Bridging the cultural gap

Pryor Schools foster relationship with Livingston schools to build a foundation of cultural understanding
Thursday, October 3, 2019
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Photo courtesy of Pryor Public Schools

Spooky Goes Ahead announces the adoption of Livingston teacher Robin Lovec on Friday during the Native American Day powwow at Plenty Coups High School. PCHS Crow Studies teacher Valerie Falls Down adopted Lovec 10 years after they met as part of a cultural exchange program through Montana Indian Education for All.


Two educators from seemingly different worlds completed a journey into sisterhood that began with a hand-written letter.

Just as Montana schools’ state-wide Native American week came to a close Friday Plenty Coups High School Crow Studies teacher Valerie Falls Down adopted Livingston School District teacher, Robin Lovec, in the Crow tradition.

Lovec was welcomed as a sister by Falls Down and presented with various gifts, including a brightly colored Pendleton coat to commemorate her adoption into the tribe.

The adoption was part of the town of Pryor’s Native American Week, a statewide celebration that honors the Native heritage and history of Montana, which is home to seven reservations and 12 federally recognized tribes and one state-recognized tribe.

St. Charles Mission School in Pryor hosted an all-school celebration the event, which included a powwow and a feast, that included students from Pryor Public Schools and students from the Morin School, located outside of Pryor, Elysion School from Billings, Livingston Schools and Fromberg Schools.

Lovec said the adoption could lead to further understanding between Native educators and non-Native educators.

“It is wonderful to be able to pave the way and inspire other people to emulate that,” Lovec said.

The friendship turned into sisterhood the last 10 years, in what initially started as part of the Indian Education for All pen pal program. The program set up letter writing and cultural exchange activities between predominantly non-Native schools across the state and Native schools on Montana’s seven reservations.

“Some of our former students still keep their old pen pal letters,” Falls Down said. “We first met at Fort Parker, when Plenty Coups (High School) came to the site of the old Crow Agency.”

The site of the original agency on the Crow Reservation was at Fort Parker, outside of Livingston.

“That cultural exchange has been really helpful for the students to open their eyes to be culturally responsive, not only for our shared history together but also for our future as well,” Lovec said. “A lot of those friendships were life-changing for our students who kept those relationships that were formed all those years ago.”

Falls Down and Lovec kept up their correspondence over the past decade the foundation of their friendship was rooted throughout the years.

Falls Down said the two educators soon began contacting each other outside of letters.

“I would text her if I was in the area on my way to Pablo to see family or heading to Yellowstone and she always would make it a point to offer hospitality to me,” she said. “I feel truly very blessed to have met her.”

Adoption in the Crow culture is reserved for people who have made strong connections with tribal members.

“It was such an honor to be welcomed into the Crow Nation,” Lovec said.

Lovec is now a part of the Ties The Bundle clan, one of several clans in the Crow family structure.

“We’ve become sisters to make this journey happen,” said Falls Down, who held Lovec’s hand and smiled.

“This is great to have that partnership and collaboration with Livingston schools,” Plenty Coups High School Principal Bianka Rock Above said. “There’s so much pride and history there and because of this strong bond that has been formed, we are now hoping to expand, not just with other grades, but with other schools.”

Rock Above said during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. also she found out legislative officials have heard of the work that is being done between Pryor and Livingston schools.

“Hopefully what we have started here will foster lifelong friendships between both schools,” Rock Above said.

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