Sacred Blackfeet Land Honored in Documentary

Badger-Two Medicine film premiered in Browning and now begins a statewide tour

By Tristan Scott
The Two Medicine River flows through the Blackfeet reservation. Beacon File Photo

Three decades ago, the Blackfeet Nation’s sacred homeland was leased to oilmen for $1 an acre. Last March, the government began the process of restoring the Tribe’s historic birthright by canceling an illegal oil-and-gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park.

On Sept. 1, the Blackfeet observed the 30-year struggle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine, and elevated their hopes of canceling all remaining leases, by showcasing a new documentary film highlighting the plight of the cherished landscape, and its connection to the Tribe.

The film, called “Our Last Refuge,” is produced by Kings Road Media and tracks Blackfeet elders to the time of Lewis and Clark, through decades of cultural suppression and the oil-lease years of the Reagan Administration, and into an era of hope and optimism carried out today by a new generation of Blackfeet leaders.

“The film is testament to the power of faith and determination and perseverance,” said filmmaker Daniel Glick. “This is the last bastion of Blackfeet traditional culture. This is where they make their stand.”

The film features prominent Blackfeet leaders, including Chief Earl Old Person. Speaking of his Tribe’s connection to the Badger-Two Medicine, Old Person told filmmakers that Blackfeet traditions have been pushed to their limits.

“We’re going to fight for this area that we call our home,” he said.

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes underscored the importance of the Badger-Two Medicine, saying, “We have tipi rings and ceremonial structures that date back 10,000 years” in the region.

The Badger-Two Medicine—bordered by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex—is named for the two rivers that spill from its mountain heights. It is home not only to the Blackfeet creation story, but also to a suite of wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, elk, and cutthroat trout. It serves as a primary migratory corridor, connecting the wilderness with the park and the prairie with the alpine peaks.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. government sold oil and gas leases throughout the area without the required tribal consultation and sidestepping environmental reviews. The Blackfeet and conservation partners have since fought side-by-side to protect the area.

A majority of leaseholders have voluntarily retired their Badger-Two Medicine holdings, and federal law prohibits any new leasing in the region. In March, the government took another step by canceling one remaining lease, while stakeholders hope to remove all 17 remaining leases and furnish the region with permanent protections.

Gloria Flora, a retired U.S. Forest Service supervisor, who during her tenure enacted some protections for the area, notes in the film, “If we drill in the Badger-Two Medicine, we essentially have told the American people that no place is off-limits. There is no place that’s too special, too important, too valuable. And that places oil and gas development above all other uses, all other values. Basically, it says any place is open.”

The film premiered on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on Sept. 1 at Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chambers in Browning. From there, it will travel the state, with showings scheduled for Great Falls, Bozeman, Missoula, Whitefish, Helena, and Billings as well as an online release later this year.

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