Blackfeet Family Services removes children from shelter overseen by Heart Butte superintendent
By Nicole Girten,2023-01-27
Department of Family Services removes youths from Feather Woman Healing Lodge, a youth group home in Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation, Thursday morning, Jan. 26, 2023. PHOTO BY RION SANDERS
HEART BUTTE — Blackfeet Child and Family Services removed 11 children from a shelter Thursday on Heart Butte School District property overseen by Mike Tatsey, who is under scrutiny as superintendent for the district.
The Feather Woman Healing Lodge is a short-term group shelter for K-12 students. Tribal officials appeared to be shuttering operations at the facility located at the entrance of the school’s property after less than two years in operation.
The Blackfeet Tribe said Thursday it would be putting out a release with additional information. The Daily Montanan has asked questions including why the shutdown took place and where the children were taken.
As of Thursday evening, the Blackfeet Tribe is “no comment until all the facts are given,” according to Public Information Officer James McNeely.
In the early morning hours on Thursday, adults escorted a few children at a time to waiting sedans. Children wore backpacks and held close treasures like stuffed animals or neon plastic toy guns as tall as they were.
An elementary-aged child peered out of the window of the boys’ quarters of the Feather Woman Healing Lodge in the morning as 30 mile-per-hour winds gusted through a swing set just outside and through the tassels of a pink bike on its side.
The young boy was one of the 11 children who were removed from the Lodge by multiple agencies including Blackfeet Child & Family Services with an intermittent presence from Blackfeet Law Enforcement.
Director of Blackfeet Child & Family Services Roy Crawford helped to move trash bags of belongings out of the shelter and into the sedans parked outside, a handful of which had government license plates.
At the same time, school buses and cars of caretakers drove by through the entrance of the school to drop children off before the school day began.
Tatsey, who oversees the lodge, previously told the Daily Montanan he allowed staff in the district who had positive drugs tests to remain employed at the school with 225 students. He said some people received treatment and returned, which the district allows.
Nearly an hour into the removal of the children from the facility, Tatsey pulled into the parking lot in a Ford Lariat F-350. He walked into the boys’ housing and after several minutes emerged and went directly back to his truck. Blackfeet Law Enforcement at that time returned to the property and intercepted Tatsey at his window for about 10 minutes.
Tatsey dismissed an opportunity to comment to the Daily Montanan on the status of the facility. Crawford said that Tatsey saw a reporter’s car on school property and asked that they relocate the vehicle off the premises.
In a brief exchange earlier in the morning with the Daily Montanan about the apparent shutdown, Crawford confirmed the agency was removing children. He did not provide additional details.
The Feather Woman facility was piloted in August 2021, according to reporting by Buffalo’s Fire, part of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance.
The project consisted of two houses, one for boys and another for girls, for a total capacity for 12 students and designated supervisors, according to Buffalo’s Fire. The story said there’s a separate structure meant for an on-site counseling center and students can stay as part of the program for as long as four weeks.
Former Browning state senator and counselor Shannon Augare credits himself as the creator of the group home on his LinkedIn page.
According to Buffalo’s Fire, the project received an $800,000 grant from the Blackfeet Tribe and $25,000 from the Montana Health Care Foundation.
Parent starts petition
Jay Young Running Crane, a concerned parent and former Blackfeet Law Enforcement officer, spearheaded a petition this month to remove the chair of the Heart Butte School Board, Corey Morgan. Young Running Crane said board members were aware of the positive drugs tests among school employees as he submitted a letter to the board on the topic last summer.
In an interview this week, Young Running Crane said the ultimate goal is to have the board reconsider Tatsey’s contract with the school, which was renewed for another two years on Monday.
Young Running Crane accumulated 85 of the 84 needed signatures from community members for the petition to be presented to the board for consideration. The petition was signed by former school board members and three current staff members among others. Young Running Crane said seven other staff members expressed interest in signing the petition but chose not to due to fear of retaliation. He said there are more than 90 employees at the school.
Parents and grandparents have been frustrated about drugs in their community.
“I just know Mike’s head is not where it’s supposed to be,” said Rebecca Rider, a grandparent to a child at Heart Butte Schools who signed the petition.
Morgan declined to comment.
Pondera County Superintendent Shaunna Graham currently has a copy of the petition and is working on next steps.
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