As the Standing Rock Sioux celebrate halting, for now at least, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, another Native American nation is also seeing a victory regarding its holy lands.
The federal government has now canceled 15 oil and gas leases on land revered by the Blackfeet Nation. The Badger-Two Medicine area includes 168,000 acres in Montana, southwest of the Blackfeet reservation and to the south of Glacier National Park.
The government's recent move caps two years of intense negotiations among the Blackfeet, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, US Sen. Jon Tester from Montana and Devon Energy — which owned the leases but had never drilled.
Blackfeet leaders consider these oil and gas leases, spread over 30,000 acres, to have been granted illegally in 1982.
“The federal government didn't consult the tribe,” said Tyson Running Wolf, secretary of the Blackfeet Tribal Council. “They didn't follow their own process on how to involve Blackfeet people on land that we still feel is owned by the Blackfeet themselves.
"We have documented historical data that we've been here for 10,000 years or longer.”
Badger-Two Medicine "includes a lot of our cultural, spiritual areas for the Blackfeet people,” Running Wolf said. He said a number of rivers are vulnerable to potential malfunctions of oil or gas equipment.
But despite the recent action by the federal government, the Blackfeet's fight against development is not over. Running Wolf said two companies — the identities of which are unknown and being investigated by the tribe — continue to hold leases to develop an additional 11,000 acres of land.
It is just as important to stop those remaining leases as it was to cancel the first 15, he said. Until that happens, the whole area is still compromised, he added.
In the longer term, the Blackfeet want to have a larger say in decisions affecting the Badger-Two Medicine area, as co-managers of the land, said Running Wolf. Right now, the land is managed by the US Forest Service as part of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.
“We want to be sitting at the table,” Running Wolf said. “We would like to put back to the two most important things on the landscape and that's the buffalo and the Blackfeet.”
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.