Life in Glacier County

A drive through the peaks and valleys of climate change.

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Great Planes of Montana (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Glacier County is located in the American state of Montana, which borders Canada. When viewing Glacier National Park’s spectacular mountains, you can feel the spirit of the Native American culture that once flourished in the region. 

The ice formations that once inspired the county’s name are now slowly disappearing due to the effects of climate change. The ecological character of the county’s famous landscape is being altered. The local residents of Native American descent find themselves struggling to recognize their ancestral homeland. 

Signs in East Glacier Village (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In June 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - spent two weeks experiencing Glacier County's natural beauty.

Going-To-The-Sun road (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The legendary Going-to-the-Sun road appears during a rainy day drive in late spring. The road runs across Glacier National Park, which is part of the Rocky Mountains.

Going-To-The-Sun road at night (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The 80 km-long drive is one of the most beautiful scenic mountain roads in the world and an important part of America’s natural heritage. It is recognized as a National Historic Place, a National Historic Landmark, and a historic civil engineering landmark. 

Driving on Going-To-The-Sun road (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Heavens Peak (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The road provides numerous opportunities to view the Park’s most famous mountain peaks.  Heaven’s Peak is known for maintaining its heavy snowpack throughout the summer. 

Landscape in Glacier National Park (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

To the east, the majestic Going-to-the-Sun mountain towers over the valley below.  

Saint-Mary Lake (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Typically, a small amount of the ice pack on the peaks melts and flows downward, feeding into the Park’s numerous lakes.  Over the past few years, more ice than usual has been melting.

Going-To-The-Sun Mountain at sunset (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Global warming is causing Montana’s glaciers to shrink at a surprising rate. When Glacier National Park was established in 1910, it was home to 80 glaciers.  Only 25 remain today.  

Detail of Going-To-The-Sun Mountain (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The microclimate changes as the glaciers melt away.  Trees and plants usually found at lower altitudes take advantage of ice-free soil to grow higher up on the mountains.

Big Horn Sheep in Glacier National Park (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This young Bighorn Sheep now looks for grass at higher altitudes. 

Planes in Glacier County (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Weather changes can be experienced when surveying the vast flatlands east of the Park.  These “plains” were once claimed by the Native American Blackfeet tribe that lived and hunted on the land for thousands of years.

Chief Mountain, Blackfeet (1898) by Adolph F. MuhrThe J. Paul Getty Museum

The Blackfeet dominated the northern Great Plains area for most of their history.  They considered their homeland the "Backbone of the World" and the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area as the site of their creation. 

Aerial view of tipi hotel with lodge (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Blackfeet settled in encampments all over the Great Plains.  

Aerial view of tipi hotel (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Each Blackfeet family lived in their own teepee, a conical tent made of animal hides supported by wooden poles. An opening at the top was designed as an outlet for smoke from a central fireplace. 

Houses in Browning, Montana (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Today, many Blackfeet live in or close to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the small town of Browning. Even though they live a typical American lifestyle, they still hunt like their ancestors.

Portrait of Blackfeet man (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Craig is a proud Blackfeet and a Browning resident. He believes the hunt is central to preserving a connection with tribal heritage. But as wildlife adapts to the changing environment, he finds that his hunts are harder to predict.

An avid writer, Craig also works as a cultural advisor on movie productions to ensure Native American culture is accurately and respectfully portrayed for posterity.

Craig (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Rivers streams in Glacier National Park (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

Glacier County is rightly revered for its stunning natural beauty.  The Blackfeet tribe, which at one time lived throughout this region, are yet another part of its storied past.  But in many ways, the fate of the Blackfeet may be a preview of what the future holds for Glacier County.  If current environmental trends continue, the flow of mountain streams from the glaciers may become as rare a sight as smoke drifting away from the top of a Blackfeet teepee.



Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Hillary Falcon, Craig Falcon, Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village, and the whole Blackfeet community of Browning MT.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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