Creating a Legacy in Three Decades

Blackfeet wordsmith Jack Gladstone finds inspiration and connectedness in Glacier Park presentations

By Molly Priddy

LAKE MCDONALD – If it weren’t for this place, Jack Gladstone might have given up on music before he really got started.

He tells the story of how he became a wordsmith and one of the most recognizable native poets like he tells every story, his voice deep, his bear-like frame hardly containing the thoughts churning through his brain, and his eyes lighting up when he hits on the phrase he’s been working up to.

“I never thought there would be a market for what I love to do,” Gladstone said. “The story songs.”

It was 1985, and Gladstone was teaching at the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, and playing music in bars and pubs on the weekends. He had written maybe a dozen songs at that point, but his passion wasn’t in mainstream country or rock music; he wanted to tell the story of Montana and its inhabitants.

That year, he was one of the artists to start the Native America Speaks series at the Lake McDonald Lodge, where he was able to present the words and works closest to his heart.

“At the end of 1986, I told the college, ‘I’m unavailable,’” Gladstone said. “I recognized that there would be enough of a market (to sell my music).”

That was the beginning of Gladstone’s music career, which now includes a Grammy nomination, 15 albums, headlining programs at the Smithsonian Museum, a Human Rights Award for Outstanding Community Service from Montana State University, the CM Russell Heritage Award, and many other accolades.

His Native America Speaks show on Sept. 4 was the final one of his 30th season in Glacier National Park, and the presentations are still as popular as ever.

People come to Glacier Park to fall in love, he said, and the raw essence of the wilderness there can tap into a deep and connected feeling. It’s this feeling Gladstone hopes to cultivate during his shows, to present the land’s story and help the humans here realize how much in common we have with all of creation, with the cosmos.

“All ‘being in process’ is related, because all being in process were created by a common mystery,” he said. “We are all the children of the common mystery, and if we are all children we are all brothers and sisters.”

This includes the animals, he said, marking the eagles, bears, bison, wolves and the like as humans’ elders.

As he’s grown as a person and an artist, Gladstone said he’s interested in instilling this message into his music and into those who listen to it; the first step in indigenous healing is to be spiritually open to healing, he said.

Anyone who feels Montana is their home, whether they were born here or not, can be considered a native Montanan, he said, but with that comes the obligation to protect, steward and care-take.

“Montana has been historically a place where people are drawn to,” he said.

Gladstone said he can look back on his 30 years of playing music at Glacier and the albums he has produced in that time and see little he would change about any of the music he has created.

In his career, he’s worked from the ground up, production-wise, from bare bones albums to the highly skilled production from Lloyd Maines, Grammy-award winning producer of the Dixie Chicks, in Nashville.

Looking to the future, Gladstone knows he will continue to make music and tell stories. His next album will go into production this fall and winter, and he hopes to have it all ready for next summer.

The love and support he’s received from the “Glacier metropolitan area” has been monumental in his career, Gladstone said, and he knows there is a certain kinship among Northwest Montana residents that makes it into one community.

Being part of a community or a team is integral, he said, and that is another message he hopes to pass along in his music.

“There is a power that is great than the self,” he said. “When I ally myself with that power – whether is a team, band, community – pouring in energy, faith and trust, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

For more information on Jack Gladstone, visit www.jackgladstone.com.

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