Finally, after a 35-year effort by the Blackfeet Nation, the last two oil and gas leases of an original 47 in the sacred Badger–Two Medicine area have been canceled. The Badger-Two Medicine, located at the wild intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana, has been the traditional homeland of the Blackfeet Nation for more than 10,000 years. It’s where America’s prairie runs headlong into the Rocky Mountains, and it is known as Miistakis, the Backbone of the World, where the Blackfeet began.
“It puts an end to the long struggle,” Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray told Indian Country Media Network of the January 10 announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“We are proud to have worked alongside the Blackfeet Nation and the U.S. Forest Service to roll back decades-old leases and reinforce the importance of developing resources in the right way and the right places,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “The cancelation of the final two leases in the rich cultural and natural Badger-Two Medicine Area will ensure it is protected for future generations.”
The canceled leases were originally issued in the 1980s and had never been used for any drilling in the area. The cancelations followed recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and concerns expressed by the Blackfeet Tribe, conservation, wildlife, and environmental law organizations, and members of the public.
That includes U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, who told the Flathead Beacon, “There are special places in this world where we just shouldn’t drill, and the Badger-Two Medicine is one of them.”
The long process of canceling all of the leases permitted by then-Vice President Dick Cheney without the legally required tribal consultation has been a struggle for the Blackfeet Nation that began with their walking out on negotiations with the federal government when the feds attempted to use tactics that would have allowed for some oil and gas exploration.
“We are not going to speak to anything other than no development,” Murray said at the time.
As the years passed, however, the federal government and the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council began negotiating with leaseholders to remove the threat of oil and gas development from the Badger-Two Medicine. In the case of the final two leases, the Interior Department announced that the Bureau of Land Management will fully reimburse the two leaseholders, Moncrief Oil and JG Kluthe Family Trust, for their payments associated with the leases.
Devon Energy agreed to the cancelation of its leases in a signing ceremony with the Blackfeet and Secretary Jewell, saying that the Badger was too culturally and historically significant to be developed industrially.
But Solenex LLC of Louisiana is suing the Interior Department over the cancelation of its lease.
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that represents a coalition of tribal and conservation interests including Blackfeet tribal members organized as the Pikuni Traditionalist Association and the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance has taken a stance against the Solenex lawsuit.
Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice, called the Badger-Two Medicine “an irreplaceable spiritual homeland of the Blackfeet Nation and one of the finest public wild areas remaining in the lower-48 states.
“It was illegally leased to oil and gas developers by the federal government and it has taken more than 30 years to get justice in the form of cancelation of those unlawful leases,” Preso said in an email to Indian Country Media Network. “We will stand in defense of the Badger-Two Medicine region until the last oil and gas drilling threat is eliminated.”
The Blackfeet Nation say on their Badger-Two Medicine website: “We won’t end our battle until Badger-Two Medicine is permanently protected from oil and gas development.”
And though it took them 35 years and innumerable trips to Washington, D.C., they never did. For this is the place of their stone medicine wheels still visible from 10,000 years ago. This is the place of their Sun Dance. This is the source of their power.