Listen and Learn, So That We Might Keep Moving Towards One Another


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A chapter of history is now closed as Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfeet Tribe in Browning, Montana passed away on Oct.13, leaving behind a legacy of cultural advocacy that we can each support in order to build bridges of community.

Katie Baker, Editor in Chief

Bridgewater, Va. – On Wednesday, Oct. 13, Chief Earl Old Person of the Amskapi’Piikani Blackfeet Tribe of Browning, Montana passed away at the age of 92. Old Person’s legacy as a champion of justice, promoter of service and preserver of the value of culture is one that we may all listen and learn from. 

Old Person became chief in 1978 and was the longest serving elected tribal official in the United States. However, Chief Old Person will be most remembered to the indigenous communities as a tireless advocate of the people and of their culture as they “commemorate his wisdom, knowledge and humility,” said Chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe.

Life is lived through relationships. Of the many thoughtful lessons I gleaned from my time with the Blackfeet Tribe this summer, life being lived through relationships is one that left a lasting impact and one that I often find myself considering. 

I cannot let go of this idea of working towards different cultures acting in relationship with one another, as opposed to acting in isolation and without any meaningful engagement.  Fundamentally, it stems from a desire to see groups of all kinds moving towards each other.

Practically, I believe that moving towards each other is accomplished through getting to know and talking with others who are different from ourselves. Learning about one another allows us to take direct steps toward each other, so that we may be a community that values, respects and appreciates each other in light of what makes us who we are. 

If at its very heart, the meaning of relationship is the establishment of a connection, there is an implication that boundaries are eased and bridges are crossed allowing two parties to move toward each other. 

But, here’s the thing that we have all come to realize at one point or another — relationships are messy and relationships are hard. However, I think most of us would also agree that relationships are certainly worth all the hassle; because when our relationships are harmonious, they fill life with richness and beauty. 

I think that maybe we can sometimes be fearful or apprehensive of cultures that are different from our own, causing us to remain divided and as a result — to act in ways that may be harmful to other groups. Thus, building relationships may in fact be quite messy, however, it is the only way to know each other and to support each other.

This action of moving towards each other is obviously literal, in regards to proximity, but also, metaphoric. As we build relationships with one another, we keep moving towards each other in the desire to be less isolated and more united. Perhaps, to put it simply, a desire for community. 

“Don’t be afraid of one another,” said Old Person in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 2020. “Help one another out. Uplift each other and if you can protect someone, do it.” 

It is my desire, that we would listen and learn from the wisdom of Chief Earl Old Person. That we would seek justice, act in love and pursue relationships that foster reconciliation. That we would bridge the gaps, so that we may be groups that are not afraid of each other and who are willing to raise each other up.  

Learning environments, like our own here at Bridgewater College, are a place where we can begin moving towards each other. The classroom presents the perfect opportunity to build relationships — to learn and to listen. 

At the age of 17, Obasi Davis was named the City of Oakland’s 2013 Youth Poet Laureate. His poem “Bored in 1st Period,” advocates for the building of relationships that allow groups to understand one another more fully in the classroom. The concluding stanzas of Davis’ poem are below.  

“My classmates and I are different

In the words of Dr. King 

our elbows are 

together yet our hearts

are apart

I’m not asking for some all

holy savior to come and 

coddle us into equality

I’m asking for you to 

understand our struggles and

our hardships

To understand that if we have to 

learn with each other we should also

learn about each other so we can

bring each other up”

It is my desire that Bridgewater College would be a place where we would listen and learn from those around us, so that we might keep moving towards one another.