Oil leases in the United States are seen as a way to break the need to rely on other countries, however for others, like Chief Earl Old Person they are seen as a way to breaking the back of the world.
The Blackfeet Nation member wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in March seeking his support in ending oil leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Rocky Mountains. The Badger-Two Medicine is 165,588 acres of significant cultural and spiritual importance to the Blackfeet Nation. The mostly roadless area is surrounded by the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Rocky Mountain Front. For the Blackfeet, the area is known as the “Backbone of the World.”
Old Person, who has been a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council since 1954, highlighted that the Treaty of 1855, along with an agreement made in 1895 reserved traditional rights, including access to practice tribal religion – the area in question is sacred to his people.
“This area is part of who we are; it’s a part of our creation story,” said Old Person. “We go to the Badger-Two Medicine to gather medicines and food, and to be closer to our Creator.”
In 1982, the Reagan administration leased the area without proper consultation with the Blackfeet Nation. The agreement to oilmen was for $1.00 per acre and included 47 leases, of those 18 remain today despite the tribe’s efforts in cancelling the leases. One leaseholder, Sidney Longwell of Solenex, LLC, filed a lawsuit in 2013 in district court to begin drilling – no ruling has been made.
“I have a responsibility to help protect our sacred lands for our children and their children,” said Old Person. “I call on President Obama to work with the Blackfeet people to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from the threat of oil leases that will desecrate the land.”
Old Person who has meet every president since Harry S. Truman, invited Obama to visit the Blackfeet Reservation according to the flatheadbeacon.com. Old Person has met Obama while visiting Washington, D.C. but never in Indian country.
Read Old Person’s letter in its entirety below:
Text of Letter from Chief Earl Old Person to President Barack Obama
March 19, 2015
Dear President Barack Obama,
My name is Earl Old Person, Chief of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. My people are the southernmost division of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Pikuni, which includes three bands north of the Canadian border. I have had the privilege of serving the Blackfeet People as a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council since 1954. I have served as a past President of the National Congress of American Indians as well as having the honor of meeting you during one of our visits to our nation’s capitol. During my lifetime, I have had the honor of meeting every U.S. President since President Harry S. Truman.
The Two Medicine River has its headwaters within the Badger-Two Medicine which is located in the Rocky Mountains often referred to as the “Backbone of the World.” The Badger-Two Medicine for thousands of years has helped shape the identity of the Blackfeet people. This area has been utilized as a sanctuary for not only the wildlife, but also for our people to come together and realize their spirituality and to be in touch with their creator. This is the landscape which has for hundreds of years served as an altar to the members of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The Treaty of 1855 and the agreement of 1895 reserved, for our people, traditional rights including access and pre-existent religious freedoms.
In 1982, the Reagan Administration unilaterally leased the Badger-Two Medicine to oilmen for $1.00 per acre. As Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council during that era, I can tell you that the Pikuni-Blackfeet Nation was never consulted. And, that as the traditional Chief of the Blackfeet People I have always been told by our elders that our responsibility was to save those lands for our children and all future generations of Pikuni People.
The Blackfeet Nation has been able to successfully contest the legitimacy of these leases and drilling proposals for over three decades. Many responsible oil companies have recognized the sanctity of these cultural headwaters, voluntarily changing their holdings for opportunities on federal lands elsewhere—yet a handful of these leases remain.
At this time, I respectfully request that we work together to fully put an end to these remaining leases and stop all threats to our cultural/spiritual heritage. The Blackfeeet Reservation, Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and the recently recognized Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Area, surround the Badger-Two Medicine. These ancient lands are among the most revered landscapes in North America and it should not be sacrificed, for any price. I believe that your Administration has the authority, the foresight, and the principle to cancel these remaining leases, and to permanently protect the integrity of our cultural and natural heritage.
Again, on behalf of the Blackfeet Nation, I most sincerely request your assistance in permanently protecting the Badger-Two Medicine as a natural treasure. These leases must be cancelled, and then together we will craft protection that assumes shared stewardship for these wild lands.
In conclusion, as Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, I respectfully invite you to visit us here in Blackfeet Country to explore the promise of the Badger-Two Medicine.
Earl Old Person
Chief of the Blackfeet Nation
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council