We recently met up with our partners from Iron Shield Creative, Lailani Upham and Carrie Lynn Bear Chief by Two Medicine Lake to talk about their work, why they love Glacier, and how you can get involved.
Indigenous woman-Owned Business Keeps Stories Alive
Glacier National Park Conservancy (GNPC): What is Iron Shield Creative?
Lailani: Iron Shield Creative is an indigenous storytelling consultancy. Really it involves everything I have done in my career in the creative space. We do video production, writing workshops, teaching, etc.
A fun thing is doing some of the cultural workshop hikes. There are story guides from all over the Blackfeet Reservation, and it’s growing to other indigenous communities in Montana and hopefully up in Canada because our sister tribes are up there. We take people from all over out on our ancestral homelands here in Montana and speak about our history, our culture and language, and how it really has connected us through the beginning of time to this place.
We also want to teach people about the modern aspect of our lives—what is going on today. They’ll learn about some historical trauma that has been brought to us, but also our resilience. That’s the big story—the resilience of us still being here and still intact regardless of everything. Our value systems are still intact. So it’s really important for people here in Montana, and here in Glacier National Park to understand that history. It is really important that we bring that narrative to anybody that’s willing to hear it. And we find that there are quite a few people interested in learning this way, and we’re really touched in our hearts and feel blessed that a big part of the population wants to hear that story.
GNPC: What inspired you to start Iron Shield Creative?
Carrie Lynn: When you’re here in this Two Medicine area, you look at everything around us and it’s a place of power. The Blackfeet people set two medicine lodges up here because they understood it was a place of power. When Lailani and I first started getting out to hike we came here. This was the first place we came and we walked up to the overlook above Aster Falls. I wasn’t even planning on hiking! I had flip-flops and a Walmart bag, no backpack, and just a bottle of water.
When we got to the top it was such a spiritual experience for us because we sensed that this was a place of power. That the giver of life, the one that created all of this and the one that gives life to those trees, to this water, to this land was from here. When we made that connection up there we both started crying. It was just like tears began to come down our eyes and we could sense our spirit was experiencing something in that area.
And now talking about it, it still makes me cry, because it was really us realizing how connected we are to this land because of our ancestors that have been here for thousands of years, and the life they have lived here. And we’re still here, through all of the stuff we have gone through as a people. We’ve become a forgotten people, and to realize this land hasn’t forgotten us, Two Medicine hasn’t forgotten us, we say ‘i’táámiksistsikowa,’ it’s a happy day. The trees hear it, the rocks, the mountains hear that ancient language.
And so that was such a spiritual experience, it seemed like after we came off the mountain Iron Shield Creative was born. Because I think we really allowed that spiritual part of it to speak to what our future was going to be. Lailani and I having that vision for Iron Shield Creative, and I’m really just a part of it to help her along the way and be with her, has been an incredible journey.
Lailani: I think it goes back to when we were young, when we were kids. I always liked to adventure and tell stories. So in a sense it goes back much further than that, but that’s really when we had the realization of what this thing needed to be.
Two Medicine, where we met with Iron Shield Creative
GNPC: Where does the name come from?
Lailani: The name comes from our grandfather, old Joe Upham, whose Indian name was Iron Shield. He was a direct descendant of the survivors of the Baker’s Massacre of 1870. His father survived it. (Editor’s Note: The Baker’s Massacre was an attack led by Major Eugene Baker on the camp of Chief Heavy Runner on January 22, 1870. The raid killed about 200 Blackfeet people, and since the men were out hunting, the victims were mostly women, children, and the elderly.)
Our grandfather was the one who told us the history and kept some of the oral traditional stories going. So when this idea of this kind of business came about, it was almost like it was already given the name Iron Shield. The “creative” had to come later. You’ll see my grandfather on the website as well.
GNPC: How can people get involved?
Lailani: The best thing people can do is visit our website, ironshieldcreative.com, and find the schedule for our cultural workshop hikes and presentations. The hikes are a really fun thing were you get to go out in ancestral Blackfeet land with one of our indigenous story guides who will teach you about the history of the place and our connection to it. You can also keep up with us by watching the videos on the website and following on social media!
Your Support Makes A Difference
We are thankful for the support of our partners, who play a vital role in protecting and preserving Glacier National Park for future generations. We thank them, and hope you will, too!
Learn more about how your support is making a variety of critical projects possible in Glacier National Park.