Indian Congress, Pearl Jam join Blackfeet in fight against leases

John Murray, Chief Earl Old Person and Tyson Running Wolf announced Wednesday a national campaign to cancel oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

John Murray, Chief Earl Old Person and Tyson Running Wolf announced Wednesday a national campaign to cancel oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

By Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune

The Blackfeet Tribe and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) announced a campaign Wednesday to cancel the remaining oil and gas leases within the Badger-Two Medicine area.

The rock band Pearl Jam and member Jeff Ament, who originally is from Big Sandy, will be reaching out to their supporters to encourage them to join the campaign, it was announced during a news conference.

The 165,588-acre area is almost entirely within roads and features mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The area has 47 oil and gas leases that the Blackfeet and NCAI contend were illegally granted more than 30 years ago without tribal consultation. Today, 18 leases remain. In 2013, Solonex LLC filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to begin drilling in the area.

The Blackfeet announced a campaign to urge Congress, President Barack Obama and federal agencies to cancel all remaining leases in the Badger-Two Medicine, which is located at the intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Tyson Running Wolf, secretary of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said drilling in the lands that are at the heart of the tribe’s creation story with so much cultural significance is not an option. The tribe will be putting the full weight of a growing alliance behind efforts to stop drilling, he said.

“The Badger-Two Medicine is a sacred place where the Blackfeet people gather food and medicine,” Running Wolf said.

The fight against the oil and gas leases was announced during a news conference conducted in Browning by Running Wolf; Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person; John Murray, Blackfeet tribal historic preservation officer; Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the NCAI.

Old Person led the announcement with a prayer.

Tribal members have been struggling with the possibility of development in the Badger-Two Medicine for awhile, he said. Past leaders of the tribe said wars of the future would not only be with bows and arrows, he said.

Running Wolf said the Blackfeet Nation has been fighting to protect the area for more than 30 years. Under the Reagan administration, 47 oil and gas leases were illegally issued without consulting the tribe, he said. With the announcement, the full weight of the tribe and a growing alliance is behind the effort.

“We will never let this happen,” Running Wolf said.

Murray said the campaign will include billboards and a website, badger-twomedicine.org. There also is a petition on change.org asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to cancel the leases.

The tribe also is reaching out to faith and business communities and national environmental organizations to bring their voices to millions of people around the nation.

Ament, of Pearl Jam, will be helping out as well on social media.

“We’re going to be mobilizing his resources to get the message out about the Badger-Two Medicine,” he said.

Ament, bass player for Seattle-based Pearl Jam, issued a statement through the tribe.

“The Blackfeet Nation sits on the front range of the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park, one of the most spiritual and beautiful spots in Montana,” Ament said. “Drilling for oil and gas has no place in the Badger-Two Medicine. Clean water and clean air are precious resources that hold the key to the future of the Blackfeet people and all Montanans. Please cancel the leases in the Badger-Two Medicine.”

On its Facebook page, Pearl Jam urged its followers to join the Blackfeet Nation to protect Badger-Two Medicine region that included a picture of Ament and U.S.Sen Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Johnson Pata, executive director of the NCAI, said Indian access to sacred places is critical responsibility to federal agencies.

“NCAI has requested that the Department of the Interior consult with the tribe on the Badger-Two Medicine, and we are hopeful that the agency will move to cancel all remaining oil and gas leases that threaten the area’s preservation,” she said.

The Blackfeet also announced partnerships with 18 Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Canadian Native tribes and nations, The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, the Montana Wilderness Association and the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance.

Blackfeet Man Jailed for Speaking Out, Hits Back Harder

Adrian Jawort, ICTMN

Never one to stray from saying what he really feels, Blackfeet tribal member Byron Farmer actually spent five days in a tribal jail in July for speaking out against his divided tribal government’s alleged corruption. Farmer, the de facto leader of the Blackfeet Against Corruption group, said he was arrested over free speech violations as not once did he threaten anyone in his BAC Facebook post stating about a proposed parade float: “We promise it will be exciting and make headlines worldwide. And we can tell you we are not planning anything violent or illegal so they (tribal council) will not be able to stop us.”

RELATED: Tired of Corruption, Mont. Tribal Members and the Guardians Fight Back

Although Farmer’s actions are protected under the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, locally the Blackfeet Tribe deemed it a violation of the Blackfeet Ordinance 67 which protects council members against libelous “or misleading statements meant to harm, injure, discredit” them. Farmer’s attorney, David Gordon, writes, “They’re basically saying if you criticize the tribal council you’re going to go to jail and that’s frightening.”

Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with the always fiery Farmer to see what good jail did to him.

Was being arrested and jailed for five days over a free speech issue worth it?

I didn’t much like it. Our jails aren’t country clubs. I am a big guy so was never in danger, but I have to admit I was very angry. It was hardest on my family, but they understood the importance of BAC’s mission. But yeah, it did a firestorm of good. My five days in jail brought BAC millions of dollars in free national coast-to-cost advertising about what’s going on in our home. My arrest was the trigger that finally swung around the big national media spotlight to shine right on the Blackfeet Reservation, where it caught tribal leadership speechless, embarrassed, and scurrying. Ever since then the Blackfeet Tribal Council has been on the defensive and under non-stop media and legal pressure.

Where you surprised about the firestorm your arrest caused?

Americans may not understand the mysterious inner workings of Indian country, but they sure as hell understand what free speech is. So the national media immediately jumped on the news and printed my Facebook postings that triggered my imprisonment. Americans read my tame, innocuous comments and couldn’t believe that that sort of clearly Constitutionally-protected speech aimed at elected leaders could result in an arrest, let alone jail in America. People everywhere were really bewildered and angry and that fueled more media coverage. But I would have gladly done five months if that’s what it took to wake up the world to what is going on here.

What do you think of emerging as the BAC de facto leader?

I am not the leader of BAC, I am just one of many right-thinking Blackfeet that have been trying for years to push back the tidal wave of corruption that has engulfed the Blackfeet Tribe. Events and momentum may be on our side now, but for years we felt like tiny voices in the wilderness constantly being threatened and attacked. The reason my name is out there are four things that make my role possible. First, I live in Great Falls, beyond the reach of the BTBC and Tribal Police – I was on the reservation visiting family when they arrested me, so apparently they were waiting for me. Second, I am willing to loudly and relentlessly speak out, come what may. Third, neither I nor my immediate family depends on the tribe for a paycheck so they can’t use their favorite weapon – firing people – on me. Fourth, over time whistle blowers have come to trust me and BAC as a reliable, confidential outlet for things they want other Blackfeet to know. So, as anyone can see from BAC’s Facebook page, my inbox gets the goods almost every day and I never reveal my sources.

Most have to keep a low profile so they don’t lose their jobs or face other retaliation from the BTBC. Second, BAC doesn’t take credit for any of the good stuff that has been happening lately such as the indictments. All we do is keep up constant intense pressure on the bad guys with a steady drumbeat of reliable news, analysis, predictions, inside scoops, and the publishing of documents the BTBC want kept secret. Third, BAC will never give up and we have lots more to do.

RELATED: Montana Guardians Project Aims to Deter Indian Country Corruption

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/11/26/blackfeet-man-jailed-speaking-out-hits-back-harder-152438

Blackfeet Tribal Council says energy leases on religious site cancelled

David Murray, Great Falls Tribune

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council issued a news release Wednesday stating proposed oil and gas leases near Chief Mountain have been canceled. The mountain, located near the Canadian border and on the boundary between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park, is considered sacred by many of the Blackfeet people.

“The current proposed leases by Nations Energy, which are the subject of so much misinformation, were canceled on July 24, 2013 due to nonpayment by the company,” the tribal council news release states. “The intention of such leases was to explore an area of the reservation which is at least two miles from Chief Mountain and at least one half mile from the mandated buffer zone.”

The tribal council’s announcement comes three days prior to a planned protest in opposition to oil and gas development at the site. Reports that the council had approved exploration leases at Chief Mountain became public last week after a conservation activist posted lease documents purportedly obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on his web site.

Included within those documents is a resolution signed by council chairman Willie Sharp, Jr. and acting council secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane reaffirming a prior resolution from January 3, 2013. The resolution approves the mineral lease development of 4,000 acres of tribal land by Nations Energy, LLC, with three wells to be developed within a five year primary term, the first to be drilled within 18-months of the lease signing.

Publication of these documents prompted a petition drive in opposition to the development, which had gathered more than 2,200 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s news release notes that as far back as 1982, nontribal people were prohibited from making incursions into a one mile buffer zone around the base of Chief Mountain, and that this protection was reaffirmed by tribal council action in 1992.

“The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has always considered Chief Mountain as one of the most sacred sites on the Blackfeet Reservation,” the news release states. “This area was for spiritual use of the Blackfeet people only. This protection continues to this day and nothing has or will disturb this area, including any oil and gas development.”

It continues on to state that even if the agreement with Nations Energy had advanced to the drilling of wells, the tribe would have first had to complete an environmental and cultural resources study to see if the proposed wells would impact any Blackfeet cultural resources.

“However, since the leases no longer exist, this is not an issue,” the news release concludes.

The tribal council goes on reassert its “absolute right to develop its own resources on its own land.”

“The council is clear in its purpose to create a better economic environment for its people who currently suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the United States,” the news release states. “With that responsibility to better the lives of its people, however, comes the absolute mandate to do no harm to the tribe’s cultural sites, traditions and resources, including water. The two duties go hand-in-hand and this council will follow its oath and the Blackfeet Constitution to protect and defend its land and to responsibly develop its many and valuable resources.”