Learning from the Assiniboine

Updated: May 27

By Dallas -

I learned the value of community from the Assiniboine Native People. The Assiniboine have had

a long history of overcome obstacles. From overcoming the Great plains of America, to surviving European diseases that nearly caused their extinction, to now living on a reservation (Fort Peck Indian reservation) in Northeast Montana. These people have endured because of their community. I was

introduced to these people as a young Mormon missionary. I thought that I would thrive and bring salvation to the Assiniboine Native People. But this was a foolish thought. A thought that had been shared by many misguided white men of the past. I did not come to bring salvation, I came to be saved. And my salvation came in the form of learning about the importance of community.


Now I will not sugar coat some of the horrible situations that I saw on the reservation. The

number one killer, in this area, is suicide. Meth and alcoholism are rampant. But no matter how hard life was for the Assiniboine, they never gave up on their families and community’s tradition and future. I never met a group of people that cared so much about their identity and for their people’s legacy. I never felt that way in my own community. Maybe my community, here in Utah, was cursed with affluence. That my community never had a real reason to band together to overcome something. But being around the Assiniboine, and feeling accepted by them, gave me the craving for community that I never knew that I had.


The craving only intensified when I was about to leave the area. One of the elder Assiniboine

woman, when told that I was about to leave, alerted me that she wanted to have a final meal with me. After the large meal, she and her husband led me to their living room. They proceeded to drape a native blanket on my shoulders and hung a necklace, that she made that day, around my neck. They then handed me an eagle feather. I was taken back and confused on what was happening. The elder woman informed me that I was receiving a new native name. The name that I was given was Heyka Kiza that translates to Fighting Elk. I received that name because I fought for their native people, and as she put it “elks sure

know how to fight.” This was the grand acceptance into a community that I had no right to be apart of. They had every reason to not accept me. From the sins of past Europeans to my youth and inexperience. But they did.


Coming back to Utah was, and still is, hard. I do not miss the cold winds of a Montana winter, nor do I long for the deep and heavy snow fall. However, the craving to be apart of a community still lingers within me. I hope to continue to search for such a community to finally curb my cravings.

Funded by O.C. Tanner and the Tanner Trust for Utah Universities through the generosity of the late Professor Obert C. and Mrs. Grace A. Tanner, the Center provides a focal point and physical setting for the annual Grace Adams Tanner Lecture in Human Values. 

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