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"Groundwork" Episode 5: Latrice Tatsey & Danielle Antelope on Culturally-Specific & Climate-Smart Blackfeet Food Systems 


Guests: Latrice Tatsey, Danielle Antelope, Amber Smith

Host, creator, producer and co-editor: Megan Torgerson

Editing, sound design, mixing and music composition: Aaron Spieldenner and Sean Dwyer, Hazy Bay Music

Transcription by: Josh Moyar


Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation


Humanities Washington

Humanities Montana

Headwaters Foundation


Megan Torgerson (narrating): There’s a place in the West where the mountains and prairie meet. It’s a landscape of compliments and contrasts, of snow-crowned peaks and flat-topped buffalo jumps, a swell of foothills and a ripple of plains.


This convergence of ecosystems, also known as the Rocky Mountain Front, is the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Blackfeet Nation, home of the Amskapi Piikani or Blackfeet, for time immemorial. They call these mountains the Backbone of the World.


Latrice Tatsey, a rancher, cultural land ecologist and Piikani leader, has braided her life into the cycles of this wild and tender land, studying and teaching the relationships between all living things as a soil scientist at the Indigenous-led and -founded, Piikani Lodge Health Institute.

Latrice Tatsey: “Like our medicine wheel everything comes back, everything is intertwined, everything is connected. So what’s happening down on the soil level is influencing the health of the plant roots. And the plant root health is influencing the plant health. And the plant health is influencing the animal health. And the animal health is influencing the consumer health, which is me. And my health influences the decisions that I’m going to be making. It’s the ecosystem product. It’s knowing that the animal that you’re consuming had a role in how carbon is being taken out of the atmosphere.”


Torgerson (narrating): I’m Megan Torgerson and this is Reframing Rural. Today, a conversation with Latrice Tatsey and Danielle Antelope, a Browning resident who is contributing knowledge and leadership to the Blackfeet food system through her family’s ancestral plant medicine knowledge and as the Executive Director of FAST Blackfeet.


Danielle Antelope: “It was what the land that was trying to teach us. They wanted us to know about Gooseberries, they wanted us to know about sweetgrass in that spot and so those are the lessons that we learn from the land when we’re doing wild harvesting. We go in with an offering, we are not over harvesting that we’re respectful.”


Torgerson (narrating): While Danielle and Latrice work for two separate Blackfeet-led nonprofits, there is a lot of synergy between their work connecting people to the land and their culture, stewarding plant and animal health, and laying the foundation for a food sovereign Nation. I first learned about Latrice’s graduate research on the ways cattle and bison influence soil health, along with her work gathering soil data with interns for Piikani Lodge Health Institute’s regenerative grazing initiative through past podcast guest, Emily Stifler Wolfe. Emily interviewed Latrice for her concluding piece on “rebuilding soil by building relationships” for Montana Free Press’ Common Ground series. I gained an even deeper appreciate for Latrice’s research and the genius of Indigenous food systems after reading Liz Carlisle’s book “Healing Grounds.” This book taught me that not only is regenerative agriculture rooted in knowledge Indigenous people have been honing for hundreds of generations, but these practices have also been a tool of resistance that continue to push back against the extractive terms of the colonial project. Unsurprisingly, regenerative agriculture is also an incredible instrument for fostering cultural and ecological resilience in the face of climate change.


On the Nation cattle ranching is the largest branch of their economy. Part of Latrice’s work at Piikani Loge Health Institute is to be a resource for producers and to help them implement climate-smart practices. Coming full circle, at FAST Blackfeet Danielle is improving food security by providing healthy and culturally-relevant ingredients including local bison at the organization’s food pantry. FAST Blackfeet also teaches people to grow their own food and they offer nutrition education and a diabetes prevention program. Together Latrice and Danielle are reclaiming and building food sovereignty within the Blackfeet Nation.


I was honestly humbled when they both agreed to share some of their knowledge and experience with Reframing Rural. Within the scope of this season, which will continue to shine a light on the potential of regenerative agriculture, it was important to me to capture the Indigenous roots of what has become trendy terminology. I was also eager to learn more about the ecological diversity of the Rocky Mountain Front, a place that first captured my sense of reverence and wonder as a child of the prairie journeying to the other side of the state.


Today’s episode comes to you in two parts. Part one is a conversation I had with Latrice and Danielle for Women in Ranching’s Confluence Gathering. The second half is an interview with Latrice. Later in the episode, you’ll hear Women in Ranching executive director, Amber Smith introduce us. Winter weather threw a wrench in our original interview plans which also impacted audio quality, but thanks to Amber’s invitation we were all able to get together at Women in Ranching’s virtual conference.



Amber Smith: I'm excited about every session, but I'm really excited about this one. So reframing rural podcast host, Megan Torgerson, will hear how culturally-specific and climate-smart Blackfeet food systems are helping people to regain comfortability on the land, thrive in the face of climate change and heal physically, mentally and spiritually. Megan is joined by Latrice and, excuse me, I'm not sure if Tatsey is the correct pronunciation, a cultural land ecologist at Piikani Lodge Health Institute, and Danielle Antelope, Executive Director of FAST Blackfeet. This session will highlight how these leaders are restoring balance to the plant, animal, land and human communities on the Blackfeet Nation through their respective food sovereignty initiatives. Part of the conversation from this session will be woven into a future Reframing Rural podcast featuring Latrice and Danielle. So, a little more about Megan. She hails from the windswept Great Plains of Dagmar, Montana. She's a writer, creative entrepreneur and founder of Reframing Rural, the original podcast series working to cultivate curiosity and conversation across geographic, class and cultural divides. Megan, thank you for joining us, and I'm going to hand it over to you to introduce Latrice and Danielle.


Torgerson: Thank you, Amber, for the warm introduction and to everyone who has generously shared a sliver of your knowledge and experience over the last few days, whether that was through the conference sessions or the breakout rooms. I'm just so inspired by you all and love the warm feeling of belonging that this gathering has stewarded. So during yesterday's value exercise, Amber's reminder really stuck with me that the group, or the collective, is the solution. And I think in this late stage of capitalism, it can be easy to forget about our interconnected nature, and to fall into the thought that we're all individuals striving to attain our own personal or professional goals. But, as that values conversation reminded me and as Women in Ranching leads by example, their sustained impact and power in community and in connection, and these are also ethics that my guests Latrice and Danielle live by and that they will likely point to you today as we explore the power of collective envisioning and food sovereignty on the Blackfeet Nation.


So if you haven't already heard about Danielle and Latrice’s work, I'm excited to introduce you. Danielle Antelope is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Eastern Shoshone nation, and was born and raised in Browning, Montana. In 2021, she graduated from Montana State University with a Bachelor's in Sustained Food and Bio Energy Systems. During her time at MSU, she received multiple awards for her civic engagement on campus and within her home community, and today Danielle serves as the executive director of FAST Blackfeet, which stands for Food Access and Sustainability Team. FAST Blackfeet provides access to healthy and culturally relevant foods, nutrition education, gardening and wild harvesting opportunities within the Blackfeet Nation. Danielle is passionate about learning and sharing the changes in the Blackfeet food system and how those changes reflect the health of the people today, which she can share more about with all of us today.


And Latrice Tatsey is also a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a graduate of Montana State University, where she earned a Master's in Land Resources and Environmental Science. Her graduate research examined the ways that cattle and bison influence soil health, work that she continues today in her role as a soil scientist, cultural science leader and intern supervisor at Piikani Lodge Health Institute, where she's a leader within their regenerative grazing initiative and their climate smart commodities program. Piikani Lodge Health Institute is an Indigenous-founded and Indigenous-led nonprofit focused on promoting the health and well-being of Blackfeet or Amskapi Piikani people and lands. Latrice was raised on her family's ranch on Badger Creek on the Blackfeet Nation, and her family raises cattle and she also has three buffalo. And Latrice relies on her knowledge taught by her father, uncles and grandmother about the traditional and historical uses of their land.


So to begin, I'd love to learn a little bit more about your origin stories and the first woman leader on the land who inspired you all throughout your early childhood. So Danielle, to begin with you, was there a woman in your life who helped foster your love of the land and your Piikani culture?


Danielle Antelope: Yeah, hello, everybody. I'm just going to start by introducing myself in my language. Just brings my nerves down a little bit [Danielle introduces herself in her native Amskapi Piikani language.] Hello, my name is Comes In Singing. I am called Danielle Antelope. I am from Browning at the foot of the Rockies, and I'm Amskapi Piikani, which is misnamed “Blackfeet.” I'm so happy to be here with you all today. This question is easy for me. The woman who inspired me to love the land the way that she loves the land is my great grandmother. I grew up going on plant trips, and it was just like a telephone line, right? My great grandma called her daughters, and then the grandmas called their daughters, and then everybody carpooled, and so there's like eight cars following each other around the rez to different locations. And my grandma would know where to go, because those are the places that her grandmother went. And it also really helped me realize the importance of the landmass that we still have in Blackfeet territory. That we have plains plants, that we have mountain plants, that we have wetland plants in all of these land areas that we have on the reservation, and those were very special times for me, right? And it was something that we continued to do after she passed. And when she passed, we didn't know as much of the plants that she knew. So there's different family members who took the initiative to learn certain sections or amounts of plants that are our family plants, so that we can continue the harvesting, the processing and the preparation of those plant medicines for our families. But it was her who made land seem fun to me. She would go out with her cane, and she would point and she would say, “Dig this route.” And then she'd go to the next one. And she'd go to a tree and she'd hit it with her stick, and this tree. It was always very interesting to me to know, like, how does she know these are ready right now? How does she know this route? But she also was the person that taught us sustainability and respect. You were not allowed to gossip. You're not allowed to yell across the land. You're not allowed to talk bad or have bad energy, because she would tell us that the plants hide from you. And as a kid, it's like you don't question. You, as the adult, you always say, “Well, why?” But as a kid, it was like, “Okay, we don't want the plants to hide from us because grandma needs these medicines.” And so we knew those rules. And after the first time of her telling you, you were able to tell your next younger sibling what the rules were. And also sustainability, right? She always told us, “Yeah, there's lots and lots of roots on this hillside, but we're not going to take all of them because we need them to be here for next year. We're not going to take more than we need. Otherwise, it's not going to come back for us next year.” It was these metaphysical teachings that she passed down to my family, and I really gravitated towards that information. I’m happy to be able to do wild harvesting workshops now and invite other people to come and learn those types of things.


Torgerson: Yeah. Danielle, if you just want to add anything about the work of FAST Blackfeet.


Antelope: Yeah, of course. FAST Blackfeet is a nonprofit organization, and we fill gaps in food insecurity, nutrition education and rebuilding and reclaiming food sovereignty. We have three programs now that help us fulfill our mission. We did data first, so you can find our survey, our community food assessment survey, on our website. But what it told us is that two thirds of our community is food insecure. That our insecurity rate is 4.5 times the national rate. We are so rural, if you ever made a trip to Glacier National Park, you might have came through Browning and seen how rural we are. Our reservation is 1.5 million acres, and within that there are nine communities. And so what FAST Blackfeet does is we were like, “Okay, there's still a huge insecurity rate. What is needed to fill that gap?” And what we resulted in was opening a need-based food pantry, right? So there was a lot of families like my family. I grew up with a single mother and there's four of us, and my mom missed the food stamp income line by $6. I remember I finally had to ask her because there's so many families that I knew were falling in that gap that my family fell in, right? So there's a lot of frozen pizzas and frozen chicken patties and cheap food to make sure that we were fed, but cheap food leads to health disparities, right? It leads to obesity, leads to diabetes. What we found was the gap was created by these income-based food assistance programs. Commodities, the food distribution on Indian reservations program, is income-based. Food stamps is income-based. And when your families don't qualify for either of those, and you miss it by less than 50 bucks, which a huge amount of the population does, like my family, then you’re food insecure. It does not mean you're not food-insecure because you got 50 more dollars than the other guys.


So what we do is, if you had enough energy, you had enough time, you had enough need to drive to the food pantry today, you get food. We do not want people to prove that they are poor enough or struggling enough to need food. We recognize that food insecurity isn't that you have pizza rolls in your freezer. Food insecurity is that you don't have healthy foods, and for tribal people it's that you don't have culturally-relevant foods, right? You can't go buy buffalo even if you wanted to have buffalo on your table. At FAST Blackfeet, we have buffalo in the pantry. We have local pork and local beef right now in the pantry. We have community members hunting for bison down in Yellowstone and then that bison comes into the food pantry. We have food pantry participants leaving the pantry feeling extra bougie with their buffalo steak and mushrooms. So we try to teach people that we're the original healthy eaters, right? And when we teach people in that perspective, we stop seeing ourselves in such a food desert, right? We start recognizing, all of these ranches around here, that that's food. We start recognizing all the land and where we could harvest. At FAST Blackfeet, we do the oil food pantry. We do nutrition education in a decolonized way. We don't like to use the word “decolonized.” We like to use the word “Indigenized.” So we Indigenized everything we do. The food pantry is Indigenized, the nutrition education that we do, right? We know that we can't just give people buffalo and healthy food and expect them to know how to make those foods, because we recognize this disconnect that happened in the food system due to colonization and assimilation that put us in these, right? How are Native populations this much of the population but this much of the health disparities, right? We're leading things we don't want to lead: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, all related to the foods. And so when we help our community members link back that change in the food, that this was done to us, it makes people change their perspective. And then it's active resilience to have buffalo meat on your table. And people are more likely to come to the pantry without feeling like they're looking for a handout, but more like, “This is where I get my fresh food every month.”


Torgerson: Thank you for sharing that, Danielle. And Latrice, I believe that you also had a really strong grandmother figure. Would you like to share with us a bit about her influence on your life?


Latrice Tatsey: Okay, so I'm gonna do a quick introduction in my language. [Latrice introduces herself in her native Amskapi Piikani language.] Hello, my name is Buffalo Stone Woman. I always say my government name is Latrice Tatsey, and I’m from Badger Creek like you said, born and raised. And so, it was because of my grandmother that I got to grow up and live in Badger Creek because she made a lot of sacrifices. Sacrifices in the way where they had to foreclose on some loans, and she had to take on double jobs while finishing her education to make the loan payments to the bank to make sure we didn't lose our land. And so hearing all the sacrifices she made to sustain our ranch, and just riding with her in the hills while we'd go to check the cows, she was always making sure that the animals were in a specific place, and that they weren't over-grazing in areas. And if they were too congregated, or she noticed there wasn't enough food or, you know, forage for the animals, she had us grandkids in the back like pushing the cows to other fields. One of my favorite memories is being a young kid, and Grandma would come down the road and everybody would be like, “Grandma's coming!” because we knew that when we went out with her to check her cows, that we would get to hear songs and sing with her and hear stories of our great-grandmother and our great-grandfather and how they managed the land, and they took pride in it, and they had competitions.


Torgerson: I just love how reviving pre-settler, colonial Blackfeet agricultural practices are really helping people both either reclaim or to celebrate their Piikani identities. And from my conversation with Latrice earlier, and she was speaking about helping people regain their comfortability on the land. And so I wonder if you could maybe tie that in, that topic of helping people feel comfortable, both physically, mentally and spiritually, on their land, and to reclaim these spaces.


Tatsey: Well, for me, it was relationship-based, because that's what my grandmother was teaching me about, was about the relationships and sharing the songs and the stories of her grandparents and your mother and father, and taking us to pick flowers. And so we'd always get excited when we'd go out and push cows with her and she'd be like, “The spring flowers are out!” And so her favorite were the buttercups, and so all of us grandkids would rush the field to get grandma some buttercups, because, you know, that was her favorite flower. So just carrying that tradition on into the work that I do today and knowing that the work that we have to do is relationship-based, because if we don't put our work within the relationship, and we don't honor the relationship, then we're just trying to do a job with no meaning, and that doesn't feel good at the end of the day. You want to have purpose behind the work that you're doing, in tying those relationships back. So the majority of the interns that I take on for the internship that I have for Piikani Lodge Health Institute, more than half don't have access to the land. And so when we go out to visit ranches and look at different operations throughout the Blackfeet Nation, a lot of the time that is their first time visiting these areas. And so having the accessibility within our programs, to go have that access to these resources and work with these programs is helping rebuild the identity of who you are. And what Dani talked about, that resilience. Because our people are still resilient. We had to adapt to everything that was thrown our way, because if we didn't adapt, we wouldn't survive.


And so when you take those things into consideration, then you understand why it's so important to reach back into your culture, into those ways to continue the work that you're doing today, because those are the foundation and the relationships. Everything is so tied to the land and who we are as a people, because in order to sustain ourselves and survive we had to be a botanist. We had to be astrologists. We had to be zoologists. We had to hone all these skills in order to know our land and to maintain these relationships. And so for me, the biggest thing that I always tell people, mainly my interns, is, you know, the relationship that we have with the land, the relationship that we have with the ranchers, is how we're going to be most effective in the work that we're doing. And that's the most effective tool that we can have is showing our support and that we want to be there for you and see you be successful.


Torgerson: And Latrice, could you share a little bit about just the climate-smart commodities project that you are just getting off the ground too, and how you work directly with producers to help them foster resilience in the face of climate change?


Tatsey: So what we've really been working with is regenerative agriculture, regenerative grazing. And so how we've been looking at it is looking at the historical relationships that bison had to the Great Plains, the foothills and in the mountains, and what those relationships look like along with our people using their management tools to bring bison into these areas. And so when we really looked at the foundation of what regenerative grazing is, it was having these high-intensity grazes for short durations. And so I was like, you know, this is historically how bison or Iinii would graze. They would hit these areas really hard for short periods of time, but they would have long periods of rest. So really finding ways of how we can incorporate our cultural land stewardship and those relationships that our people utilized in bringing that knowledge back. Whether you're going to be a producer of cattle, or whether you're going to be a producer of buffalo, Iinii. But just looking at what those relationships are and understanding why they're so important in all of our stories. In the beginning, our people always were the pitiful ones, and we always had to look to the animals to learn. And so they took pity on us, and they were showing us how they use the land, how they use the plants and the different ways in different locations, whether it's the mountains, the foothills or the plains. And so they shared that knowledge with us. And so looking at these projects, we're really going back to look at how buffalo are the natural caretakers and grazers of the Great Plains and in the foothills, and how we can take that information and really use it to the advantage of our producers. And what that will look like for climate-smart product, and what it really comes back to is this reciprocity, of giving back in this reciprocal relationship of systems. And you know, I've talked about the Medicine Wheel. Everything in life, everything is connected. And so the way I look at this product, and the way that I look at how we're going to be working with our producers through the Piikani Lodge Health Institute, is as a system. And so we're going to be looking at it from the health of the soil, be looking at the health of the plants, be looking at the health of the animals, and looking at the health of the people and how that product of the meat for those animals not only will just be a good product for people to consume, you know? Whether the meats go into FAST Blackfeet or our tribal producers are trying to get more of their meats into the supermarkets. So to get that meat out for our locals to consume, and what that looks like. And so, you know, relationship-based is really the biggest thing right now that we're focusing on, and really making sure that our community has access to these foods.


Torgerson: Dani, is there anything you would like to add just about reciprocity and culturally-relevant programming that you have? Even like the growing health tea project and helping people to grow their own gardens and grow their own medicine?


Antelope: In tribal communities, we're always working within, there's a framework, and then there's a tribal framework within that, right? And that's what happens with a growing health program, right? We wanted to teach people about medicinal plants, but coming from a family who has family medicines, there's also rules. There's family medicines, and you don't want to teach everybody somebody's family medicine. Family medicines is part of the sustainability method of the tribe, right? We couldn't all be harvesting the same plants. Otherwise, we would over-harvest the land. But rather instead, if I needed a certain medicine, Latrice’s family would harvest that and I would get it from her. Same with Latrice. If she had a certain thing, she knew my family harvested that medicine, then she would give that to me. It's the way that the harvesting families work, and we're trying to keep it alive. But we're also, when we first created the growing health program, I was like, “My grandma won't want us teaching this one!” And so we really went through and we talked with elders and we were like, “Which plants can we teach?” And they were like, “Teach the everybody medicines.” They said, “Of course there's everybody medicines,” the medicines that everyone needed in the tribe, right? Everybody got to pick peppermint. Everybody got to pick rose hips and yarrow. And so I was like, great. This is a great starting point.


But what happens is we go out onto the land with that same thought, right? What can the land, what is the land providing for us, right? We're not going out there and saying we're finding this plant, this plant and this plant, forget the rest of them. But no. We're going out there each time with a total open mind. And we're like, “What is the land providing right now?” And we didn't expect to find gooseberries that day, and we found gooseberries. And this little girl ate like 50 of them, and she ran for the rest of the day. It slowly increases the way that we do it. Every time we try to do it more culturally-appropriate. By the end of the classes this last summer on the land, we started inviting the families. We’re like, “Bring your kids and bring your spouse,” because that's who you're going to go out with when you're alone. When you're doing this for your family, you're going to be going with them. And it was amazing to see. We teach eight everybody medicines, but we found over 20 different varieties of plants last year, and some of them were not on the everybody medicines. And so it was what the land was trying to teach us, right? They wanted us to know about gooseberries, they wanted us to know about sweet grass in that spot. And so those are the lessons that we learn from the land when we're doing wild harvesting, right? We go in with the offering. We know that we're not over-harvesting, that we're being respectful and that we’re leaving the land looking the way that it was when we came. We're not going to leave our trash, we're not going to stomp all over, we're not going to hack down the tree. So this is why I was so glad that I was doing this event with Latrice. Latrice is a lot more buffalo and producer and field expert, and I'm a lot more of wild and what's grown and how to do gardening kind of things. So together, we're able to help with the food system, right? Her group is working on a meat processing plant right now, and my group is working on a community food resource center. Together, those are really going to build our food system here in the Blackfeet Nation.


Torgerson: I know we're coming to a close, but I'm wondering if you all could share maybe a few words of advice to the next generation of women leaders on the land and thinking to the future of food sovereignty.


Antelope: Yes, I say this in all presentations, and I must not have said it yet, but the future of the food system is Indigenous. It 100% is. I studied sustainable food systems at Montana State University. Like okay, industrial agriculture, we did it wrong. We should have learned. We should have watched what the tribes were doing. We should have did it regional-based. We should have did it land-based. We should have did it without chemicals, right? And the future, like as they project it right now in agriculture world projecting it, is that the only way to get to high yield and high sustainability, right? We're at high yield right now, but we're super low sustainability. In order to be at both, we need to look at Indigenous food system practices. And that is poly-cropping, right? Like the “Three Sisters” is growing together. Companion cropping. I always get some people inspired, but also some people a little bit heated. So that's my closing statement for women in agriculture and Indigenous women, is just the future of the food system is Indigenous, and we will all live to see that change.


Tatsey: So my closing remark is, our people, we have a Medicine Wheel, and in that Medicine Wheel, it represents every person on earth, and based on, you know, the color white, yellow, red and black. And so what it comes down to is our cultures and how our cultures are tied to the land. And so given, you know, a lot of people are living on Indigenous peoples’ lands, what Dani was saying, is reach out to those cultures and those communities of Indigenous people to see how their ancestors were utilizing the land and what crops they were growing and how that was successful. Because that's what we're doing for our regenerative grazing work is we're going back to how our people utilized the land and how they understand the buffalo, the Iinii, used the land. And so being more relationship-based and understanding it at a relationship level, and when you have that bond, you know, that bond that you have with your mother, well, this bond is our bond with Mother Earth, because she is our mother, and she provides all the sustenance and the resources that we need to survive. And so, you know, taking that on and understanding, healing that relationship within ourselves, within our thinking, so that we could foster and be better land stewards and understand that there's no one way to think about this, and be open-minded and understand that cultural Indigenous communities, Indigenous peoples’ livelihood evolved with their relationship on the land and the utilization of the resources on the land. So to really use that, to understand what the production can be, and understand that it was about diversity, what Danielle was saying, and that honoring diversity, not only with people, but diversity of plants and crops on the landscape, and trying to go away from monocultures and mono-ranches of just, you know, cows and different things. And understanding how the diversity of animals can really benefit the land ecosystems and the ecosystem functionality. And so that's what I really just want to leave with is understanding how important those relationships are and honoring those who have been on the land before you and what those relationships were.


Torgerson: Beautiful closing words. Thank you both so much. I can't tell you how grateful I am for all the conversations I've had with you and everything that I've learned. I highly recommend everyone who's in this Zoom call to follow along with the amazing work that Piikani Lodge Health Institute and FAST Blackfeet are doing. They're really going places and I'm so excited for the future that they're helping create. Thank you both so much.


Tatsey: Thank you, Megan.


Antelope: Thank you, Megan. Thank you, Amber.


Smith: Oh, thank you so much. That was.. I loved how the question came up, “What is regenerative ag?” And we just heard it, this whole conversation was that story rightly placed and centered and the voices of our Indigenous sisters and land stewards. So thank you. Thank you both for bringing your knowledge and your stories and your work. It was truly a gift. And Megan, thank you for saying yes. One more person who said yes to a collaboration.





A message from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation: This episode was produced with support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which believes that everyone has a meaningful and important role to play, and that by leading with courage and compassion, we can change the world one person, one family, one community at a time. To learn more visit


And now a conversation with Latrice Tatsey.




Torgerson: Well, I often like to ground interviews like this with an inquiry into any formative experiences that guests have had with the natural world that surrounded their childhood, and for some people, there's like a rediscovery period in adulthood where they rekindle an early interest in plants or animals. But it seems to me like you've maintained a love and care for animal and land stewardship throughout your life's journey. So I was wondering if you could speak to how that ethic of care was cultivated in you as a child, and maybe share some of your earliest experiences connecting with the expansive landscape of your home on the Blackfeet Nation.


Tatsey: For sure. So you know, growing up, my father was my primary caregiver because my mom was responsible for taking care of the children and maintaining the income because my dad was a full time rancher. He was the biggest part of my upbringing, and it was based a lot at home. And so growing up, I would spend hours with him outside. He would be chasing cows, shoeing horses, just fixing fence. And, you know, one of my fondest memories is just like bouncing down a trail with him and, like, practicing my ABCs, because I cried to not have to go to preschool, and I was just like, “I don't want to,” and I just, I was so young. But I remember that conversation where my dad was like, “You know, she'll be in school for the rest of her life,” and, “Let's just let her have this time.” And so I learned how to say my ABCs, spell my name and count the basic numbers and colors with my dad on the back of a horse as a child. And so I think having that upbringing of learning while on the back of a horse, while being on the land as a young child had a lot to do with my drive in what I wanted to do as an adult, because I realized that the work that I was passionate about, the work that kept me excited and just wanting to learn more had to do with our natural resources and the stewardship to the land, and how that was important and how our cultural value of Mother Earth is, you know? We look at all things as living. And so having that background of understanding that everything around us, there's life.


And so that was one of my hardest things in science. Learning Western science, you know, was abiotic and biotic, like living and non-living. And as an adult, I still fight that concept. And I'm just like it does not make sense, because we need the rocks to break down to become soil so the microorganisms can sustain plant life and plant roots. And you know, so the plant can take up the photosynthesis, so you know, the carbon can be stored. And so for me, that's how I look at systems. And, like I said, bouncing on the back of a horse with my dad while he was looking at buffalo jumps and looking at rock cairns, while being a cattle operator, you know, but having that relationship and always having the identity tied to who we are knowing that the land base that we're at. You know, our family made sacrifices to maintain the land, and maintain the operation, when we could have sold the land back and, you know, moved into community town. But that was never what my father wanted and what his grandfather wanted and what his mother wanted. And so making those sacrifices to stay on the ranch we’re at and to maintain the land has been one of those things where it's bittersweet, because it's really tough, but it's so beautiful, because I'm helping take care of this land, not only for myself, but being a mother, maintaining it for my children.


And my dad tells stories of his grandfather, which would be my great grandfather. And he would talk about how, you know, they would run a certain amount of animals, but they would run enough just to keep buying land. And so for us, it wasn't about having the hugest cattle operation at the time. For us, it was just using them as collateral to continually build up the land base in which we're at. So, I look at those things and I look at those sacrifices that were made for us and our future without getting to know my great grandfather, but seeing those values that were sustained from my great grandfather, to my grandmother, to my father, into me, you know? It's growing up where I do, in Badger Creek, and having found history, and being guided by my father and my grandmother, June Tatsey. You know, she just knew her cattle operation, and she knew her cows. And, you know, we’d get silly, us grandkids, we would be like, you know, it goes her kids, her cows, and then her grandkids, you know? But it was, it was just a joke, you know? And so you look at those relationships, because for her, it was important to sustain being a rancher. And so, for me, you know, taking that responsibility on and in coming in the way of understanding it, as you know, how will I help benefit this land in the future? Then it was like, through your upbringing, but you have to further your education.


And so it was taking all the teachings that I had from a young child in furthering my education, because the way we see it, as being a Native person, you walk in two worlds, and people are going, “What are you talking about?” and I'm like, you know, you have your cultural world, you have your values, you have, you know, everything that makes you the Indigenous person that you are, but then you also got to walk into the Western world, Western society. And so, there's a lot of things where they're not the same. So you got to find the balance. And so for me, I was always trying to find that balance, within, you know, Western learning in the university and college system. And so had I not had the upbringing of a young child of having the horseback riding with my father on the land and looking at teepee rings and looking at where, you know, the buffalo were harvested, while being a cattle operator, I don't think I would have the perspectives that I do now. And so for me, I'm always really thankful for my upbringing, because it gives me a way to really tap into who I am as a person and who I am as a woman, and where I come from. So that's, I guess, in a nutshell, not really a nutshell, but of me and land.


Torgerson: What a beautiful rendering, and I feel like even from a young age you really understood just how much of an impact your grandfather who you never got to meet, or all these generations and all the work that they put into to make the operation that you were fortunate to be born into, that it was all a lot of sacrifice and a lot of group effort. Could you describe a little bit about what Badger Creek looks like? Like I just have a really beautiful image in my mind, and really peaceful. Can you describe what some of the most beautiful parts of it are?


Tatsey: Oh, for sure. My favorite is… Okay, so you look at the Rocky Mountain front, and we're kind of right in the area they have the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and so the foothills of the Blackfeet Nation partake into that. So it was the Blackfeet Nation, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Forest Service and Glacier National Park, so Badger Creek is kind of in that corner of the wilderness. And so we come down from the mountains of the Blackfeet Nation, and then down into the foothills. And so then we come to where all the glaciers, like, carved the foothills, and the Glacial Till and so you have all these really hilly landscapes. So really, an area where there's a lot of moisture and a lot of water. So you have the creek that comes through the Badger Creek, and just all the cottonwoods and all the foothills of the grassland, so just a very beautiful, serene. I just look at it, and I'm like… This is… I'm so lucky to live here. I am so lucky to, you know, be able to know that I can drink from the waters and know that they're, you know, some of the cleanest on the Blackfeet Nation and know that they won't make me sick, because most of the time you can't just go get a cup from a creek or a river and take a drink and know you're going to be okay. And so, knowing where I'm from and knowing where Badger Creek starts, I rode in the mountains where the North and the South Fork of badger come in and they make the creek that flows by my house. Knowing from point A to point B of this landscape, I'm like, this is why it needs to be protected, because in the summer, it's just vast grasslands, and it's so pretty. And then in June, you get the spring flowers, and it's just this painting. For me, I just take pictures in the summertime of, like, the yellow sunflowers. I'm like, “This is so beautiful!” And early spring… This is why I stay here through the frigid cold. It’s because, you know, the spring, summer and fall are my favorite time to be in Badger. And it's just because it's so beautiful. And you can just go on top of a hill and see the creek that runs and see the mountains. And for me, like, it, just how everything interconnects I know, what happens in the mountains influences what happens down lower. So for me I like encapsulate everything. For me, what, you know, Badger is.


Torgerson: Wow. I think it's so lucky that you get to experience both the mountains and the prairie and have an intimate knowledge of both. Like, you know, I grew up in the Great Plains, far from the mountains, and I've also lived in the Rocky Mountains, but I haven't lived in that transitional place that is the Rocky Mountain front. And I'm always just astonished by the beauty of the landscape shifting like that, but to know, like, how the mountains feed the creeks and, you know, benefit the prairies, and to have that kind of full, encompassing understanding of both landscapes, I think, is really unique and valuable for natural resource management too.


Tatsey: It was just my luck of being in the family that I was born into, because, you know, we, as young kids, my dad and my uncles would take me and my cousin up into the mountains in the summer and tell us, you know, “This is where your grandfathers used to hunt. This is where our ancestors, you know, made offerings. This is where they fasted.” And so having the story, that connection back there, is so deep-rooted. And when, you know, that's a part of your history, then it makes it more like I want to protect this, you know? I want to know more about it. I want to help sustain these resources and not see them exploited.


Torgerson: Yeah. It seems like you have always been really close to your Piikani identity, but I'm wondering, how has helping make traditional practices more accessible to your community, and you talked about, like, helping people regain their comfortability on the land, how have you helped other people celebrate and/or reclaim their Piikani identities?


Tatsey: You know, for me, it's just bringing people back out on the land, because what ends up happening is people disconnect themselves from the land. And when you disconnect yourself from the land, you're disconnecting your natural role as a human being. And for me, we are not above or below any mammal. In our stories and our relationships, we are all one. And so for me, having that knowledge and understanding, when I take people back out to the land, I'm like, “Alright, we're just going back to a system that we were naturally a part of,” and when we go out, you're just setting footsteps where your ancestors have before, and you never know, you might be stepping exactly where they had at that particular time because we travel such a vast area on the Blackfeet Nation to work with ranchers and help them on their operations, whether it's taking soil samples or helping install electric fence, as we're getting new funding to do so. A lot of the times they're like, “I didn't know this land was like this,” or, “I didn't know there was, you know, operations out here,” and, “I didn't know that, you know, we had such a huge land base and that it was the foothills, the grasslands and then agriculture.” So a lot of them are just relearning what our land base is and the different types of operations that utilize the land, whether it's farming, whether it's ranching, whether it's people harvesting the forest for wood, you get to see a vast economy that depends on the land, specifically to the land that, you know, you call home. And so for us, it's just re-introducing what those relationships can be and giving them the opportunity to seek those out. And so for us, it's always nice, because, you know, they come in thinking, “Well, I thought this internship was just going to be, you know, digging soil and this and that,” but then they realize, you know, it's more about relationships.


And I always tell anybody, like, if we don't have good relationships with our producers, if we don't have good relationships with our land, if we don't have a good relationship with each other, like, how are we going to be effective in getting any type of work done? And so really taking it at that relationship level of understanding and knowing that we have to hold those relationships, and build those relationships. And that's the way that we're going to be effective. And so for me, that reconnection and bringing that relationship back to them to understand like, yeah, what you're doing as an intern for the summer matters for our producers, and I don't want you to think it just ends when the internship ends. And so I've always been fortunate to have really good relationships with my interns after. I feel weird for calling them interns, because I feel like it’s more like little brothers and sisters, you know? It's like that mentorship. And so I even had one intern who I went to high school with his mother, and for me, I was just like, “Okay, you know, this is so cool. I know your mom, and you're so smart,” you know? And it was, it was like, this thing of like, you know, “This is how you're able to give back to your community, Latrice. This is how you're able to foster those relationships.”


And I always talk about capacity building, and I always talk about it working with our community, and like, if we don't start focusing on building our community members and building our youth up, then what are we really doing? And as far as the work of agriculture, or as far as the work of any type of industry where you're trying to make progressive change? And so for me, I'm always like, well, who are we trying to maintain the land for? Who are we trying to steward the land for? And it always comes back to the youth. Finding that way to bring the youth back to land and fostering that relationship. For me, that's really what it's about. And the work that we get done in the meantime is amazing, because they'll have that. But just having them build those relationships on land, for me, is the biggest piece, the most important piece, of the work that I do.


Torgerson: I came across the phrase “social ecology” in relation to community-supported agriculture within the last few weeks, and that's kind of what I'm hearing when you're talking about the interns and the youth and like them creating relationships back to their ancestors and to their elders today. As their next generation of producers or people working in the food pantry or whatever institutions on the Blackfeet Nation, that they're all part of an ecosystem, just like the plants and the animals. There's a level of social ecology that's really important to maintain to make all of this all of this work.


Tatsey: I think that's what people forget even more doing Western science. And I took a writing class, his name was Paul Stoy, and he said we make science so hard to read that only other scientists can read it. How are we going to share effective messages if we can’t even have the community connect with the science that's being done to show the changes that we need to make? And for me, I was just like, that's 110% correct. Like, if I write a hard, hard science piece, it's like my community is not going to read my hard science. Like, they're going to look at it and be like, “What, is she trying to like show how smart she is?” and, you know, “How does that really help us?” And so for me, I've always really taken that in, and how can my message be an easy way to connect with people? And so I've always tried to, you know, look in that relationship form when I share my work, or, you know, creating any type of new engagement.


Torgerson: Yeah, I've had the same approach with my work too, because I've had professors who encouraged me to like submit to academic journals. But I've always prioritized making my stories accessible to the public. And I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about the tensions, maybe, that you've experienced throughout your education, and then throughout the research that you're doing at Piikani Lodge to both further and integrate Western academic methodologies along with Indigenous research methodologies. Can you tell me a little bit about what that tension is like?


Tatsey: It's hard, because, you know, in Western academics, they want things that can be measured with numbers. They want the data that you can show, you know, these interquartile range changes, the plot data, the bell curve. And in the Western university system of trying to do research, it's like, “We need our control. We need your tester. We need all these different things.” And I feel like you're creating science that, I mean, there's really good information that comes from it. I'm not saying, I'm not trying to belittle it or nothing. But you take out a lot of natural factors, because you're, you know, controlling the environment. You're controlling all the parameters of what's going on in the, within the plant or soil, or you know, what it may be. And so for me, I always found that hard, because in Western science, you stray away from what the people call it noise, you know? A lot of noise, you want to reduce your noise in your research. And for me, I just had the hardest time because they were like, you know, “Latrice, what is your control going to be for your research?” and I was like, “The fence line?” Because if there was no fence line then the buffalo and the cattle would be grazing together, obviously.


And they're like, “No,” and I was like, “Well, underneath the fence line then.” I was like, because for me, the control is this fence line. And they're like, “No, it needs to be where neither of them are grazing.” I was like, “But why?” I was always battling that because it didn't make sense to me because I'm like, I'm not doing this work in a controlled environment. I'm doing this work out on the land.


What I’d come to realize when I was doing the work, once I just sat there on the land and calmed my mind, and just was like, “This is really what you're looking for, Latrice. You're an observer. You want to see what these relationships are. You're gonna see where these animals are grazing. You're gonna indicate the higher topography, the medium topography of the hills, and then the lower topography by the creeks and streams and rivers.” And so just watching where they eat, and how they utilized it for me, that was, you know, I'm gonna take 10 samples here, 10 samples on the medium and 10 samples on the lower end, compile them. And finding ways how the land was helping me to understand the science that I wanted to do. And it helped me understand, like, how water movement flows from moisture being on top, and how it infiltrates from the top to the lower soil, and then going back into the groundwater.


Had I had a controlled plot, I wouldn't have been able to reach my higher level of thinking, because everything would have been so controlled. And I think a lot of the time, that's what we forget, is when we're in these controlled environments, we're kind of limiting ourselves to what we can learn. And when we put ourselves in these fields, in the natural conditions, then we really have to think about things and how things are working naturally, and how these systems are influencing each other and what you could really do on the land at that point, to help make change. And so for me, that was how my research started, was just looking at the land, and then, you know, my work with Piikani Lodge took off. And I was like, wow, you know, the way I'm looking at things is different than the way other people are looking at things, and how can, you know, I be an effective partner with Piikani Lodge Health Institute to look at grazing in this unique sense? And so for me, it was just being on the land and being the observer really helped me share ideas and what our projects could look like in the future with our producers. And noting that, you know, it's never a one-size-fits-all type shoe or moccasin for our producers, and that we’ve really got to reach them at the level where they're at, with their operations, and work with them and provide the resources that we can. In the work that I've been doing, the more and more that I find out is that, you know, when we create these relationships with our ranchers, and we show them that we're really listening and that we really care and that we want to help them, then they understand the work that we're trying to do. So then it just creates for better steward relationships within our community. But also other steward relationships of the land, too. And so for me, that's the biggest part, is the relationships that we build with our producers through Piikani Lodge. If we don't have these relationships, we can't do the work that we want to out on the land. Because we are not being effective in the messages that we're relaying. We're not being considerate of the community and looking at the true challenges that they face. Because they're historically underserved by the NRCS and the USDA agencies. So, we work with ranchers who have businesses that are 50 to 60 years old that they're trying to maintain, because they don't have the resources to put them up. And so really, being there for operators and wanting to help them where they're at, so then they could start making these regenerative practices. For us, that's really where it starts at Piikani Lodge, because we can't just say, “Here's some material. Do regenerative grazing,” because there's so many other issues that kind of hold them back from it. And so, you know, for our work, how do we help you become successful so that you can have some fence and you can have some water development, so it'll help you qualify for more NRCS funding? And so trying to be a resource in between for our ranchers, and we have a lot of team partners, who make sure our ranchers know of the different projects and the different funding. So, it's a full team effort when we look at the agriculture aspect and how we try to reach our producers.


Torgerson: It sounds like a really long and slow and sustained way to build trust and understand the context of every operation and every pasture, which is different, and instead of being prescriptive. What was it like to build that trust and to get people and producers on board to participate in the regenerative grazing initiative? Was there, did it take a little while to get people to want to participate, or even in your research that kind of preceded your work with Piikani Lodge’s regenerative grazing program?


Tatsey: It was a challenge in the beginning, because we put it out in the newspaper, “Come participate in some regenerative grazing work,” you know? “We'll provide fencing and soil monitoring,” and just really trying to sell it on the local level. And we did not get any feedback from the producers in the beginning. And so I started asking our local producers, you know, “Why aren't you?” Because at the time, they didn't know I was a part of the program. I was just, they thought I was still finishing school and whatnot. And they're like, you know, “It just looks like another thing they want us to do, like, just, you know, just something else they want us to do.” And so then, when I realized that was how people were looking at it and approaching this, I was like, wow. I went back to my ranch. I sat there and I thought about what, what the community was saying. And I was like, “How do we make this project just not something else that they have to do?” You know. How do we make this project meaningful to them as an individual, but meaningful to the Blackfeet Nation as well?” And, you know, “What strategies and methodologies are we really going to hone?” And so that's when I was like, that we're gonna have to sit down with people. We're not going to be able to just advertise this and wave something shiny in front of you and say, “Hey, look at what we have, and look what we could do for you if you do this for us.” That wasn't working. And so I was, like, I'm just gonna go visit with these producers that I know who I know are open to trying things. Because, you know, when you grow up in these communities, you know who the ranchers are and you know the families. And so for me, it was easy, because I was like, “Oh, I know, this family will try it. I know, they're open.” So I was just sitting down with these ranchers and having coffee and tea and having a meal with them and taking the approach of, “How can this help you and not help us so much?” And them knowing that we really, really want to help them, and that we're just fortunate enough to have funding to provide resources to do this, but in the end, this is about them, and how we can help them, you know, do more rotational grazing and get some water development so the cows could be up higher in the summer, where the summer potholes and kettles could have dried up. And so it was just understanding, you know? Listening to the challenges and going back to the table and working with solutions. I found by doing that, and in sitting with them, and letting them know, “We want to be here for you and want you to be successful,” then, you know, it creates this trust, because if you don't have the trust within any Native community, you're not going to get effective work done. And so you have to have people within the community that they trust. The benefit of the doubt is I've been in the community, and so there was that trust factor of like, “Oh, we know she comes from an agriculture background. Oh, we know she went to MSU, and she got her, you know, Bachelor's in Natural Resources and Rangeland Ecology,” and “Okay, we know she just graduated with her master's.” And so being known in the community really puts the trust in there so then it's easier to do the work and build the trust.


And now we put an advertisement out, being two to three years down the road. And we have, we're setting up interviews. People are like, “We want to be a part of this,” you know, because they hear that we went to the ranchers’ operation, and we took soil samples, you know? We helped set up the electric fence. No, we're not professionals in that, but we help them in showing that, you know, we're just not going to give you the material and say, “Here, do this.” That we want them to be successful. Because once they start to build that confidence within themselves, then you're just literally helping someone else reach someone else that you might not have. And so it's also reaching people who can reach people where we can't, and I always tell people, you know, it's like this puddle, or this pool that you just have there, sitting there stagnant, but you throw this little pebble into it. And then these little waves start to create, and I was like, that's how I view the work. You know, I would just kind of throw in my little pebble out there and see what I could find. As far as you know. Buffalo grazing and cattle grazing, how that influences soil and respiration. And now I'm five years down the road from that initial and doing the work that I do. So I always say, you know, everything grows, even when you don't expect things to grow. As long as you're working towards something that is really important to you, you'll be blessed to find this path that blooms into greater things that you didn't even know were going to happen. But it was just taking the initiative to start something.


Torgerson: It's like leading with your values and not just thinking, “What can I get for me and mine?” Just hearing you describe approaching the producers and saying, “How can we help you?” instead of like, “Here's this thing that we're thinking of doing, and you should sign up” and that “You should do this.” And I'm kind of just thinking about how we think about sustainable forms of agriculture as consumers, I'm still processing this thought, but like, we're thinking about, “Oh, I want this product because it's grass-finished and it's good for me and it's gonna make me more healthy.” And in hearing you speak previously about the climate-smart commodities program and marketing products, so it's not just good for you, but it's good for an ecosystem. And so yeah, I wonder if you can speak more to that, like, kind of ethic of reciprocity. And it's not just about, “This is good for my ranch,” or, “This is good for my body,” and thinking more in terms of relationships.


Tatsey: Oh, for sure. So when, you know, they were writing the grant, and I was thinking about, you know, about it on the level of like, how, how is grazing a climate smart commodity? And so again, being who I am, you know, when we found out we got the funding, I was like, “Okay, how is this gonna look?” You know, it's wrote beautifully, but what is it gonna look like out on the land? And so I was sitting there watching our cows graze and then I was watching my buffalo graze, and I was like, it's full circle, like our Medicine Wheel. Everything comes back, everything is intertwined, everything is connected.


So what's happening down on the soil level is influencing the health of the plant roots and the plant root health is influencing the plant health and the plant health is influencing the animal health and animal health is influencing the consumer’s health, which is me, and my health influences the decisions that I'm going to be making. And how do I keep that connected? And I was like, “Oh my gosh, Latrice. Like, your product goes back. It's the ecosystem product. It's knowing that the animal that you're consuming had a role in how carbon is being taken out of out of the atmosphere, that the way they're grazing and how they're going to rest in that plant community is going to be able to grow and take up more and more carbon from the atmosphere by the photosynthesis, and release oxygen. Not only are you getting this meat product from this cow, but you're getting a relationship of how this cow grazed to influence the health of the landscape, that in the long term is going to hold, the carbon is going to hold down the success of any operation. Because when you look at the system as a whole system, everything influences everything, from the smallest microscopic that you can't even see with the eye until you look at it through a microscope. And understanding, like through my cultural upbringing, of everything is living. And so when you look at it in that regard, and how a climate-smart product, especially an agriculture product, can influence the health of the ecosystem.


Knowing that they're not always going to be pitted as this devastating thing that's creating more and more emission, but a source of sustainability. And this far is being able to help maintain the current health but also improve it. We can't offset everything. Right now, it's going to take years and years, and it would be unfair for us as humans to say, “Land, work harder for us, so we can continue to live how we're living.” And we as a society can't do that no more. We as a society have to understand that, you know, the land, animals and the soil, the resources can only do so much to sustain us. But what can we do to help sustain them? And that is a part of our movement, in the part of the change that we as humans need to start making.


And you know, for me, it goes through the climate-smart products, of looking at how agriculture is ultimately going to help sustain us and save us in ways where it's looked down upon so hard. And there are parts of the industry that need to change and its mainly industrial-type size, farming and agriculture. But the home-grown, the local smaller ranches, from the communities that you come from, Megan. The communities that I come from, where we maintain those relationships to land because the land is important for us, not so much seeing how much we can get from the land and how much profitability it can make for us in trying to work it harder, but seeing how we can help it sustain itself is really, for me, the ultimate piece of the puzzle as far as how we're going to move forward with being better stewards, land stewards.


Torgerson: Something that you said reminded me of something that Liz Carlisle wrote in Healing Ground, so I just want to read that. She wrote, “After thousands of years of buffalo providing the link between people and the land, the roles have reversed with people now needed to bridge buffalo back into relationship with the prairie. This is why Tatsey chose to study soil ecology. It's a way to support buffalo in rebuilding the landscapes that will ultimately support us all.” So I think that's cool how you brought that back, that it's not just the land or the buffalo’s role to take care of us, it's also our role to kind of step in and help out as well right now. Just thinking back to how the relationship that Blackfeet had to the land prior to colonization, as you're working on the initiatives that you're working on currently, do you think about it more as, like, bringing back those holistic relationships or moving forward in a new direction? How much of it is kind of harkening back to what was? Or how much is it envisioning what can be?


Tatsey: I know, for me, it always goes back to the cultural teachings and how important they are to the decisions that you're making today. I am not going to see bison on the landscapes that my ancestors did in the vast numbers, but I will see cattle on the landscape in large numbers, and how can I help my people manage those animals? Historically, bison are moving all over the land grazing. Now I'm like, “Hey, let's put up an electric fence to keep these cows moving so they don't just eat here.” So for me, it's like, historically, what were the animals doing on the landscape? Then, you know, our people were burning the prairies too so the animals would come back to graze these areas, particularly using fire, like, as a management tool. I know, once a fire comes through the grasses, it'd be greener and vibrant, and all the organic matter is going to be put into the soil so much faster than the natural decomposing rate of just watching it, you know, go down with hoof movement and stuff. And so seeing what those roles were, for me, it's like, they understood how they manage land, how that would bring the animals or how that influenced animal health. They knew that the animals had to continue to keep moving, and that was better for the land. So how do I share that with my ranchers today? To say, you know, this, “I'm not just pushing regenerative agriculture on you, because you can get funded for it.” And it sounds really nice. And it has this real ringy term and, you know, it's the new hottest item and whatnot. But how do we look at it in a way that it was a practice that our people did, for time immemorial, when it comes to how we survived off the landscape, how we sustained our ways of living. That's really how I look at the cultural aspects and the cultural teachings of who I am as a Piikani woman and my Piikani background, and how I can help not only just my people but others in looking at ways and to view the world and looking at ways to view relationships and how having strong relationships with people will help you help them make management changes that will benefit everybody in the long term. And so for me, you know, those are the goals.



A message from Headwaters Foundation: Support for this episode also comes from Headwaters Foundation, an organization dedicated to working side-by-side with Western Montanans to improve the health of our communities. Learn more at




Torgerson: I'm curious what your thoughts are about kind of dualistic thinking of both, well… I mean, we've kind of talked about this, but how agriculture isn't good for the climate, or how some people think that bison are better than cattle. And I think there's tendencies for people to think in kind of these black and white ways. How do you kind of address that tendency for people to think that bison is better than cattle, as an example?

Tatsey: I sat with this for a long time. And it was because when I was a kid, I was telling my grandma, “See where your cows are, Grandma? One day, I'm gonna have buffalo there,” and she would just laugh. That was the silliest thing in the world, you know? And now you look out there and I have two buffalo grazing along with the cows, you know? And well I had three. She's missing. Prayers she's found. I always knew that I wanted to be a cattle rancher, but I always wanted to bring buffalo back. And so, you know, when my grandma rolled her eyes at me, oh, crap. Was it that bad of an idea? Like, come on, you know, like, there's buffalo jumps out here. And there's teepee rings, like, they deserve a spot out here just as much as our cattle, you know? And so what I really realized, what it comes down to is, you know, how much the agrarian practices were pushed on our people after the buffalo had been eliminated to small, small numbers. And so then how, you know, cattle come up and kind of filled in a niche, and how my family was like taking the cattle operation. And then how they become really fond of those animals and wanting to care for them just as much as you know, historically, our ancestors did for the buffalo. And so, sitting there, thinking about it, I was like, you know, if my grandparents can love cows the way that our ancestors love the buffalo and cared for them, then why can’t I? And why can’t I see the value and the importance of both? Why do they have to be pitted on each other? Why does there always have to be a battle between these two animals? Diversity has always been a part of the landscape, yet people forget about that because of the farming monocultures. Because of the ranching monocultures, you forget that there was this diversity of species out on the land.


There was a time where Iinii, bison, was told that it wasn't important to us. But in our culture, that buffalo was sacred. It sustained us, it kept us alive. So now, who am I to tell you that cattle aren't important to your culture? And to who you are? I don't have that right. And I grew up on a cattle ranch. I raised a bum calf named Norman like, you know? I didn't know on the show it was a steer, you know? But that relationship is, I still love that calf and I still bottle-fed that calf. And, you know, me and my grandma would have like races, like she had like 100, 200 cows, and I had my, like, cute little pet cow. And I was like, “Alright grandma, like, let's see who has the healthiest calves.” So I would like constantly be greening my cow to, like, have a really healthy calf, you know, because it was like my bragging right to my grandma, you know? And as I got my buffalo calves and, you know, I was like greening them and, you know, building that relationship with them. For me, it wasn't any different. Whether it was a cow or a buffalo, because they both play a role in my life.


I always get silly, because my Indian name, my Piikani Indian name, is Buffalo Stone Woman, but my childhood name growing up was Beef Stew because I love beef stew, like I was just like, it’s got my love. And so, you know, my advisor Tony Hartshorn is like, “You know, you're a beefalo,” because I told him the story. And I was like, exactly. I can't say one is better than the other. And, you know, Indigenous people might be really mad at me and say, “No, you need to choose the buffalo.” But the cow has played a vital role in my life too, and in the culture in which I was brought up in. And so, for me, I can never say that my buffalo are better than my cows, or my cows are better than my buffalo. I could never bring that judgment to the table. Because so many people do, and they forget the cultural roles and the cultural values that people have on these animals.


Torgerson: Thank you for sharing that. You just really helped me understand experiences that I've had, I think, especially in where some people might have this idea that you can't both be for the livestock industry and for the environment. And I think that when I come across that conversation again, that I can also bring up the cultural element, that like cattle enabled my family to keep our farm. When the wheat prices were down, the cattle prices were up, and that helped. And beef is what we ate like every day, so it both sustained me as part of my cultural identity. And it can be also part of the climate solution.


Kind of thinking about just your, like, all of the Western scientific, all the Indigenous and cultural ways of knowing, and kind of the past and the future. I'm just curious, like, what hopes do you have for Montana's food system at large?


Tatsey: I'm excited that people are going back to the grassroots type of products that they want, you know? You want to know where your food is coming from. And so the movement that I see is, you know, they want to say, like, “I got these carrots at the farmers’ market, and I know that so and so takes really good care of their food.” And so for me, that part excites me, because you see, the younger generations wanting to pay more for better food to support those producers, whether they understand,  you know, “I'm doing some real good,” or whether they're just using it as like, “Oh yeah, I got these really good organic carrots,” there's a role that they're playing within the economics of the system that is really crucial to our local Montana producers. And so the more that we focus on Montana-made, Montana-produced Montana products, the more that we'll be able to sustain our state. And, you know, we're still going to have to take in, you know, different products. But the more that we find ways to sustain ourselves within our own state, I think, the better off we will be, into ways that we could be a model for other states to be like, you know, they're not looking what they could do worldwide. They're looking at what they can do for their communities. And once their communities are having all their needs met, then they're able to branch, because if you're not looking at the needs of your community, and you're trying to solve all these other problems, you're still gonna have all these barriers and constraints that you're dealing with locally.


Torgerson: Well, it's been such a pleasure to talk with you, Latrice. And I open it up to anything else that I might have forgotten to ask or anything. Any closing thoughts that you would like to leave listeners with?


Tatsey: You know, just a little side note is just, when you're listening to this, just be really open-minded and know that it's not a one-size-shoe that fits all. But hopefully, there's something that me and you said today that will help someone else out in knowing that it’s the diversity of thinking and the diversity of people that always make things successful in this world.




Sincere thanks to Danielle Antelope and Latrice Tatsey, Amber Smith with Women in Ranching, Micaela Young at Piikani Lodge Health Institute, Joseph Rutherford at the Blackfeet Community College and the staff at the Arthur M Blank Family Foundation. Visit the episode page at to find links to Piikani Lodge Health Institute, FAST Blackfeet and numerous other resources mentioned in this episode.


Next month I’ll bring you with me to Winnett, Montana, the county seat, and the only town in the state’s least populated county, Petroleum County. In Winnett we’ll hear from an inspiring group of motivated Montanas who came together to form Winnett ACES, a nonprofit that’s strengthening the health of grassland ecosystems, working to keep ranching a viable career for the next generation and creating community gathering spaces on Winnett’s main street.


I produced and co-edited today’s story on Duwamish aboriginal territory with recordings captured on Amskapi Piikani lands. Music and editing for this episode was done by Aaron Spieldenner and Sean Dwyer at Hazy Bay Music. Josh Moyar provided transcription services.


This episode was funded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Season Three Goundwork is also funded in part by Humanities Washington, Humanities Montana, Headwaters Foundation and listeners like you.

To access resources referenced in this episode, full transcripts and to make a donation to Reframing Rural visit Reframing Rural is a fiscally sponsored project of the Montana History Foundation and an original series by Tree Rings Records, LLC. Thank you for listening!

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