Raising Places design team utilizes community input in final idea lab
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
A design team working for social, economic and cultural improvement within the Town of Lodge Grass ended their final community idea lab Sunday afternoon with a musical error that unintentionally highlighted their main goal.
Having decided to close the two-hour meeting at Lodge Grass City Hall on a “radical note,” team member Dr. Shane Doyle picked up a hand drum and – with fellow member David Graber – attempted to play the “AIM Song.” This tune was popularized in 1970s South Dakota during the Wounded Knee protests by the American Indian Movement advocacy group.
What Shane and Graber ended up performing had the right beat, they realized, but the consonants and vowels were incorrect.
“Wait a second, why are we off?” Shane asked Graber as the crowd of about 60 people laughed. It began to dawn on him that they accidentally had performed the Crow Tribe’s “Flag Song.” Once he realized the mistake, Shane turned to audience member Sam Pease for help. “Do you know the ‘AIM Song?’”
With some quick coaching by Pease, Shane and Graber managed to play the correct tune and – after the final, decisive drum strikes – the audience clapped.
The design team had encountered a problem and a member of the community had found a solution. For that period, Pease had breached the gap from audience member to leader.
Most of the design team members are from Lodge Grass or have a connection to the Crow Reservation town, but there are only 12 of them. The Town of Lodge Grass has more than 35 times that number with about 440 people, each with his or her own knowledge and experiences from which to draw.
“[We] think of all of you guys as part of our design team,” announced team convener and Shane’s wife Dr. Megkian Doyle, who taught English and journalism at Lodge Grass High School from 1999 to 2002. “What we really want is for all of us to join as a family and as a community in doing things that everyone wants to see happen.”
The design team, for the past five months, has been hosting community workshops through a $60,000 grant from Raising Places. The Chicago-based organization, funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was created with the stated purpose of “[catalyzing] local momentum in building healthier communities where all children and their families can thrive.”
About 20 hand-made posters from design team members lined City Hall’s meeting room depicting their particular ideas, along with plans to achieve them. Audience members listened, gave suggestions and – in one presentation hosted by team member Casaja Fritzler – used bright-colored stickers to vote on how to establish a new community hub. Their former hub was called the Cozy Corner before it closed nearly two decades ago. If a new building does open, the stickers indicate, majority opinion states that it should be located on the “old Cozy Corner lot.”
Graber, who is studying adverse childhood experiences at Bighorn Valley Health Center, discussed his concept of a life immersion learning system that “integrates Crow and real-life experiences for practical learning.” Meanwhile, Shane – an educational consultant and Crow tribal member – wants Lodge Grass to have an artist’s cooperative that provides “a space and a place…to create traditional artwork to sell both in a storefront and online.”
As she looked at Shane’s poster, Bernadine Gardner – a student services administrative assistant at Little Big Horn College – became visibly excited at the possibility of hosting art classes in a cooperative. She previously had held summer classes at her house in Lodge Grass and taught kids ages 10-16. They started with beaded earrings and moved on from there.
As someone who grew up “in want” for dresses, regalia and other items, Gardner said, she taught herself how to craft the items she had desired. Classes like hers, she continued, help occupy people’s time and “teach them self-respect.”
“If I was that child that asked ‘Where was my stuff?’ and left in want,” she said, “I’m sure there are youth out there left in want and I’d like to fill that void.”
Lodge Grass often is cited by area residents as a place beset by poverty, drugs, violence and lack of opportunity – however, many also see something special in the area’s community spirit.
When Lodge Grass held their Christmas Eve parade, Graber wrote in early January, they continued on through freezing weather. When they face Hardin in a basketball game, residents turn out in numbers that stretch local fire code regulations to their limit.
From an outside perspective, Sara Aye – co-founder and executive director of Greater Good Studio – had her doubts when she arrived from Chicago to provide support to the Lodge Grass design team. In the coming months, however, she found herself “in awe of their ability and bravery.”
Aye’s hometown metropolis of 2.7 million is special to her, she said, but Lodge Grass residents’ commitment to their town is something new.
“These guys have shown me more about what it means to love a place than I’ve ever felt in my whole life,” she said. “I love Chicago. I went Chicago, and by choice I chose to live there 20 years ago and I’m still there. But I don’t love Chicago as much as these guys love Lodge Grass.”
At present, Megkian said, the design team has implemented the Lodge Grass Renewal Project to clean the town and make it a “safe place for kids.” They also have launched a “pay-it-forward” campaign to help community members with renovations to their residences, called Together We’re Raising Lodge Grass.