BLACKFEET RESERVATION - A 40-year-long saga over the Badger-Two Medicine area continues, as Louisiana-based Solenex continues its quest to drill for oil.
In the Blackfeet’s creation, they tell stories of how their people began to suffer and die long ago. Seeing their suffering, the creator — is-ta-pat-ipeop — returned to the tribe and led them into the land of mountains and rolling hills and gave them the gift of communication with the creator and other spirits.
The land includes what is now known as the Badger–Two Medicine and is a great importance of spiritual and resourceful power to the Blackfeet people because it is there that the spirits remain and where the Blackfeet can go to be alone near creator sun — napi natuse — while still standing on mother Earth — sukametope — so that their prayers can be heard.
“It’s always been a place where you can go back and pray. It’s very spiritual. It speaks to you. It speaks to your very core and I know I’m not the only one," explained Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray.
Back in the 1980s, a series of leases to drill oil and natural gas were permitted within the Badger–Two Medicine area.
Not only is the area culturally significant to the Blackfeet, but it serves as a corridor for wildlife traveling between Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. For those reasons, the leases were suspended in the nineties and a bill was passed in 2006 to prohibit any leases from being created in the future.
“All I can say...you know, we have this relationship with the land going back thousands of years. To preserve our relationship with the area, they could drill somewhere else," Murray said.
The 40-year-old saga continues, as Solenex seeks to continue the fight to dig for oil.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of Washington, DC sided with Solanex in his Sept. 9 decision rejecting the federal government’s claim that drilling and road building in the area would compromise the area’s ecological and cultural value.
Leon declared that the lease had been properly issued and in turn voided the lease cancellation with Solenex. MTN News reached out for a response but we have not heard back.
“The company that holds this lease has a proposal to build about six miles of road into this area and then develop a drill pad and drill an exploratory well and build a bridge across that Two Medicine River. And we just don’t think that this is the place for that kind of activity," Timothy Preso of Earthjustice told MTN News.
A Badger-Two Medicine native who wishes to remain anonymous spoke about the frustrations he feels with the potential for oil drilling in the area.
“That particular area means so much to me personally, my family, my friends, my tribe. And...I think that it should be taken into consideration as just not a piece of ground that they can go dig up.”
“It’s like we’re out in this corral, you know. And so, we can argue all we want, using law, but we can’t get outside of it -- that corral. And so, I think the way that we think about the area is much bigger," Murray said.
The District Court’s decision is being appealed, and both the Blackfeet Tribe and other conservation groups hope for a positive outcome in their favor.
“We believe that the judge that made the ruling — that he may be wrong in the law, and we’re very confident that we’re going to win this case," Murray said.”
“That’s the next step...to move forward with this appeals process. And we’re going to take every step that the law allows to make sure to preserve the integrity and the undeveloped nature of the Badger-Two Medicine," Preso said.