Last week marked the beginning of fuel accessibility for residents of the small mountain community of Heart Butte when a ribbon was cut on a new diesel/unleaded filling station. Members of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council as well as representatives from Siyeh Development Corp. were on hand, as well as Blackfeet Elder Wishy Augare who offered prayers for the occasion.
“Historically there has always been that need for the community there,” Siyeh Board Chairman George Heavy Runner said, “because of the 30-mile distance from Browning, especially in the winter, and because Browning is a hub of activities.”
Tribal entities were made aware of the need for fuel accessibility through the testimony of folks reporting their going to Browning to fill multiple containers in order to have enough to ensure a return trip later. The Tribal Council recognized the danger such activities pose, Heavy Runner said, “and it spurred a couple Tribal Councils to find the resources needed. But it really kicked in when Glacier Family Foods opened its filling station and Heart Butte people began asking ‘what about us?’”
The project began with a feasibility study that explored the cost of having a “bare bones” service available that would supply diesel and unleaded fuel. Blackfeet Planning was able to obtain some funding while Siyeh Development looked for help from its long time relationship with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a small Tribe in Minneapolis whose casino has made it possible for them to issue grants to other Indian Tribes. Siyeh was already working with the Shakopee on the expanded broadband project, and when they approached the Shakopee with the Heart Butte project, the Shakopee responded with a grant worth $250,000. The Blackfeet Tribe matched that amount and supplemented it with CARES Act funding.
Cheryl Reevis and Joe Bremner worked out the details of obtaining the land and “jumping through the EPA hoops,” Heavy Runner said, and construction began last fall. Siyeh Development took the lead on construction as well as management of the facility. While things are mostly in place now, he said there will likely be more paving and possibly fencing around the site.
Some computer glitches have delayed the station’s being available for fuel at present, but Heavy Runner said he hopes to have things resolved this week so the tanks can be filled for Heart Butte customers. The station is unmanned for now so all sales must be done via debit, credit or fleet cards.
The weather was ideal for a December day last week at ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
“We always recognized accessibility to fuel was an unmet need in the Heart Butte Community,” said Chairman Tim Davis. “This project has been in the works for several years now. It has taken a lot of hard work, but seeing it built and ready to meet the needs of the Heart Butte community is very rewarding.”
Dennis Fitzpatrick, CEO of Siyeh Corporation, noted opening the Heart Butte Fuel Center as a nice addition to the economic infrastructure of the community. The long-term goal is to eventually have a convenience store to accompany the fuel kiosk.
“It is a process,” Fitzpatrick said. “The main priority was getting fuel to the community and addressing the health and safety risks associated with Heart Butte community members transporting fuel in their vehicles.”
“For years people said Heart Butte is always neglected,” Heavy Runner said, “so this is a message from the Tribal Council that they made the effort to address the need. When we put our energies together we can find ways, and that demonstrates the start of collaboration.”