Courtesy Blackfeet Nation
Badger Creek, in the sacred Badger–Two Medicine region of the Blackfeet Nation's traditional homelands, is part of the area threatened by oil leases granted more than 30 years ago.

NCAI, Tribal Nations, Pearl Jam and Help Blackfeet Protect Sacred Badger-Two Medicine Site

Terri Hansen

A new phase in the fight to protect the Blackfeet’s sacred Badger–Two Medicine traditional homelands has pulled together improbable allies including 17 tribes and nations in Washington and Canada, Senator Jon Tester and the rock group Pearl Jam.

The Blackfeet Nation of more than 17,000 members on April 22 stepped up an action plan to protect its traditional homelands by launching a national campaign and website, plus a petition that as of April 26 had garnered 1,702 supporters as it aimed for 2,500. The Blackfeet also asked President Barack Obama to cancel remaining oil leases in the 165,588-acre region. The tribe has been locked in a court battle with Solonex LLC since the energy company filed suit to develop its leases in 2013.

RELATED: Blackfeet Battle Oil & Gas Developer for Sacred Badger–Two Medicine Origin Site

The mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front are “sacred to our people, central to our culture and to our spirituality,” said Chief Earl Old Person, former Blackfeet chairman, at the Earth Day news conference launching the campaign to protect the region “at any cost.” The area lies at the intersection of the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. Old Person recently wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama seeking an end to the leases.

RELATED: Chief of Blackfeet Nation Seeks President’s Support in Ending Oil Leases on Sacred Lands

They will use “any means possible,” including legal measures, treaty rights and social pressure, said Blackfeet member and tribal historic preservation officer John Murray. The goal is to cultivate a groundswell of support and urge Congress, Obama and federal agencies to cancel all remaining leases.

The fight has been more than three decades in the making. That’s when 47 oil and gas leases were granted—illegally, the Blackfeet allege—without tribal consultation to drill in the area. The Blackfeet Nation tried to get the government to cancel them 30 years ago, but 18 leases remain. Solonex LLC is seeking to develop a federal oil and gas lease on 6,200 acres.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has also gone on record in support of the Blackfeet, sending a request to U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell in March asking that the DOI work with the Blackfeet Nation to cancel the remaining oil and gas leases that threaten Badger-Two Medicine. Doing so is in keeping with a core principle of NCAI’s mission, which is to protect and preserve cultural heritage, religious practices and sacred places of worship, NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata (Tlingit-Haida Tribes, Alaska) told ICTMN. Federal agencies have a trust relationship and responsibility not only to protect Indian access to religious places but also to ensure their preservation and protection from desecration, Pata said.

“We’re hoping the DOI will do its part to ensure their responsibilities are upheld,” Pata said. “NCAI will continue to work the Blackfeet to support their efforts, and we are encouraging tribes to also reach out and support the Blackfeet leadership.”

The matter is on the NCAI agenda for its mid-year conference from June 28 to July 1 in St. Paul, Pata noted.

“It is through our combined voices and efforts that we can let decision makers in D.C. know that the desecration of tribal sacred places cannot occur,” she said.

The Blackfeet Nation is supported by 17 tribes, including the Lummi Nation, which itself is fighting to preserve sacred lands from encroachment by a coal-rail terminal.

RELATED: The Case Against Coal Terminals: Lummi Cite Health, Environmental Factors

“A sovereign tribal nation has the right to manage and protect their territory,” Lummi Business Council Chairman Tim Ballew II told ICTMN by e-mail. “Our understanding is that this land is a defining area for their identity, and we support their efforts to protect it.”

Also joining in was Pearl Jam, which issued a statement of support via its activism page on Facebook.

“This #EarthDay, join Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, Senator Jon Tester and the Blackfeet Nation to protect the Badger-Two Medicine region from illegal leases sold to oil companies,” wrote Pearl Jam Activism in a post that links to the petition. “Sign the petition to stop oil companies from exploiting this sacred land in Montana.”

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