The Louisiana Purchase all over again?
September 19, 2013
Following is the letter I sent to Sidney Longwell, the Louisiana speculator whose lawsuit threatens Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine wildlands, bordering Glacier National Park.
Dear Mr. Longwell,
I understand that you have initiated a lawsuit to develop a lease to explore for fossil fuel beneath our Badger-Two Medicine Traditional Cultural District. am writing to express my dismay that your plans for “the Badger” would violate both the sanctity of this landscape and the treaty rights of our Pikuni-Blackfeet people.
Within the Badger-Two Medicine, there are two mountains whose narrative reference embodies both the character and foundation of our Pikuni Sun Dance. The Sun Dance is a central religious ceremony within our tribe. For traditional Blackfeet, its function of renewal can be likened to the role of Easter within Christianity. These two mountains are Feather Woman and Poia (Scarface).
Feather Woman relates the story from a long ago union between an Earth woman and Morning Star. She is entrusted with celestial teachings and sent to reunite with her Earth people. These rituals are woven into our Sun Dance.
From the union of Feather Woman and Morning Star, there survived a son. This boy, Scarface, grows into a young man who displays an exceptionally noble heart. Scarface ultimately journeys to the Lodge of the Sun to win the hand of the girl he loves. On route, he is assisted by Wolf, Grizzly, Badger, Wolverine, and finally, Trumpeter Swans. Upon reaching the Sun, Scarface gains blessings and additional rites complementing our Sun Dance. Poia’s odyssey is forever memorialized by the landmark peaks of the Badger-Two Medicine. These stories are but a fragment of the ancient narratives that are associated within the landscape in which you intend to drill.
The lease you hold is the product of an egregious error made by the federal government more than 30 years ago. Under the 1895 Agreement, our people reserved traditional rights in this area that include pre-existing religious freedoms. Pilgrimages, both solitary and social, are wholly incompatible with the industrialization of these watersheds.
There is a more considerate and prudent path.
I urge you to follow the example of other oil and gas speculators who have found mutually beneficial alternatives, relinquishing their leases in our Badger-Two Medicine area. You would be granting our Blackfeet Nation an honorable service by abandoning your lawsuit.
I encourage you to work with both the federal government and with Montana’s congressional delegation to capitalize on the 2006 lease withdrawal legislation. Thereby, you may exchange your claim to seize opportunities in far less spiritually rich landscapes.
The Badger-Two Medicine region is a refuge for our Blackfeet people, one of the last geographical strongholds for our cultural lifeways. Hall Creek, the site of your lease, is an integral and pristine component of that refuge. I am invested in its protection, as its preservation assures the survival of my people.
Mr. Longwell, my spiritual perspective springs from twin sources. From my Blackfeet grandmother, I inherited the parables and narratives of my indigenous ancestors. My grandmother also resolutely prayed the Rosary. My recollection of her faith inspires me to place principle before personality, profit and pride. As a matter of principle, it is immoral to vandalize the sacred headwaters of our Pikuni-Blackfeet Nation for the sake of pride or profit.
As American elders, we are both on the homestretch of this Earthly odyssey. Within the confluence of our present circumstance, in conflict as it may be, I hope we can both humbly reflect upon our current and respective positions before the Light of Providence.
In the Christian tradition I inherited from my Euro-American ancestors, Old Testament prophets respectfully removed their shoes when standing before God. If sandals are to be shed upon sacred ground, then how can bulldozers, drilling rigs and flare stacks be deemed acceptable? Recently, a Native elder reminded me, “Our way is to venture into the mountains to converse with God.” I cherish the poetic essence of these time-honored traditions and have long endeavored to weave this essence into the lyrics I compose and sing. Please accept the gift of several of my recordings, which embody indigenous heritage and legacy.
Sidney, my home is on the Blackfeet Reservation. I may not have all the amenities of the big city, but a pot of coffee is always on and a meal never far from the stove. I invite you to visit me here, to deepen our understanding of each other’s motives and visions regarding the Badger-Two Medicine/Hall Creek wildlands. We can break bread, share stories, and walk together upon this land we both treasure. We may learn from each other. Regardless of your response, or the outcome of this issue, I do, and will always consider you a brother. Grandmother taught me well.
(Jack Gladstone is a lyric story-smith from the Blackfeet Indian Nation of Montana.)