Blackfeet Kick Off Campaign to End Oil Exploration on Badger-Two Medicine

Tribe joins National Congress of American Indians to terminate the final 18 oil leases inside the culturally and environmentally significant region near Glacier Park

By Justin Franz
Harry Barnes, left, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, views a map of the Badger-Two Medicine area while Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray, standing, discusses the cultural significance of the area. Tristan Scott | Flathead Beacon

The Blackfeet Nation is enlisting the help of a member of one of America’s most popular rock bands to help protect a culturally and environmentally significant plot of land on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park.

On April 22, members of the Blackfeet Nation held a press conference to kick off a campaign to rally public support to terminate 18 oil leases within the Badger-Two Medicine. The mountainous area, located between the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, is an important part of the tribe’s creation story and is known as the “Backbone of the World.”

To help get the word out, the Blackfeet have enlisted the help of Jeff Ament, bass player for Pearl Jam. On Wednesday, Ament posted a message supporting the Badger-Two Medicine effort on the band’s official Facebook page.

“Drilling for oil and gas has no place in the Badger-Two Medicine,” Ament said. “Clean water and clean air are precious resources that hold the key to the future of the Blackfeet people and all Montanans.”

To help bolster the campaign, a new website was launched, www.badger-twomedicine.org, and billboards promoting it will be begin popping up around the state. The website urges the public to reach out to Montana’s Washington D.C. delegation and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to let them know that they do not support oil exploration in the Badger-Two Medicine.

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 Solenex, LLC, filed a lawsuit so it could begin drilling for oil. No ruling has been made in the case. The Blackfeet have argued that the leases break numerous federal environmental and historic preservation laws.

During the April 22 press conference, Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Secretary Tyson Running Wolf said that in the past officials have met with Longwell to discuss buying out or even trading other leases for the 18 within the Badger-Two Medicine. But so far, Longwell has been uninterested in working with the tribe. Running Wolf said tribal officials would be meeting with Longwell again this week.

Tribal officials said that although they oppose drilling within the Badger-Two Medicine, they welcome oil exploration on other parts of the reservation.

“The Blackfeet Nation will use all of its power to prevent drilling on that land,” Running Wolf said. “This area is spiritually and culturally important to us.”

Running Wolf was joined by BTBC member and tribal chief Earl Old Person, tribal historic preservation officer John Murray and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata. Old Person, who recently reached out to President Barack Obama asking for his support to end the oil leases, began the press conference with a prayer and ended it with a plea for help.

“The Badger-Two Medicine is our territory. It is our land,” said the 86-year-old tribal elder. “There are oil developments all around, so why pick this piece of land?”