GREAT FALLS, Mont. - A Blackfeet woman has started a non-profit organization to gather and share information, resources, and history of the tribe with travelers across Montana and Canada. The project promotes interaction and contribution from the public. Souta Calling Last collects centuries worth of information through storytelling, factual data, and social trends to help tribal members and tourists better understand the area where they live or explore.
Calling Last was raised in Heart Butte and also has Blackfeet relatives in Canada. She knows how hard it is to find exact details of her tribe's cultural history, since many stories are passed down verbally. She decided to create Indigenous Vision, a website and soon-to-be travel app that provides an easy digital platform for everyone to track social and environmental trends surrounding land and water. Calling Last worked as a water and resource professional for years. She’s also member of national tribal programs and wanted to combine all of her skills to help people better understand Blackfeet culture.
Indigenous Vision started in 2013 and has grown into a single-source online database with maps that highlight over 500 recreation areas, works of art, traditions, languages, cultural and environment information from centuries ago. Dots on the maps indicate a specific location, and offer historic context about the area. The site also offers many different tabs with links to different sources; including an online business directory, articles to include the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People movement, social injustice, and police fatalities.
"All of these are talked about but this map lets us visualize them. Soon Montana will be able to see where missing/murdered indigenous people are going missing or being found murdered, compared to police fatalities, compared to self reported acts of discrimination and violence or racism. We've never seen these three aspects visually depicted to us. So we don't know visually where these are clustering in our community. So we'll actually be able to identify which community have the worst violence for indigenous people," Calling Last said.
Maps easily let people see areas where hate crimes against Native Americans happen, an important issue that’s gained national attention over recent years. Indigenous Vision also includes suicide and mental health numbers to help people visualize what's happening on reservations across Montana and Canada.
Calling Last carefully collects all of the data through a 'Citizen Science Project,' where people share personal family stories passed down from decades to preserve cultural language and memories, confirm past events, and provide insight into the changes in Blackfeet Nation's daily life over the years. She has heard stories her whole life and knows the importance of preserving indigenous history.
"Say I get a tribal report that's not Blackfoot I do have partners across the country in tribal historic preservation offices and culture offices, language offices. I've worked in many tribal national programs so I have great contacts and networks. So I will write up a short profile, submit it, and then I contact the culture center and the culture keepers of that tribe and I confirm it and then they either approve it or trash it. It's really great to say that it's not just coming from me. It's not about indigenous people, it's from us," Calling Last said.
She tracks, logs, and verifies stories and facts by sending every detail to an official tribal office for federal verification. Items are either approved and can immediately be added to the website within minutes or months depending on the content. People can add letters, documents, pictures, video, visual, and audio elements here.
Souta said combining social history and environmental impacts helps educate everyone; tribal members and tourists. Technology has been costly setting up the site. Over the past four years, Calling Last has spent over $25,000 in grant and donation money to put her plans into motion and give people more access. The non-profit plans to launch an app for all Smartphone devices by the end of the year.
Calling Last also hopes to install kiosks one day at many featured areas to provide sight-on-scene information. Some places include the Capitol building, Giant Springs State Park, and Flathead Lake. Each kiosk can cost close to $10,000. Right now Calling Last is fundraising to set up the first at Glacier National Park by next summer. The non-profit relies on donations.
If growth continues, Indigenous Vision could travel to classrooms and eventually serve as a primary encyclopedia that encompasses native history preservation. The non-profit also hosts youth empowerment sessions. You can find more details on their Facebook page.