Rebecca Drobis: The Grown Up West
by Liz Ream
In northwestern Montana, where the seemingly endless plains are abruptly met by the Rocky Mountains, sits Blackfeet country. Here, a small community of people live on the Blackfeet Reservation, which spreads over 3,000 miles up into southern Alberta and borders Glacier National Park. There are fewer than four people per square mile.
Over the past decade, DC-based Rebecca Drobis has been exploring the reservation through photography. Her ongoing self-funded project, titled The Grown Up West, focuses specifically on the youth of the Blackfeet Reservation.
When Rebecca first started the project, she simply wanted to explore the beautiful mountains of Glacier National Park. Once she arrived on the reservation, the children kept her going back. Not only is she devoted to documenting their lives, she also teaches photography to kids on the reservation.
In a place where basic infrastructure is lacking, unemployment is high and there is a large dependency on welfare assistance, the bond between people and families is all that exists. On the project website, Rebecca writes that the “purity of imaginative play” in an environment free from the everyday distractions of the modern first world is what makes these children so interesting:
In the absence of material excess, the children’s imaginations flourish. Without tightly packed schedules of extracurricular activities or the latest video games, children are drawn outdoors to explore and adventure.
The natural world has a deep and meaningful presence in a child’s life on the reservation … their windows look onto the same panorama, they walk the same trails, pick berries off the same plants and likely will be buried in the same soil as their great-great grandparents. My goal in this body of work is to honor the enduring strength, resilience and wisdom of these youth. The project speaks to a universal childhood. To be young is to be free: to act from the essential self, before their bodies and thoughts become stifled by doubt, societal norms and judging peers. Children do not dwell on what is not: they are unburdened by the past or the future. They simply exalt in the present.
The Grown Up West has been featured on Yahoo Global News, High Country News and the UK’s Daily Mail. Rebecca will continue to document the reservation whenever she can. For more of Rebecca’s work, visit rebeccadrobis.com.