Blackfeet Chief Urges Obama to End Oil Leases Near Glacier Park

Chief Earl Old Person sends letter to president asking him to end oil leases and invites him to visit the culturally significant Badger-Two Medicine

By Justin Franz
Earl Old Person, chief of the Blackfeet, pictured Oct. 2, 2013. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The chief of the Blackfeet Nation has asked President Barack Obama to cancel oil leases in the culturally and environmentally significant Badger-Two Medicine area east of the divide.

Chief Earl Old Person, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council since 1954, sent a letter to Obama last month asking him to help protect the mountainous area between the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He also invited the president to Blackfeet Country to see the area for himself.

The Badger-Two Medicine is an important area in the Blackfeet creation story and is known as the “Backbone of the World.” In 1982, the U.S. government leased land within the Badger-Two Medicine to oil companies and of the 47 land leases originally issued, 18 remain. For years, tribal officials have tried to terminate the leases but in 2013 the final leaseholder, Sidney Longwell of Solenext, LLC, filed a lawsuit so it could begin drilling for oil. No ruling has been made in the case.

“This area has been utilized as a sanctuary for not only the wildlife, but also for our people to come together and realize their spirituality and to be in touch with their creator,” Old Person wrote. “This is the landscape which has for hundreds of years served as an altar to the members of the Blackfeet Confederacy.”

In his letter, Old Person states that the leases violate treaties and agreements between the Blackfeet and U.S. government dating back to the 1800s. The letter to the president comes just months after tribal chiefs and leaders representing the entire Blackfoot Confederacy, including tribes from Wyoming, Montana and Alberta, signed a proclamation demanding the government end energy development in the Badger-Two Medicine.

Old Person’s letter opposing oil exploration is especially notable because of his prominence in the Blackfeet tribe.

“I respectfully request that we work together to fully put an end to these remaining leases and stop all threats to our cultural and spiritual heritage,” Old Person wrote. “These ancient lands are among the most revered landscapes in North America and it should not be sacrificed, for any price. I believe that your administration has the authority, the foresight and the principle to cancel these remaining leases, and to permanently protect the integrity of our cultural and natural heritage.”

Old Person ended the letter by inviting Obama to the Blackfeet Reservation. Old Person has met every president since Harry S. Truman and met Obama during a visit to Washington D.C. In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first and only president to ever make an official visit to the Blackfeet Reservation. During the visit he was officially adopted by the tribe and given the name “Lone Chief.”

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