Blackfeet Students Involved in ResearchNov 15th, 2004 | By tcj | Category: 16-2: Tribal College Research, Tribal College News
The Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana has long been infamous for the velocity of its winds. Residents joke of using logging chains instead of wind socks to indicate wind direction. Students at Blackfeet Community College, who thought they knew everything they wanted to know about wind, are learning about the science of wind energy.
With financial backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Air Force, the college in Browning, MT, is involved in a variety of wind-power projects and studies, says Terry Tatsey (Blackfeet), director of the school’s USDA and vocational education programs.
For many years, the college has collected and analyzed wind and other weather data in the classroom. The Blackfeet Tribe now oversees a 100-kilowatt prototype generator. Another 10-kilowatt wind system currently provides nearly 20% of the energy needs at the college’s voc-ed building, Tatsey says.
The five-year NSF grant is mainly geared to research and data collection. The combined DOE and Air Force funding helps pay for equipment and other necessities.
Tatsey says the grants provide research opportunities for about 25 students this academic year. “It’s been a learning experience,” Tatsey says. Some of the first wind turbines were constructed near a residential area, and people complained about the noise. The 100-watt model has ongoing technical problems that need to be ironed out.
Wind is only one of the college’s research projects. Framed specimens of Native plants hang on the walls of the administration building. Student Pauline Matt (Blackfeet) worked with tribal elders to research Native medicinal plants before she collected samples of the plants and framed them along with an explanation of their uses.
Instructor Woody Kipp (Blackfeet) and his students study frogs, using them to monitor water quality.
Other students study bison, much as their ancestors did. They learn about their seasonal diet, their reproductive cycles, and their leadership and kinship. As a result of colonization, many Indian people have come to believe elk and bison meat are inferior to beef, Tatsey says. Through the college, however, students are learning the value of wild meats for fighting diabetes and heart disease.
Freelance journalist Ron Selden contributed to this story.