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Murals adorn the exterior and interior of Heart Butte School. They depict Blackfeet ancestors and personalities as created by John Pepion and Louis Still Smoking.

Folks gathered near the entrance to Heart Butte School on Wednesday, Sept. 1, to celebrate a series of projects and accomplishments that are and will be directly impacting the small mountain community in years to come. Blackfeet Tribal Business Council members Virgil Last Star, Vera Weaselhead, Lauren Monroe, Rodney Gervais Jr. and Mark Pollock came to the ceremonies, along with Jonnalea Tatsey and Hugo Anderson of Glacier Electric Coop. The Heart Butte Junior Singers offered the Blackfeet Flag Song while teachers and their classes filled in the socially-distanced seating before the speakers’ podium.

Heart Butte Superintendent Mike Tatsey welcomed those attending and described the various projects already completed and those arriving in the near future. Following his introduction, he conducted tours of the new solar installation and a transitional youth housing and counseling center.

To begin with, however, he noted the newly constructed entrance to Heart Butte Elementary and Heart Butte High School. Flanked and decorated overhead with murals painted by Blackfeet artists John Pepion and Louis Still Smoking, the new doors lead to a completely secure entryway. Anyone coming into the school must first gain access via an official located in an office behind a glass barrier who can allow them entry past the lobby or not. 

Superintendent Tatsey said the interior of the lobby will be further decorated with murals by Pepion and Still Smoking. They will depict three persons intimately connected with the school and the people’s history in Heart Butte. The three are Andrew Round Man, Oliver Marceau and Phillip Dog Taking Gun.

“They were the old guys who were here when I started back in 1989,” Tatsey said. “They worked for the Green Thumb program. They spoke Blackfeet to each other and told stories, and it was nice to see these elders who were so full of knowledge and culture.”

Another project near completion is the solar panel installation located on the hill behind Heart Butte School. Funding for the project came from Grid Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Acceleration Plan, as well as the Bonneville Environmental Fund, the Heart Butte School District and Black-feet Community College.

Jonnalea Tatsey, manager of member services for Glacier Electric Coop, noted the project will supply electricity to the GEC power grid that will offset energy charges to the school. In addition, she said, when figures are calculated, GEC will be able to apply the leftover energy credits to a number of Heart Butte households, saving them utility charges as well. She said the number of households is yet to be determined, but those who receive credits will be rotated annually so as to include as many households as possible.

GEC General Manager Hugo Anderson encouraged folks in Heart Butte to contact him personally with any problems or issues they may have with electrical power. He also said he would like to see GEC construct a kiosk in Heart Butte so customers can pay their bills without having to drive to Browning or Cut Bank.

Another important addition to the Heart Butte community is a set of three buildings located at the entryway to Heart Butte Schools. Two of the buildings will house homeless and troubled young people, one for boys and one for girls, providing services that have been difficult to access in the past. The third building is devoted to counseling services. Superintendent Tatsey said the University of Providence in Great Falls has been contracted for these services, which will be supplemented with help from Crystal Creek Lodge. The services are being supplied with funding from the Heart Butte School District.

The buildings themselves were constructed through funding from the Blackfeet Tribe and with funds from Heart Butte Schools. About $150,000 came from the school district while around $650,000 came from grants, the rest provided by the Blackfeet Tribe.

The Superintendent also said there are plans to construct an elder center on school property coming in the near future.

“It will be part of the school so the elders can come up and eat and drink coffee, to have them here close by for the kids to connect with,” he said.

A new playground is another item on the upcoming Heart Butte menu, and Superintendent Tatsey said it will be centered around the buffalo, continuing the emphasis on Blackfeet culture and history.

And finally, the Blackfeet Tribe along with the Indian Health Service and funding from the Army Corps of Engineers is set to revamp water service in Heart Butte.

Altogether, the ribbon cutting, and song and drumming gave folks in Heart Butte notice to be on the lookout for improvements they can not only see, but realize in their personal economy, in their educational outcomes and hope for the future.

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