The Freeflow Podcast

a media project of Freeflow Institute



On Blackfeet Territory in northwestern Montana, Lailani Upham connects people to landscape through story and language


“One of the hidden, I guess I could say, purposes of Iron Shield is everybody that comes out with us, they find their identity and their connection to this natural world. Because really, no matter what place you come from, or what language you originate from, Creator gave that to you.”

photo by Dave Gardner

Lailani Upham grew up on Amskapi Pikuni (Blackfeet) traditional lands in Northwest Montana. As a child, she listened to stories and songs about her people and their culture, as told by her grandparents and Tribal elders. As an adult, Lailani took these stories with her everywhere – they helped ground her, wherever she was, even if she was far from home. In 2019, she realized she wanted to take her stories to the next level by starting her own Indigenous-led company that facilitates “cultural storytelling hikes” on Blackfeet lands. Iron Shield Creative takes Tribal and non-Tribal people on hikes that are steeped in language, narrative, song, and community. Lailani’s goal is to cultivate understanding from an Indigenous perspective and diminish damaging stereotypes by sharing traditions and stories.

We met Lailani in 2019 when she participated in a Freeflow Institute course for journalists in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. She came to Freeflow as a working journalist, but it was clear she was feeling pulled in a different direction. That year was catalytic for Lailani, and she could no longer resist her dream of starting a community-centered creative business that allows Indigenous people to share their stories on their ancestral homelands.

Go deeper into Lailani’s story:
Instagram: @iron_shield_creative


Thanks to Humanities Montana for partnering with Freeflow in 2021 and to Dave Gardner for documenting this day in beautiful images.

Our theme music is by Nate Heygi and Wartime Blues.

Stephanie Maltarich and Mary Auld produced this episode.

The Podcast is made possible by support from The Prop Foundation.

Stephanie Maltarich, a producer at The Freeflow Podcast,is an independent audio producer and writer based in Gunnison, Colorado. She loves a good story that allows her to explore issues related to the environment, the outdoors, and social justice. Her public radio stories have aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Here and Now, Colorado Public Radio, Alaska Public Media, and more. She’s also produced podcasts for outlets like The Dirtbag Diaries, Climate One, Out There, and Duolingo. Prior to working as a storyteller and journalist, Steph’s work included a slew of interesting jobs: a commercial fisher(wo)man, adaptive ski instructor, Outward Bound instructor, international trip leader, English teacher, and hand-washing spy. 

Mary Auld (she/her) is an audio journalist and teacher in Missoula. She grew up in the boreal forests in Interior Alaska and the hay fields of upstate New York. Her favorite projects use sound to tell intimate stories about the human experience of environmental issues. Mary’s work has been featured on public radio stations and podcasts around the West. She has a master’s in environmental journalism from the University of Montana. You can find more of her work at

The Freeflow Podcast is made with love in Montana, near the storied Blackfoot River.

Arlo, on the banks of the Blackfoot, during the summer months when weathered sticks, sunshine, and warm, flat rocks define his days.

Would your organization or brand like to support The Freeflow Podcast? Get in touch. We are excited to explore new and innovative partnerships.