(Photo: Tribune photo/Evan Frost)
BROWNING – The Blackfeet Tribe, with support from conservation groups, ramped up its campaign to block oil and gas development in the Badger-Two Medicine area Friday with a new community celebration that's highlighting the significance of the area not only to the Blackfeet but the nation.
It comes as a development company with an exploration lease in the area is suing the federal government for delaying its attempts to drill for 30 years.
Badger-Two Medicine Days continues this weekend with a panel discussion on the area, hikes, trail rides and plane flights giving passengers a bird's-eye view of the Rocky Mountains, river valleys and wetlands that mark the region.
Tyson Running Wolf, secretary of the Blackfeet Business Council, said the first Badger-Two Medicine Days was organized by the tribe in partnership with conservation groups as a gathering of like-minded people who want to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area from development.
The 165,588-acre area lies within Lewis and Clark National forest and abuts the southwestern border of the reservation. The mountainous region roamed by grizzly bears has few roads and is located at the intersection of the reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.
"At all costs, we don't want any oil and gas development whatsoever," Running Wolf said.
In anticipation of Badger-Two Medicine days, Running Wolf said, holy people led a "holy smoke" ceremony Thursday. The goal of the ceremony, which lasted through the night, was to block oil and gas development, Running Wolf said.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jeff Ament, the bassist for rock band Pearl Jam, both from Big Sandy, were on hand Friday for the dedication of a skate park that Ament funded. The backdrop for the event were mountain peaks in Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine area.
Oil and gas should be developed in some places, Tester told a crowd that gathered for the dedication, adding that it's his view Badger-Two Medicine is not one of those places.
Jack Gladstone speaks about the history and issues facing the Badger Two-Medicine area during a flight overhead on Friday. (Photo: Tribune photo/Evan Frost)
Tester vowed to fight proposed development, noting the Badger-Two Medicine carries historical, cultural and religious values to the Blackfeet. He added that the area deserves protection "for everybody."
"I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen," Tester of development in the Badger-Two Medicine, drawing applause from the crowd.
In an interview afterward, Tester said he hopes to get officials from the tribe and Interior and Agriculture Departments in the same room to discuss the leases. A government buyout of remaining lease holders in the Badger-Two Medicine might be one option, he said.
"If it takes an act of Congress, we'll do an act of Congress," he said.
Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, La., sued the Interior and Agriculture departments in June 2013 for "ongoing and indefinite delay" for blocking attempts to explore for natural gas. Solenex owns a federal lease on 6,247 acres in the Badger-Two Medicine. It was issued in 1982. Permits to drill were subsequently approved, but activities have been suspended since 1993.
Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Richard Leon called the delay a "nightmare" during a recent court hearing and ordered the federal agencies to report back to him with any other example of where they have "dragged their feet for so long."
The tribe argues that 47 leases were illegally granted in 1982. Some lease holders have voluntarily relinquished their leases, leaving 18 remaining. The Blackfeet have called on the Interior Department to cancel the 18 remaining leases.
Earlier Friday, Jack Gladstone, co-founder of the Native American Speaks lecture program in Glacier National Park, explained the significance of the Badger-Two Medicine during airplane flights over the area by EcoFlight. The flights for media members and other visitors were arranged by conservation groups.
Gladstone called the Badger-Two Medicine a "national treasure" that isn't just important to the Blackfeet.
It's the "connective tissue" to the Bod Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park, he said.
Casey Perkins of the Montana Wilderness Association shows on a map the area around Badger Two-Medicine where oil drilling is proposed. (Photo: Tribune photo/Evan Frost)
The area is important the Blackfeet for religious reasons, he added. The Sun Dance, the highest Blackfoot religious practice of thanksgiving to the creator, is practiced there, said Blackstone, calling Badger-Two Medicine their last remaining "chapel."
"What would oil and gas development do in the Sistine Chapel," he said.
Historically, the Badger-Two Medicine has sustained the Blackfeet people, Gladstone added.
"All of this would be affected because of the whole notion of integrity," Gladstone said of the impact development would have on the area. "The wholeness is dependent on keeping this as close to the wilderness as possible."
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Karl Puckett at 406-791-1471. Twitter: GFTrib_KPuckett.