U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Jeff Ament, bassist for the band Pearl Jam, were recently honored by the Blackfeet Tribe. Both men have proven themselves friends of the Blackfeet by joining with us to strengthen our people spiritually, physically and culturally.
For this, we presented them with flags of the Blackfeet Nation. Our chief, Earl Old Person, also gave Ament, who helped build a world-class skateboard park in Browning, an honorary Blackfeet Name: Holds Water.
The Blackfeet have always honored our friends and both Tester and Jeff Ament have proven themselves worthy of that honor.
As the ranking minority member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester fights every day for the sovereignty and rights of tribes in Montana and across the nation. He is the unchallenged leader, joining with the Blackfeet and 18 other tribes from Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Canada in our fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from the threat of industrial development.
Some 30 years ago, the federal government illegally leased almost the entire Badger-Two Medicine for oil and gas development. The Blackfeet oppose development here because the area is home to our creation story and is a sacred place. It is the living link between our future and our past and the connective wildlife habitat between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. The animals and plants we depend on for our food, ceremony and cultural survival are present in the Badger and protected by treaty rights. Water is our lifeblood and the pure water that originates in the Badger provides for the Blackfeet Reservation and the northern plains of Montana.
Although many responsible companies and individuals have voluntarily retired their leases in the Badger, there remains over 40,000 acres still under lease. These companies, including Solenex and Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, have stubbornly refused efforts to find more appropriate places to drill for oil and gas – even after we have offered less sensitive sites on our reservation.
To develop its lease, Solenex would need to build infrastructure (a well pad, road to the site and a bridge over the Two Medicine River). If companies such as Devon Energy also push for development and prove successful then a network of roads, transmission lines and pipelines would follow that would undoubtedly further hurt wildlife species such as elk, grizzly bear and native fish, and destroy the spiritual and cultural values of the Badger.
At the time of issuance the federal government violated bedrock laws of the United States that protect water, public participation, Indian sovereignty and wildlife. In exceptional cases such as this where the government’s action were clearly illegal and threaten serious and irreversible harm, the Department of the Interior has the legal authority and moral duty to reverse their decision.
Tester has written to the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture urging them to cancel the leases. We are thankful that the senator supports our position. While in Browning, Tester spoke wisely: “In this world, there are places where we should probably drill for oil and gas. It is not the Badger-Two Medicine.”
Jeff Ament is also a friend both in his support for protecting the Badger and also in his generous donation that made Thunder Park a reality. Before the new skateboard park was built, Blackfeet youth skated on a couple of ramps at the bingo hall. Now they have a gathering place to connect with others in their community and challenge themselves physically.
On behalf of the Blackfeet Nation, thank you Sen. Jon Tester and Jeff Ament. Ament's generosity and Tester’s determination to support the Blackfeet serves as impressive examples to the future generations of Blackfeet who will eventually be community leaders themselves.