BROWNING – The Blackfeet Nation’s leaders are ramping up efforts to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park, and recently highlighted the cultural, spiritual and ecological significance of a region threatened by oil and gas development.
On June 26, members of the Blackfeet Nation launched the most recent phase of a campaign to rally support for the area, with the aim of terminating 18 oil leases within the Badger-Two Medicine. The mountainous area, located between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, is a cornerstone of the tribe’s creation story, a spiritual nexus known as the “Backbone of the World” and a pristine, untapped ecosystem home to grizzly bears and other wildlife.
To celebrate the area, the tribe hosted Badger-Two Medicine Days, which among other Blackfeet traditions featured an all-night “holy smoke” ceremony led by spiritual elders, with the goal of warding off oil and gas development, said Tyson Running Wolf, secretary of the Blackfeet Business Council.
Organized by the tribe in partnership with conservation groups, Badger-Two Medicine Days was billed as a gathering of like-minded people with various connections to the 165,588-acre mountainous area.
In 1982, the U.S. government issued 47 leases within the Badger-Two Medicine to oil companies and 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 to begin drilling for oil. No ruling has been made in the case, but the Blackfeet argue the leases break numerous federal environmental and historic preservation laws.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jeff Ament, the bassist for the rock band Pearl Jam, who both hail from Big Sandy, were in Browning for the dedication of a skate park that Ament funded, and which coincided with Badger-Two Medicine Days.
Standing with tribal leaders, with the peaks of Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine in the background, Tester said there are some places where oil and gas exploration and development should occur, but the Badger-Two Medicine is not one of those places.
“We have to protect it,” Tester said. “We are going to have to fight like hell to make sure this doesn’t turn into an oil-pumping station, and I am going to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Jack Gladstone, co-founder of the Native American Speaks lecture program in Glacier National Park, spoke of the significance of the Badger-Two Medicine while flying high above it, calling it the cultural, spiritual and ecological headwaters of the Blackfeet.
“This landscape has cradled us, this landscape has nurtured us, and we are reciprocating by protecting her,” Gladstone said. “There is no room to compromise our ideals or our values when it comes to the Badger-Two Medicine.”