When Blackfeet artist John Pepion spoke about his mural project at Heart Butte School last month, he said he wished other artists would be inspired to create similar works throughout Blackfeet Country. Possibly by coincidence, Blackfeet artist Jesse DesRosier recently finished a mural at the Glenn Heavy Runner Pool in Browning, the result of a Blackfeet Opioid Abuse Prevention Project begun through a collaborative grant from the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
Christie Farmer notes, “We are completing the second year of the program with the goal to inform reservation communities about the dangers and risks involved from the abuse of opiates.” She and Diana Burd are the interns working on the project, and the mural at the pool is the first project from this grant.
“We got this idea from Roy Parks of the Yellowstone Opioid Response team. We saw how a mural brought the community together and could showcase a local artist. Jesse DesRosier was selected as our featured artist to complete the task of designing and painting the mural.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic changed many plans Farmer and Burd had in mind to promote their anti-opioid messages.
“Originally, we had hoped to have community involvement and had many activities planned during the painting phase,” Farmer said. One of our goals was to inspire others to educate themselves about the dangers of opioids and to encourage those who are directly affected by opioids to seek help. The project also established the Blackfeet Opioid Prevention Project Facebook page. There you will find information and resources on opioid addiction. Due to COVID-19, we had to rethink our planned community involvement activities. In lieu of this, please watch our page for challenges and contests.”
For the artist, the project reflects his personal journey and life story.
“When I hear the word opioid, I trace the word back to the Blackfoot perspective, back to its natural form as a root or plant,” DesRosier said. “In this mural I wanted to have the background connect everything together as well as our community using florals and plants. When I think of roots and medicine gathering, I think of grandmothers, and when I picture a healthy community I think of the children. The grandmother is my great-great grandmother, Mary Ground, Matooyohkimyaakii, “Calling From The Grass Woman.” She lived to be over 107 years old. She is who I picture when I think of grandmother, and it’s fitting because it was her grandchild who this swimming pool was built after, Glenn Heavy Runner.”
Another portrait has immediate significance to the man in charge of the pool.
“The other big portrait of the woman is my late auntie Olivia Kay Hall/Davis who lived her life in the service of the children of this community; her husband [Vic Hall] has been keeping the pool going for many years,” DesRosier said. “The children in this mural include Buster Yellow Kidney who later became a prominent elder within our community and inspired many to carry on our traditional ways. The other children are ones I’ve witnessed who uphold Pikuni values, language speakers, powwow dancers, skate boarders, athletes, cowboys/cowgirls, students and overall great children who will someday become leaders of our community.”
DesRosier notes his work not only honors those ancestors, but also offers hope for people currently grieving a loss.
“This wall also includes a Loon and a White Eagle in the center,” he said. “These were the Blackfoot names of two of my relatives who’ve passed away in the time of COVID. Their deaths were alcohol related and one being suicide; putting them on the wall and part of this mural was very therapeutic for me. Our community as well as I and my family have been grieving over this time, and at times it can be very hard to carry on our days without sorrow. Artwork has always been helpful for me in order to clear my head as well as acknowledge the lives that have been lost.”