Tribes Ask Government to Halt Leases

Calling it an “historic day,” tribal leaders from Blackfoot Confederacy band together to urge withdrawal of oil and gas leases in sacred Badger-Two Medicine

By Tristan Scott

BROWNING – In a sign of cultural and political solidarity, tribal chiefs and leaders representing the Blackfoot Confederacy convened Friday to sign a proclamation to end energy development in the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area.

The Confederacy added its voice to an unprecedented alliance of American Indian tribal nations calling on the federal government to resolve decades of wrongdoing by public land managers, and to once and for all protect the Badger-Two Medicine from private industrialization.

Tribes from Montana, Wyoming and the Canadian province of Alberta have issued joint proclamations, insisting that the U.S. Department of Interior cancel illegal oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.

“This is a historic day,” said John Murray, Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. “This proclamation by the Confederacy shows clearly that this is not just an important issue for the Blackfeet, but for Indian Country.”

The Badger-Two Medicine – named for the two crystal clear rivers that spill from its mountain heights – is located at the wild intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It is a place of power for the tribes, where the nation’s prairie runs headlong into the Rocky Mountains, and is known as “Miistakis,” the “Backbone of the World,” where the Blackfeet were created.

Home to the Blackfeet origin story, the Badger-Two Medicine cradles sacred mountains with powerful names such as Morning Star, Scarface and Spotted Eagle – names drawn straight from the beginnings of Blackfeet culture. This is the place of the Sun Dance, the Medicine Lodge, the wolf and wolverine and grizzly bear.

It is also the place where, for 30 years, American Indians have struggled with the federal government over plans to industrialize the landscape on behalf of private oil and gas companies. Despite numerous overtures to negotiate – to buy the leases, or to swap them for leases in other, less spiritual areas – several companies have declined to discuss anything short of full industrial development, including roads, gas wells and oil fields.

As a result, the tribes are now insisting that the original leases be canceled, as the government has done elsewhere when leases were found to have been issued in error.

The region around the Badger-Two Medicine has a long history of federal protections, dating back more than a century to the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910, the Sun River Game Preserve in 1913, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness in 1964. These designations have been complemented by the ban on future leases, implemented by a 2006 law introduced by then Senator Conrad Burns, the prohibition on motorized use, and the establishment of the Traditional Cultural District. The 1980s Reagan-era leases – which the Tribes believe violate both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act – stand out on the conservation timeline as a dramatic inconsistency, tribal leaders insist, and were granted without either tribal consultation or review of cultural resources.

Removing the leases and protecting the Badger-Two Medicine, according to the coalition of Tribes, is the only remedy.

According to the letter sent Friday to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council: “Should this company [Solenex] prevail, any short-term private-industry profit from energy development will irrevocably change the Blackfeet’s ancient right to the natural capacity, power and ability of the land, including its plants, animals and the region’s pristine and isolated nature.”

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