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Blackfeet member utilizes old technology


— When a Blackfeet tribal elder presented her family with a gift 10 years ago, Latrice Tatsey didn't see it as much more than a stick.

But for the past 20 months, Tatsey has used the striped calendar stick as a link to her past and a key tool in her future research.

It wasn't until her father, Terry Tatsey, gave a presentation to her college class about how the stick was used thousands of years ago to unite bands of the Blackfeet for tribal ceremonies and how similar the ancient system is to our modern calendar that she became interested.

An inch shy of 4-feet long, the calendar stick is a tool used to mark the days, months and years. Using shadows, it indicates the time and season, while a feather waves with the wind.

A stripe of red tops the stick, illustrating the Blackfeet Tribe's creation story. From there, 30 black stripes alternate with 29 yellow ones, which are used to mark the days.

Latrice Tatsey learned that the traditional Blackfeet calendar is based on days between full moons, so the months are shorter and the year lasts 360 days.

The calendar stick also has four small lines to record quarter days once a year, a slightly different way of working out leap year.

Perhaps more logically than the traditional Roman calendar, the Blackfeet calendar begins in the spring, not Jan. 1.

"There are a lot of similarities, but there are also a lot of differences," Tatsey said.

Each band of Blackfeet had a person responsible for knowing how to use the calendar stick. The stick helped coordinate the tribe's bands, which came together for ceremonies and celebrations.

In January 2007, Tatsey was hired as a research intern looking at alternative energy.

A junior majoring in natural resources at Blackfeet Community College, she began using her family's calendar stick to measure shadow lengths and wind direction every Tuesday at 2 p.m., or 1 p.m., depending on daylight saving time.

All of her data was recorded based on the Blackfeet calendar.

The National Science Foundation was so interested in her use of traditional tools to study modern science that officials asked her to be one of four presenters at their national meeting last month in Washington, D.C.

Being asked to share her research with top scientists was an honor, but Tatsey said she considers other audiences far more important.

This summer, she also shared her studies with teachers at Montana State University and the University of Montana, and she gave presentations to third-graders on the Blackfeet Reservation, a tradition she plans to continue this school year.

As part of the presentation, the young students make their own calendar sticks to use throughout the year.

"It's really important to me that the younger generation picks up this tradition," Tatsey said. "If this knowledge isn't transferred down to the younger generation, it will be lost."

The calendar stick also encourages students to study science at an earlier age, she said.

"What's best to me is they are learning about this, but they're also learning about science," Tatsey said. "They'll already have research experience at a young age, before they get into middle school."

High tech tribute
FAIRFIELD — Many of Army Sgt. Jimmy McHale's fellow soldiers weren't able to fly to Fairfield for his funeral in early August, but they now have a place to pay their respect — no matter where they are stationed.

The Fairfield Sun Times has created a Web page to honor the Fairfield High graduate who died during his second tour of duty in Iraq after a roadside bomb struck his Humvee.

Sun Times Publisher Darryl L. Flowers said the idea was to give McHale's family, friends and fellow soldiers a place to celebrate his life and honor his sacrifice.

The Web site has dozens of photos, stories, editorials and letters from soldiers that have appeared in the paper.

Visit the site online at

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