By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
The grade school is filled with Native and non-Native students alike. Wrapped around an acoustic guitar with an eagle feather dangling from it, Jack Wallace Gladstone (Blackfeet Indian Nation of Montana) begins with a tale before singing a song that tells a story. As Montana’s Troubadour, he is an interpreter for understanding where his people have been, where they are, and where they are going. These songs provide context and history, and they instill a pride in Native students while developing a sense of appreciation for all. Because at the human core, everyone is indigenous. The human race.
In Jack’s song “The Builder,” he reminds students that the dance of life is the actions they take and the relationships they cultivate. It is for his long-standing dedication to the students that science teacher Patti Rae Bartlett nominated Jack for the First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Award. She has witnessed him work in half the school districts in Montana. A rich source of knowledge, he has gone beyond expectations in the 20-plus years Patti has known him, his music, and his storytelling. She sees the impact he's had on students that hold him in high regard.
Through stories and songs, he's taught students that they must commit to something greater than themselves. The only way to realize this is to be drug and alcohol free. Jack learned this lesson from someone early in his life.
His father, a World War II Navy veteran, was a heavy drinker. He wasn’t there for Jack. But his dad overcame his addiction, and many years later, he joined Jack on road tours. For ten years, he paid back — with interest — those lost years in Jack’s young life. Jack learned to appreciate his father from the standpoint of a brother. A dad. A friend. And a road manager. They did a lot of miles together.
It is through music, this language of the heart, that bridges are built, cultures are linked, lives are healed. In the schools, Jack teaches students through poetic lyrics that there is strength in unity. A single arrow snaps easily, but when bundled with the others, it can’t easily be broken.
Because of these students, Jack’s songs, his story, has a shot at immortality. Good art can live within the imagination of another generation. Oratory moves culture, moves through time and history and impacts the ideals and tells the story.
Jack’s story is now their story.
Jack Wallace Gladstone is a 2016 Community Spirit Award Honoree. Join us in celebrating Jack and the other honorees on October 8, 2016.