Christmas Eve at the McDonald Ranch in Montana
On the ranch, this family keeps their traditions alive
I love it here, on my family’s ranch, in Montana. This ranch has sustained us and kept us together. It is a part of who we are. It is a special place, a gathering place. Folks are always welcome here.
One thing that stands out to me about being a Native American, a tribal member, is growing up with a respect for my elders. I learned from their teachings and how they lived their lives; they taught me integrity and honesty and the importance of family. I also feel a sense of belonging, knowing that my ancestors have been here, in this place, since time immemorial. I feel like there is power and responsibility in knowing that they, and all tribal people, have been protectors of the land, the water and air. They fought for what is right.
As a person who was raised on the family ranch, and someone who continues to live on the ranch, I feel a strong responsibility to continue those values and to always strive to be a good steward of the land. It is an honor to continue the legacy of my people.
When winter comes and the mountains are full of snow, we take time to be together for the holidays. It’s been a long-held tradition to host a big dinner on Christmas Eve—often 20 or 30 people or more will drive out to the ranch through the Big Draw, a unique space of land from Elmo Bay on Flathead Lake to the western border of the Lolo National Forest. This is part of the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. The tribes are a combination of the Salish, the Pend d’Oreille and the Kootenai peoples. It is sacred land.
We are almost an hour from Kalispell and 30 minutes from the town of Plains. Like the good ol’ days, folks will stop by throughout the evening. Family and friends stream through to join us for an hour or to stay for dinner.
Usually people will bring something to share, but I’ll do most of the cooking. I do love to feed people. I only cook from scratch; it is all I know. I cook a prime rib roast and plenty of sides. The kids and grandkids and my nieces and nephews all insist on my rolls. I like to make my Aunt Marion’s chocolate cake. There is always lots of laughter and fun. Sometimes while dinner is being made, the kids—and there is always a passel of kids— will go sledding or build forts out in the snow-covered fields or play in the log barn loft. And then, of course, we sit around the kitchen table for hours just visiting, reminiscing about bygone times and telling stories. It is an occasion where cousins— young and old—can enjoy each other. It is that time of the year where we all make time to see each other, and there is no better place to gather together than here at the ranch.