Scientology Nation: L. Ron Hubbard’s otherworldly salvation plan erupts on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation

In 1964, when Rayola Running Crane was just 13, her parents sent her away from her home in Browning, Mont., on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. She and her friends were drinking a lot. She had already been in an alcohol-related car accident that caused permanent back injuries.

She says her parents gave her two options: Go live with her brother in San Francisco or go to a boarding school in Oklahoma.

“They didn’t want me to lose my life to drugs and alcohol,” she says.

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Running Crane says she has been sober for 21 years. She’s tried to improve her community, she says, by talking to people about Christianity and 12-step programs, the things that helped her get away from drugs and alcohol.

She’s seen little impact. But on one recent night, Running Crane was excited about a new possibility for helping her people: Scientology, and the books, ideas and alcohol- and drug-treatment programs developed by the religion’s controversial founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

“I think our reservation lost a lot of its morals and values, and I think this would be a way to bring happiness back to the reservation,” she says.

Running Crane isn’t the only one forming a connection to Scientology. Emissaries connected to the religion and to Narconon, a nonprofit drug treatment and education program affiliated with Scientology, have been making inroads on the reservation throughout the past year. Scientologists have offered free seminars and all-expenses-paid retreats at a luxurious Scientology center near Los Angeles. They’ve also sent boxes of Hubbard’s books to several tribal members working at Crystal Creek Lodge, the only drug-treatment center on the reservation. The center uses 12-step programs common to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon. (Narconon, despite its similar name, is not connected with any 12-step program.)

In February, the Scientology emissaries were at the center of an even more surprising exchange in Browning. They secured for Hubbard one of the tribe’s highest honors: a Blackfeet war bonnet, typically awarded to war heroes. Now, the L. Ron Hubbard Museum in Hollywood, Calif., has a Blackfeet war bonnet, too.

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