BOZEMAN — We’ve shared with you the stories of some of six Montana State University students, all recognized by MSU’s Department of Native American Studies for making a big difference in leadership and action in their communities.
Yet another of that group of students -- a young woman from Browning -- is actively working for more sustainable ways for her tribe to get food. When it comes to making a difference, you can do that in many different ways.
To some gardeners, making a difference is simply growing produce; tender, gentle care of a plant over a long period of time to produce a good and make that feed the community.
That’s what Danielle Antelope is doing, in part, and she’s all doing it for an area that she says needs it the most, "the goal is to leave the community better than what it was when I came into it."
Most of the photos shared to MTN’s Cody Boyer by MSU senior Danielle Antelope involve wheelbarrows filled with soil and truckloads of plants.
“It has really been rooted from what my family has kept,” Antelope said. “Some families kept language. Some families kept ceremony. My family kept plants. My family kept that plant knowledge and that connection to our land for our food and our medicine and I grew up going on plant trips."
"It took a lot for me to acknowledge that what my family kept was so significant in that other families don’t have that information and there’s a lot of people that wish that they did get that information passed down to them," Antelope continued.
Her story goes far beyond her green thumb. Even before she started majoring in sustainable food systems, Danielle’s ambition started -- and remains -- in the Blackfeet Nation with her son, Jase, by her side.
“I wanted to answer these questions that I didn’t have answers for so that my son doesn’t have to ask the same questions that I am asking,” Antelope said. “One of the most important things to me is that my son gets to see all of it. He gets to be my front-row witness. He gets to go to the campus with me. He gets to go to classes with me.”
Danielle is the co-chair of FAST Blackfeet, a team of leaders that also helps run Ō´yō´•ṗ´ , the only need-based food pantry in Browning.
“Ō´yō´•ṗ´ means we are eating together,” Antelope explained. “Everybody else that doesn’t meet the income-base for the food distribution on Indian Reservations program, if they miss it by a quarter, if they miss it by a dollar, they are able to get referred over to our food pantry which is purely based on need.”
And she fit right in, "it was just all of these people who were interested in the same thing; nutrition education gap and food security gap and wanting to solve it,” Antelope says.
In one year, that program became three, helping her people work towards a better food system and receive food education despite COVID-19.
“We wanted to know why people don’t garden. What barriers do you have to gardening? If you did garden, what would you garden?” Antelope said. “The things that they experienced as barriers was, number one, lack of knowledge; number two was environmental conditions of the wind; number three, affordability.”
Including Danielle’s own program: the Growing Health Tea Project.
“During COVID, you see all of these native peoples sharing what their special blend of tea they're using, and it’s starting to bring back traditional food ways,” Antelope says. “People started to think about how nutritious and how sustainable our traditional foods are but if our food pantry participants can’t afford to buy that $10 box of tea, then they are probably not drinking that tea.”
After several surveys including 67 gardeners, 11 families were chosen to plant and grow tea at their own homes with Danielle among the gardeners, gloves on.
“We fundraised $19,000,” Antelope said. “I call it one big experiment and I make sure that my participants know that It was crazy because the people that didn’t get picked were like please, please, I really want to do this so that lets us know. I have a list already for next year for these people that want raised beds and that are interested in growing.”
There, Danielle earned the title of the Harriette Cushman Outstanding MSU Student - on top of being a Newman Civic Fellow and recipient of the MSU Award of Excellence, recognition that Danielle says isn’t all hers.
“I get little signs here and there from my grandmas that have passed on that this is the work that they want me to be doing,” Antelope said. “Having that motivation and being able to celebrate with my family makes it the most special.”
Danielle hopes the honors go even further, from her family roots to the roots her community is now planting, "we’re doing it for our community,” Antelope says. “I think that is something to honor through our lives.”
You can take a look at FAST Blackfeet’s many projects and learn how to support their cause by taking a look at the program’s website.