Northern Cheyenne Lands Act Looks to Right a Century Old Wrong
Great Northern Properties (GNP), the current owner of the subsurface area being addressed within the Act, has agreed to forego its subsurface rights on the reservation to reach this tribal solution. Daines’ bill, in order to compensate GNP for the loss of saleable coal found in the area on the reservation, would transfer subsurface acres in the Bull Mountains and East Fork areas from federal ownership to private ownership for GNP.
The coal tract transfer would give the tribe an estimated 117 million tons of coal according to a tribal representative, while GNP would receive an estimated 112 million tons the Associated Press reports.
According to AP, “An earlier version of the bill from now-retired Sen. Max Baucus stalled because it would have given Great Northern more coal than the tribe received. That lopsided arrangement drew opposition from the U.S. Department of Interior and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and the bill never advanced.”
The Northern Cheyenne Lands Act also qualified surface owners’ rights in Bull Mountains and East Fork by requiring consent if surface mining ever is proposed for those acres, which provides the same protections as if the coal remained in federal ownership.
“We’re not looking to step on anybody’s interests,” Northern Cheyenne tribal administrator William Walks Along told the AP. “The tribe’s main emphasis is the settlement of our claims to the U.S. for failing to acquire the subsurface rights on 5,000 acres in the heart of our homeland here.”
Similar legislation has been supported by the five-member Montana State Board of Land Commissioners, the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, and the National Congress of American Indians.
AP also reports that the tribe is working with Sen. John Walsh (D-Montana) on companion legislation that will be introduced to the Senate in coming weeks.
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