A Sept. 2 meeting held by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Choteau featured overwhelming support for the withdrawal of leases on the Badger-Two Medicine, an area with cultural and ecological linkages to the Blackfeet Nation and Glacier National Park.
In addition to the public testimony, letters of support for lease cancellation by Gov. Steve Bullock, the Glacier County Commissioners and seven former Glacier Park superintendents were submitted.
The meeting was the latest step by the Blackfeet tribe and a coalition of conservation organizations to interdict an exploratory oil well proposed by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, which acquired the energy lease in 1982. The efforts to drill have long been delayed by legal challenges, and Solenex has filed a lawsuit arguing the delays have been unreasonable.
Last week’s hearing was aimed at weighing industrial interests against the cultural values of the sacred lands and is standard whenever companies seek to operate in a designated “Traditional Cultural District” such as the Badger-Two Medicine.
The meeting was a rare occurrence in the realm of consultation in a drilling dispute, however, and serves as a conduit to the president and Congress. In this case, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is charged with determining whether the effects of the proposed well, which would sit on the north end of the 165,000-acre Blackfeet Traditional Cultural District, could be mitigated.
The ACHP serves as an advisory council to the president and Congress, and must submit its recommendation to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack by Sept. 21. Vilsack will then make a recommendation to the secretary of the Interior on whether the lease permit should be released from its suspension. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel will have the final say on the issue.
Around 50 people spoke in favor of lease cancelation at the meeting. The lone proponent, Steve Lechner, an attorney representing Solenex, said the exploratory well would have little impact on the area.
In addition to the public support for withdrawal, a letter from six former superintendents of Glacier National Park was introduced. In it, the former park managers call the Blackfeet Nation one of Glacier’s largest and most influential neighbors, and praised the tribe’s steadfast insistence that industrialization of the region cannot be mitigated.
“It is important to recognize that the cultural and spiritual connections between the Badger-Two Medicine, Glacier Park and the Blackfeet Nation are not cultural artifacts. They are part of a living, ancient and complex relationship between people and this special landscape – past, present and future,” the letter states.
The former superintendents who wrote the letter are: Phillip Iverson, Robert Haraden, H. Gilbert Lusk, Suzanne Lewis, Mick Holm, and Chas Cartwright.
In a letter sent to Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes, Bullock voiced his support for withdrawal of his leases, and his concern that they were granted illegally, and without proper consultation with the Blackfeet.
“There are legitimate concerns regarding the lack of consultation with the Blackfeet Nation at the time the leases were granted. While most of the leaseholders have voluntarily relinquished their leases, a few leases remain and should be canceled,” Bullock wrote.