This excerpt was written by Ellen M. Gilmer for E&E reporter:
BLACKFEET INDIAN RESERVATION — The wind barreling across Montana died down just in time for a morning hike up Mount Baldy.
That was a relief for leaders of the Blackfeet Nation and local environmentalists, who organized this group outing to showcase the grandeur of the Badger-Two Medicine, a wedge of Forest Service land the tribe has cherished for ages.
Dozens of tribal members, students, neighbors and activists showed up for the hike, eager for Baldy’s panoramic view of Blackfeet Country, Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Glacier National Park. The summit delivered a dazzling show of evergreen river valleys, wildflowers and a horizon dotted with snow-capped peaks.
But the scenic view belies the area’s fraught narrative — one of controversial treaties, alleged land grabs and now a showdown in federal court.
Oil is at the center of today’s battle. (Tweet this) The Badger-Two Medicine region was heavily leased 30 years ago, drawing outcry from environmental groups opposed to drilling on the doorstep of a “crown jewel” national park and tribal leaders worried about sullying sacred homelands.
“It’s more to us than just a piece of land or scenery,” Blackfeet Tribal Business Councilman Joe McKay said during an interview at tribal headquarters in Browning last month. “It’s about who we are. It’s about our connection with that land since the beginning of time.”
The Blackfeet believe their people have lived in the area forever. The Badger-Two Medicine holds the headwaters of Badger Creek and the South Fork of the Two Medicine River and is central to the tribe’s creation story. Blackfeet members hunt, fish and hike there, and use the area for ceremonies, vision quests and solitude. In a conversation shifting seamlessly between legalese and Blackfeet spirituality, McKay, an attorney, explained that the mountains hold “the spirt of our land and the spirits of our people that occupy the land.”
That significance was forgotten when the area was first leased, drilling opponents say. In a rush to produce domestic oil and gas in the early 1980s, they argue, government officials failed to consult with the Blackfeet Nation or fully consider the impacts to the mostly untrammeled area. Development would mean well pads, roads, bridges and traffic.
After years of protests, failed negotiations and a lawsuit, the opponents this year notched a huge victory: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the most contentious oil and gas lease was canceled, setting the stage for permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine.
A decadeslong battle doesn’t end that easily, though.
“Many people thought cancellation was end of story,” McKay said. “I watched the disappointment on their faces when I said, ‘This is not the end, folks. This is not the end.’ They’re going to go back into court, and this might not end in my lifetime.”
Sure enough, driller Solenex LLC has vowed to forge ahead in defending its right to drill by challenging Jewell’s decision. Environmentalists and tribal advocates aren’t backing down, either, and the skirmish is set to continue in federal court in Washington, D.C., this year… READ FULL ARTICLE HERE