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Bitterroot heeds call for help

A huge load of food was assembled by volunteers at the Stevensville United Methodist Church and loaded on a trailer for delivery to the Blackfeet Nation, which is under a state of emergency following a harsh series of winter blizzards that have accumulated snow up to 20 feet deep in some areas making roads impassable.

By Michael Howell

A series of storms this winter has pounded the Blackfoot Reservation. According to Hungry Horse News reporter Chris Peterson in an article published on March 2, blizzards have blocked roads leaving remote reaches of the reservation like Heart Butte difficult to access. He notes some regions of the reservation have seen snow drifts 20-plus feet deep since winter began, including record snowfall in February.

Robert DesRosier, Incident Commander for the Blackfeet Nation, says the Blackfeet declared its own state of emergency January 4. Last week, Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency. This frees up equipment and funds and extends hours for fuel delivery to help the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Reservations, as well as Glacier and Golden Valley Counties. Bullock’s emergency declaration is retroactive to February 14, due to the extreme cold and drifting snow in northwestern and southeastern Montana.

According to the Hungry Horse News article, the relief effort has seen strong community support, with a host of charitable organizations and individuals lending a helping hand. A special effort began back on February 20, after Pastor Calvin Hill of the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish in Browning sent out a call for help to Dawn Skerritt, the disaster response coordinator for the regional United Methodist conference.

Skerritt, in turn, contacted the United Methodist Committee on Relief — a national organization that immediately gave the effort a $10,000 grant. Most of that funding has gone toward purchasing logging truck loads of firewood and a wood splitter. Volunteers have been traveling over the reservation to cut the wood up, Skerritt told the Hungry Horse News.

Columbia Falls United Methodist Church quickly became an incident command center, delivering food, supplies, feed and firewood to about 15,000 Blackfeet residents hammered by blizzards.

The article states that “people can also drop off items at Methodist Churches in area communities like Polson, Bigfork, Lakeside, Kalispell and the United Way in Kalispell.” We can add Stevensville United Methodist Church to that list.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Alkula, pastor of Stevensville United Methodist Church, said that he was in Bozeman when he heard about the plight of the Blackfeet and that by the time he got home on Wednesday one of his congregation, Claire Kelly, had already put the word out and started an aid campaign in the Bitterroot. He said that churches up and down the valley were joining in, including the St. Francis Catholic Church, the LDS and, he said, the Presbyterian Church had donated $2,000 for items. Alkula said that Max Coleman, broker/owner of Exit Realty, donated the use of his company’s moving van for collecting items for delivery to the Stevensville United Methodist Church where they were packed into Floyd Kauffman’s trailer for transport.

All the items are being hauled to the church in Columbia Falls as the main collection point on the west side. From there each day, volunteers have been hauling supplies by private vehicle over to Browning. Once in Browning, the supplies are distributed by the Tribe.

The loads include such items as durable foods, diapers and wipes, paper goods, feminine hygiene products, feed for animals and pets, canned meat, tuna, peanut butter, Spam, rice, pasta and dried potatoes, bottled water, coffee and small canned goods.

Cash donations can be mailed to the Columbia Falls United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 27, Columbia Falls MT 59912.

To make a donation to the United Methodist Church, which is using its operations budget to cover the costs of the emergency shelter and firewood, visit

Following are excerpts from a plea that was sent out by the Montana Indian Caucus:

One of the best things about Montana is that we always step up and help each other when our communities are in need. We roll up our sleeves, set aside our differences, and help one another. The creator always humbles us and reminds us that one of our greatest assets is each other…

… we are calling upon Montanans to step up and help those in need and suffering from extreme weather on the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, and Northern Cheyenne reservations, along with Pondera County, Glacier County, and Golden Valley Counties. Mass amounts of people have been snowed in and many still unable to access food, water, and medical resources… our Governor has called a state of emergency for these very places.

Many have exhausted their food sources due to being snowed in. Others are unable to get to medical supplies for health care needs. Dialysis patients have been stranded. Babies are running out of milk. Families are collecting tree branches for firewood… Roofs on homes have collapsed. Ranchers are unable to get feed to livestock. Entire communities such as Babb, Heart Butte, Browning, and others have been snowed in for days on end. Our Montana youth have not been able to attend school for weeks or days and many families are unable to provide their children with warm meals, a warm home, and warm clothes.

If you have snow plows, a snow shovel, non-perishable food items, bottled water, a snowblower, warm clothes, or funds to help assist — we ask that you help our friends and families in need. What makes Montana great is being able to count on our neighbors in a time of need. Thank you. If you’d like to help, you can contact one of the following:

Blackfeet Incident Command Post – (406) 338-3513

Fort Belknap – (406) 353-8450

Northern Cheyenne – (406) 477-4848

Submitted by the Montana American Indian Caucus:

Rep. Shane Morigeau, Sen. Lea Whitford, Rep. George Kipp III, Rep. Susan Webber, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Sen. Frank Smith, Sen. Jason Small, Rep. Rae Peppers, and Rep. Bridget Smith


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