ROBERT OSBORN

:
Portraits of the Homeless
on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation
I have been photographing for a very long time. raised in Poplar. He is fast becoming a latter-day
Over the years I have been blessed with more than warrior for his people, the homeless included.
my share of projects in which my heart became In August of 2017, Don introduced me to Joleen
involved. La Roche, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Joleen is a
It’s happening again. tough woman with a big heart. She works with the
Fort Peck Indian Reservation lies in Montana’s far homeless in Poplar.
northeast corner, well out onto the Northern Plains. While we were talking, Joleen asked what I
Poplar is one of six towns on the reservation. Its thought of photographing the street people of Poplar.
population is 850 and decreasing each year. The This was a stunning moment for me. Immediately
people here are predominately Sioux. This is the I could see the extraordinary potential of the idea:
poorest town I’ve ever been in. Tourists do not stop the baroque imagery, the moving body of work, an
here. There is endemic alcoholism, high unemploy- art photography book that would almost certainly
ment, too many burned-out houses, too many meth follow. In a flash I saw all of this. But what I didn’t
dealers, too much crime, too much poverty, and see was how much my heart would become involved.
bone-deep despair. People in Poplar believe a dark Since that conversation I’ve made five trips to
cloud hangs over their town. Poplar and the neighboring reservation town of Wolf
Tribal elders I’ve spoken to claim Poplar’s deteri- Point, and I intend to make many more over the
oration began when the ban on alcohol was lifted on next year or two. In addition to photo gear, my van
the reservation in the 1950s. Poplar has become a is usually loaded with bags of clothing donated by
third world zone, right here in Montana. This should people who have seen these pictures in my gallery.
not be, but it is. This has become an ongoing project that Joleen,
At the very bottom of Poplar’s social order are Don, and I care deeply about and contribute to,
the Indian homeless. They are mostly ignored by each in our own way. Profits from the sale of these
their own people and virtually unknown to the rest photographs and the eventual book will go toward
of Montana. They sleep in sheds and abandoned meals, clothing, and facilities for the Fort Peck
buildings, or in a trash dumpster or rolled up in a homeless.
discarded rug when nothing else is available. Some When I began this article on New Year’s Day,
are addicted to meth; most are alcoholics. the temperature in Poplar was 30 degrees below
These are the people I photograph. I am honored zero. Keep this in mind as you consider these
they allow me to do so. They make images that photographs.
refuse to be ignored. In mid-January Don La Roque called to tell me
Two years ago, when I was photograph- that Moosie, whose photograph is included here,
ing Montana Indians in a historical-traditional had just been found frozen nearly to death in a
context, I met Don Rattling Thunder La Roque, an dumpster in Poplar, and that a homeless man we do
Assiniboine-Sioux. We did three photo sessions not know had been found frozen behind a market in
of him in Native regalia, made some really strong Wolf Point. Moosie survived (barely), the other man
photographs, and became close friends. Don was did not.

An exhibition of these and other large-format photographs by Robert Osborn will be on display at
Sundog Fine Art in Bozeman during June 2018. Reception June 9 at 5:30 p.m. More at sundogfineart.com.

8
CALVIN
Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 9
PATTY
Sioux Tribe, Wolf Point, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

10
OLIVIA
Sioux Tribe, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 11
MOOSIE
Sioux Tribe, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

12
HARRIS
Assiniboine Tribe, Wolf Point, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 13
CRUTCHY
Chippewa Cree Tribe, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

14
WILMA
Sioux Tribe, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 15
BROTHER GNOME
Sioux Tribe, Wolf Point, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

16
BABY GIRL
Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Tribes, Poplar, Fort Peck Reservation
2017

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 17