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Bottled water prize for Browning

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BROWNING, Mont. - With clean water an increasingly valuable commodity, especially in her hometown, Mary Reevis wants to help. She hopes to market her bottled water product worldwide.

Reevis, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, uses water from Giant Springs outside Great Falls. At one time, she says, as many as 8,000 Blackfeet congregated at the springs, also known as Ogh tah guh, where the water has been carbon dated as about 2,900 years old. Extraordinarily pure, the water contains naturally occurring fluoride, which many municipal water systems add to help promote dental health.

"The water is actually as pure and fresh as it was in the year 900 B.C." She compared it to water that flows onto her reservation from Big Badger Creek. "In upper Big Badger, you can look down at the water and see every rock on the bottom. That is the same way this water looks, pure and crystal clear.

"We knew where the good stuff was."

Reevis outlines three main goals for Blackfeet Bottled Water - to "create awareness of the Blackfeet Nation, provide a premium product, and enhance the health and wellness of the consumer.

"I didn't want to sell cigarettes or anything else that's not good," she says, adding she wants to start a string of other businesses, as well. Reevis has undergraduate and master's degrees in business administration from the University of Montana in Missoula.

"I'm looking for ways to put other people to work because it's time to turn this cycle of poverty around."

Reevis helps other tribal members develop business plans so they can start enterprises. A portion of the proceeds from water sales will be set aside for that endeavor, she says.

"This can be done by anyone. That's what we're here for, the people. This water is going to open a lot of doors in other areas for the Blackfeet Tribe."

Her company was prompted, in part, by the fact many people in Browning refuse to drink town water because of discoloration.

The municipal system's infrastructure is shot, prompting entities such as the Browning School District to buy bottled drinking water for all of its in-town students. Reevis also hopes to tap into the burgeoning tourist market in nearby Glacier National Park.

While the company has just gotten off the ground, Reevis has customers lining up at her office at the Blackfeet Writing Instruments headquarters just south of town.

She plans to deliver water to as many customers as possible; others can pick up supplies as they need them. The company also rents and sells portable water coolers and heaters.

"Lots of people have talked about doing something like this, but Mary's been the only one with the courage to actually try it," said Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Bill Old Chief.

Reevis had worked for International Business Machines in White Plains, N.Y., where she received advanced training in computer networking. She returned to the reservation to do computer work for the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and Blackfeet Community College.

Reevis, also known as Ah kai' kii mahn aki, or Feather Woman, is a first-born daughter reared by her grandmother, Annie Bullshoe Calfrobe. Throughout her childhood they lived in a two-room house with no running water or electricity.

"The long-ago tradition was for the oldest child to be raised by grandparents," Reevis explains. "In this way, the culture and traditions were passed down generation to generation."

The mother of four says she got interested in commerce at an early age, selling her grandmother's beadwork to reservation tourists. Her grandmother always urged her to get an education so she could better her life and the lives of others.

"As I go along that path I am helping other people," Reevis says, adding that she displays snapshots of her customers on a bulletin board in her office.

"That way I remember who I work for," she says.