Having postponed their Friday, May 22, graduation due to expected rainstorms, Heart Butte School (HBS) became the first of three graduations in Blackfeet Country on Monday, May 25, Memorial Day. A total of 16 graduates were honored outdoors as the Blackfeet Nation continued its coronavirus lockdown, with grads and spectators socially distanced during the ceremony and winding up with a parade of graduates through the remote Reservation town.
“We centered everything around the buffalo because that’s what our school is focused on,” Heart Butte Superintendent Mike Tatsey said. “The buffalo was our protector, and he provided everything for us as Blackfeet people - food, shelter - everything that we needed came from the buffalo so that’s what we had to see. For graduation, we had four painted lodges that belonged to the school set up, and the seniors came out of it as they went to the stage. So we tried to make it as unique as we could for them.”
Organizing such a unique event took the efforts of many people and a lot of forethought into making it both uplifting and memorable for the graduates and their families.
“There was so much great feedback and so many people to thank that worked behind the scenes,” Superintendent Tatsey said. “But we would like to give a shout out to Arlene Augare for her 42 years of service to the HBS, Tim ‘Kink’ Davis and Terry Tatsey for their words of encouragement, and thank you to other dignitaries at the ceremony - Vera Weasel Head, Roland ‘Snork’ Kennerly, and the HBS Trustees for attending. The weather was perfect; the sun was shining bright with approximately 64 degrees Fahrenheit a slight 10 mile an hour breeze.”
While every graduate had likely seen such ceremonies performed in the Heart Butte gym in years past, this one was different in so many ways.
“The most heartwarming reactions were when the graduates walked into the football field before the ceremony, and when they saw the set-up some jumped up and down; others quickly checked out the lodges, peeking in; and many went to the stage and held their hands over their mouths with amazement seeing the buffalo robes and chairs on the stage, all for them,” Tatsey said. “ A few went to where their diplomas were and checked for theirs and also smelled the braids of sweet grass. It was a sight to see - so many different stories each student could share of their own, but it brought a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes knowing so many people put their heart and soul into making it a perfect day for all 16 graduates, which included five from the Warrior Spirit Academy.”