In the past year, there’ve been 5 attempted suicides, 6 or 7 babies, 7 or so addicted to drugs or alcohol, 1 was kicked out of the military, and most nights, 3 don’t know where they’re going to sleep. This is a team of 10 people. They’re the Fort Belknap College Eagles men’s basketball team. Now that they’re members of the team, substance abuse is down to zero (or as close as you can get), there haven’t been any new suicide attempts, and all 10 are enrolled and succeeding in college classes. They’ve gone from the classic story of dead-end lives on the northern Montana reservations to becoming leaders of the community that young and old hold up as models for the tribes’ way forward, but most of them will tell you they don’t think of themselves as role models.
The morning I met Vince Gone to see what his classes were like, he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. He’s 21, one of the youngest on the team, and it’s his first year in college. He’s pursuing a degree in business. Basketball is a big draw for him, it’s given him something to do. “On reservations, there’s nothing to do.” He sees other people his age on the reservation lost to alcohol or drugs, but “the way I was raised, you don’t talk about your problems.” The basketball team is one way to keep focused. “I need to lead my own path,” he says, “I don’t expect [the coach] to pamper me. He wants you to be a man. This is positive for the reservation. Young kids look up to me and ask me about [Indian] culture.”