Our group drives through the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Many people here do not have jobs and are lacking money, yet they still choose to live on the reservation. This land is important to them. It is where their ancestors lived and it is a place that they are well-acquainted with. Modern Native American cultures (such as the Crow and Northern Cheyenne) clearly have a strong sense of place because despite much-needed job opportunities off of the reservations, many of them choose to stay with their friends and families. These strong communal bonds are comparatively lacking in most places across the U.S., as it is fairly common for people to commute either to another town or even another state just to go to work. As a result, many of those people don’t have a very strong connection with the land they live on.
150+ years ago, though, both the Crow as well as the Cheyenne relied on resources that came directly from the land they lived on. This served two purposes: it acquainted them with the areas they were surrounded by and it also forced them to work together as a community. For the majority of modern society, this is not the case. Many of our goods are imported from overseas, and even the resources that aren’t (such as corn and wheat) are not harvested locally. Many commodities are over-exploited because they’re made by a machine rather than by hand; they seem expendable and infinite. As a society, we need to reconnect with the landscape and come to realize the power we have to either improve it or destroy it.
Throughout history, people have always struggled to find their sense of place. This can never be achieved instantaneously, because it takes at least several years to truly know a landscape and feel like part of a community. Take our WRFI group, for example. When our great adventure through Montana began, none of us knew each other or even a fraction of the places we were headed off to. After having spent the past eight weeks together, though, the sense of place that we weren’t able to fully glean from the landscape we have found in each other.