For her work on harm reduction in Blackfeet Country, Christie Farmer earned the Montana Student Volunteer Award from Governor Steve Bullock. 

 “My biggest message is that we do recover, so I hope to give others the courage to change and to let them know there is hope,” said Christie Farmer, one of this year’s winners of the Montana Student Volunteer Award. Having just learned of her winning the statewide honor, she said, “I’m having tears of happiness because the hard work is paying off and I’m really grateful for everything that’s been happening to me.”

Readers of the Glacier Reporter may recall a story in the Oct. 28 edition that featured one of Farmer’s collaborative projects with artist Jesse DesRosier that put a mural on the outer walls of the Glenn Heavy Runner Pool in Browning. That project was the first of many planned aimed at encouraging community wellness and preventing drug abuse.

Now a second-year student at Blackfeet Community College (BCC), Farmer will graduate this spring with an Associate’s degree in addiction studies. After graduation, she plans to work with BCC’s 2+2 program for a four-year undergraduate degree in social work. She’s made the President’s List two of her three semesters, but her educational story is more complex.

Christie dropped out of high school when she became pregnant with her first child; however, she worked hard to earn her GED and had her diploma around the same time she would have graduated. Then her life took a turn for the worse.

“I’ve worked all my life, but I got in trouble,” she said. ”I started using drugs and I lost my freedom – I lost my whole life really.” The life experience landed her into an extensive treatment program that changed things for the better.

“When I came back I wanted to help people like me,” she said. “I couldn’t relate to people at first except people with a similar experience. I was scared walking through those doors at BCC, but now I’ve come a long way from where I was.”

Her studies at BCC helped her understand not only her own situation, but also how she was aided in treatment. “It kind of opened my eyes to what was going on,” she said. “I could see what was used on me and what was effective.”

Her renewed interest in her field of study led to an internship with the Northern Rockies Tribal Leadership Council, which in turn put her into creating projects aimed at drug prevention through BCC’s Public Health Workforce Expansion in Indian Country (PHWEIC) grant. “It’s a grant for reservation community colleges for public health projects and how we can come into the community and the changes we can make through the colleges and interns,” Farmer said.

The mural at the Heavy Runner Pool was the first such project, but the pandemic got in the way of moving forward after that.

“I’ve been participating in Tribal programs for ideas for community projects, and I’m working on a couple projects and getting another student for the PHWEIC grant,” she said. The goal of such projects is harm reduction, she said, and she sees things like needles, hepatitis-c and likely HIV as problems to be solved. 

“I’m trying to find a way to get something going for the community,” she said, and is networking with Tribal and state leaders in harm reduction to provide services not currently available at Blackfeet Com-munity Hospital.

As for her award from Governor Steve Bullock, she said, “I’m pretty excited, and it’s really shocking. I’m coming up on five years of sobriety. It’s been great. It was hard, but it was worth it.” 

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