On weekdays in Pryor, 60 senior adults get a hearty meal at the Baahpua Senior Citizens Center operated by the Crow Tribe.
About half eat their lunch at the center and the rest of the meals are transported to seniors at their homes. Until now, the meals were cooked and served in a makeshift building in the small reservation town that combined a trailer and a deteriorating structure made of railroad ties.
All that is about to change. On Friday, tribal officials took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a modular building that will be the center’s new home.
Around 100 people came to the ceremony and stayed for lunch afterward. The kitchen in the new 1,250-square-foot building isn’t quite ready — it will be finished next week.
But all those who came Friday got to tour the building that contains more than two times the space of the previous center.
“We’re fortunate to have this new building,” said Joe Bull Tail, of Pryor, who eats meals at the Senior Center. “We’re grateful for those who put it together and to the tribe.”
There are three senior centers on the reservation, said Diane Russell, program director for the Crow Tribal Elders program. The main one is in Crow Agency, with two satellite centers in Lodge Grass and Pryor.
They feed about 300 people a day, at the centers and at home. All of the paperwork and ordering is done at the main office, Russell said.
The senior centers opened in 2002, she said. The one in Pryor started out at the school, moved to a local cafe and then to its present site.
“The old building was so small, but we made do with what we had,” she said.
Then members of the 107 Committee of Crow Tribal Elders in Pryor initiated a project to replace the old building with something new. Larry Fallsdown Sr. got permission to work with a tribal grant writer, and the pair submitted a request to the Montana Coal Board for money to help pay for a new structure.
The board gave the tribe $65,000. Another $25,000 came from Apsaalooke Nation nonprogram funds and $5,000 came from the Crow Tribe’s abandoned mine land fund. Work to tear down the old building and install the new one was done by the Crow Tribal Housing Authority.
The project took 10 days from start to finish, said Larry Falls Down Jr. of the Housing Authority. Some of the kitchen equipment still needs to be installed, he said, but that will be done by the middle of next week.
Friday’s ceremony included a smudging ceremony, performed by Crow tribal elder and spiritual leader Heywood Big Day, to purify the ground outside and the area inside the new center. Prayer was followed by a drum group that played a flag song.
Crow Tribal Chairman Cedric Black Eagle thanked those who worked to build a new center and those who serve the seniors. He spoke both in English and in Crow to people sitting at tables on the grass in front of the new center.
Secretary Scott Russell said it seemed only right to create a safe space where the tribe’s older members can eat.
“They took care of us, so now we want to take care of them,” Russell said.
After the ceremony, Barbara Comes Up, the head cook, said having the new kitchen where she can cook the meals is “awesome.”
“It seems like this is my second home,” she said.
Having a new place to cook the meals for the seniors will let her do her job that much better, Comes Up said.