Stepping Up Through Volunteering

Western Native Voice works year-round to inspire Native leadership so our communities flourish. We are excited to share with you Western Native Voice’s Community Spotlight, designed to highlight grassroots organizing and individuals creating change from across Montana and in Indian Country.

This month we would like to introduce Renee LaPlant, Blackfeet tribal member, volunteer, and regional organizer for Western Native Voice. She is a descendant of Sadie Crow Chief, Eli Guardipee, Bad Old Man, and Mountain Chief. Renee graduated from Browning high school and has an AA in Criminal Justice. Renee has 5 children and also loves spending time helping to raise her many nieces and nephews.

All my life, I always had to work and step up when asked. Now, I see the need and it’s something I just feel like I need to do. So many people just need some extra help and doing this work can take a huge load off of their backs. Now, I bring my kids and they are learning to step up as well.

Tell us about your current job.

I have been a community organizer for Western Native Voice (WNV) on and off for about 6 years during the election seasons. My mom always made sure we got involved in voting. I have been voting since I was 18 years old. My nephew used to do this work years ago, and he was very good at it. I was afraid to do this work but saw how he was so successful at it and he inspired me. If I hadn’t seen his confidence, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. This job has helped me gain confidence and I have learned so much with this organization doing this type of work. It can be very intimidating at times working on the ground without a lot of supervision.

What motivates you to do volunteer work?

I remember looking out my window one day and it was so cold out. I saw a 10-year-old child walking down the street with only a blanket on and others had seen it as well. I realized no one was going to step up and help. So many people say they are going to help or want to, but when it comes time to help, they don’t show up. I had a calling to step up.

Did you have someone teach you about volunteer work?

I saw my mom always help others when we were kids. She took us to ceremonies. All my life, I always had to work and step up when asked. Now, I see the need and it’s something I just feel like I need to do. So many people just need some extra help and doing this work can take a huge load off of their backs. Now, I bring my kids and they are learning to step up as well.

What other types of volunteer work have you done or are doing?

We had a big winter storm 4 years ago when everyone was stuck at home. I started volunteering at churches, handing out Christmas presents, firewood, and food. I also became involved with the church pilgrimage to help people come back to God through a 12 step program.

What is your current project?

Dr. Cora Neumman, founder of We Are Montana (WAM), started gathering donations from her home. She really set this whole thing off and it took on a whole life of its own. We had planeloads of donations coming in during the cold weather. Angel Flight West donated their time and fuel to help our community as well. I know it’s impacting our community and it’s giving people (our volunteers) something to do with their time…they feel like they have a purpose. To see them smiling and happy to do the work is enough to make sure I keep pushing to finish this massive effort. The project has grown so much in the past couple of months that we need more volunteers to fold, sort, and distribute the donations.

A holiday and winter supply load was delivered safely to Blackfeet Nation via Angel Flight West. Coats, winter clothes, PPE, toys, art supplies, cleaning supplies, and more to help keep families safe and warm during the winter months, and to support those facing loss and hardships due to COVID. (Pictured with Renee is Dr. Cora Neumann, founder of We Are Montana)

Who were some of your mentors as a young child?

My mother. She did her best to provide for us. She always worked and put so much effort into making sure we had what we needed even though she struggled at times. I always felt valued and protected. She also furthered her education while raising us and now has a Masters’s in Social Work.

Who is your mentor now? What have you learned?

My friend and mentor is Mona. I was recovering from a serious addiction when she came into my life. She made sure I had a goal to meet and something to finish. First, she taught me to sew, then she taught me to be patient with myself and to relax while sewing. This easily transferred over to other parts of my life. Because of this relationship, I’ve also learned to pray and try to see things in a different light. She came into my life during a very difficult time for me and having this trusted person in my life who would give me advice and help me with a simple smile and conversation was priceless. It’s not always easy to find a mentor. But it’s a really good thing. You have to seek one out in places that you don’t expect. Find someone who you can trust. It took me a while to find one I could trust.

Did you ever run for any local/state offices?

People always tell me to but I haven’t. I might run for Blackfeet Community College board or housing board someday.

What’s holding you back?

I am planning on going to college and keep having to put it off because of time. I have four kids under the age of 18 in my house and then there is COVID-19 and working 10 to 5. I would like to go to MSU Northern to get a Bachelors in Criminal Justice this Fall.

What would you tell someone who wanted to get involved? How do they get started?

There are always church events, come and volunteer with us. It feels intimidating but we learn to carry that with us sometimes. We are okay to do these things, we have fear and just need to take that first step which is the hardest. Set a goal and take that first step. That is the thing you have to do. I was so afraid to go on the pilgrimage when I first went. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to go, now I don’t care, I just walk right in. It builds confidence, just do it.

What is the most rewarding cause/project you have been a part of? What did it teach you?

The pilgrimage. It taught me to be responsible for my actions, to take responsibility for what I do, and to ask God for forgiveness, and to move on and do better in the future. It taught me to treat people better. I am not as judgemental as I was before. The pilgrimage is a journey back to God through the Catholic church. It’s unique to Browning and is a way to recover from addiction. I knew that when I did the pilgrimage 4 years ago…I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Where change do you hope to see in 5 years for your community?

I want our focus to be to protect the innocent ones and to give support and have services for people who are seeking recovery from addiction. I want to see our children grow up in a positive environment. We need to focus on the kids and make sure they grow up with positive role models. I want to be one of those role models.