A ‘life-line’ for kids and community

Northern Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club princess affectionately known as ‘Grasshopper’ at a parade in Colestrip. The driver is Emma Harris, better known as Granny Harris. (Photo by Diane Spotted Elk)

LAME DEER, Mont. – One of the best things on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation for youth is the Boys & Girls Club of America of the Northern Cheyenne Nation.

The “Club” as it is locally called provides feeding programs, an afterschool “safe” place and a wide variety of other programs and activities, even now running a community Food Bank. As Curtis Yarlott, Executive Director of St. Labre Academy noted, “Over the years the ‘Club’ has helped hundreds, even thousands of Northern Cheyenne children. It has been our privilege to be one of their partners in this effort and we promise ongoing support.”

On June 18, they celebrated their 30th Anniversary, making it the oldest tribal Boys & Girls Club of America located on an Indian Reservation.

The celebration was attended by many community members, staff, tribal leaders, representatives from the National Boys & Girls Club organization; and many donors/funders. The event was concluded with a community meal donated by the St. Labre Mission, Ashland which has long collaborated with the Club. Some planned gourd dancing and other festivities were rescheduled out of respect for families who have recently lost loved ones.

The agenda included many speakers, starting with a prayer from the Sacred Hat Keeper; opening remarks by Geri Small, Chief Professional Officer who has been in that capacity for seventeen years, following her service as Tribal Council member and Tribal President. “It’s been a struggle,” she remarked, “especially the constant need for fundraising, but, somehow due to our many volunteers, donors, community and tribal support, we have kept going and fully intend to keep on.”

Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher, the former Tribal President who spearheaded the initial establishment of the “Club” was on hand to share that history. Upon his election in 1992, he set out to create a youth center that would serve as a safe haven outside of school hours, along with implementing a crucial feeding program. Tragically, he was partially inspired to do this after he lost a son at an early age.

Fisher convinced the Tribal Council to provide a start-up grant, assisted in securing a facility (a former church building that St. Labre had donated to the Tribe) and assigned the project to a Tribal Council committee responsible for Health, Education and Youth matters.

In 1992, the first Youth Club was started. Rick Robinson, one of those Council members decided to abandon tribal council politics, becoming the first Executive Director, serving in that capacity for thirteen years. Under his direction, the “Club” was officially chartered by the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of America in 1994, secured outside funding and established many youth programs. At that time two other Clubs located on Reservations had been chartered earlier, but due to funding difficulties are no longer in operation.

Emma Harris, tribal member, and current Fiscal Officer has been with the “Club” since the very first day as has her son Delano Harris. She shared her reflections about those early days. “There was little or no money at first for salaries, food, supplies and so forth, so we relied on volunteers. Somehow, we are still here, but it is an ongoing challenge to always be fundraising. We are blessed to have wonderful support from the community and a very dedicated staff, many of whom have spent their professional careers working on this effort.”

Harris also mentioned that she, like Fisher, lost a child at an early age which motivated her to get involved with the “Club” for many years, an unpaid volunteer. “I have found that working with children can be healing,” she said.

She also spoke about the COVID epidemic. At that time, the organization had to stop direct services but took on another critical role for the community which included delivering meals, becoming a distribution center for food, water and other donations sent to assist the Northern Cheyenne people during that dreadful time.

The “Club” literally then became a “life-line” for many.

A National/Tribal Leaders panel was also held. Moderated by Lane Spotted the panelists included three speakers from the National Boys & Girls Clubs of America: Lorraine Orr, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer who had high praise for the Northern Cheyenne Club; Carla Knapp, National Vice-President of Native Services who remarked on Geri Small’s excellent leadership and the dedication of the staff; Wambli Dolezal, Native Services Director of Organizational Development. Serena Wetherelt, Tribal President and Melissa Lonebear, Council member also spoke, acknowledging the staff at the “Club” and how important the organization is to the community.

Other panel discussions were made by some long-time funders and an Alumni Panel. The concluding activity was acknowledgement of staff, the long-term Board who serve without compensation and Honorees. Star quilts were provided in Memorial of the following tribal members who were in the past strongly supportive: Louis Killsnight; Ruby Sooktis; Vance Littlebird; Clayton Small; Rick Robinson; Hilda Moss; Mary Shoulderblade and Gordon Eldredge.

Native Sun News Today congratulates the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation for this remarkable accomplishment and sends wishes that you will hold many more such celebrations.

(Contact Clara Caufield at 2ndcheyennevoice@gmail.com)

Editors note: NSNT has learned that the two other people then on Council and part of the Health, Education and Youth committee were instrumental in starting the “Club” – Johnny Joe Woodenlegs and our very own Clara Caufield.


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