Tribes Negotiate for Sacred Land in Montana

June 22, 2001

Source: The New York Times

On June 22, 2001, The New York Times reported on the conflict over Weatherman Draw in south-central Montana. "Indian tribes that trace the presence of their ancestors here say they believe the spirits of their elders remain, making these 4,200 acres about 50 miles south of Billings [MT] a sacred place to them.... Yet now, the valley and its fading ancient art are at the center of a major conflict, one of the first that illustrates the kind of dispute that erupts when the nation struggles to balance energy needs with environmental and cultural concerns. Anschutz Exploration, wants to explore for oil... Anschutz is owned by Philip F. Anschutz, one of the country's wealthiest businessmen and a major Republican donor. For more than seven years his oil company sought permission to drill here. But it was not until February, after President Bush took office, that the Bureau of Land Management approved one exploratory well." However members of the opposing sides of the conflict "met in Billings to air concerns and consider an offer from the Blackfeet tribe to exchange the Weatherman Draw permit for the right to drill on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwest Montana... Jimmy St. Goddard, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said the reservation sits on two billion barrels of oil reserves. A swap, he said, would give the Anschutz company access, preserve Weatherman Draw for all the tribes and create jobs for the Blackfeet, a tribe of 15,400 that is suffering with an unemployment rate of 62 percent... In time, the conflict here might provide a model for resolving similar conflicts throughout the West."