The mining of coal on the rolling prairie lands of central Montana where Natives first settled and thrived, then export of the natural resource to the Pacific Coast’s shores where Natives fished for centuries will put the lands in grave danger.
That’s the message sent last week by a diverse group of people, from tribal members to ranchers, during a gathering near the Otter Creek area in central Montana where large oil and gas companies have proposed coal exploration.
Exploration, the groups argue, could change the landscapes forever.
Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams has the full story. Adams was at a ceremony attended by area ranchers, Northern Cheyenne and Lummi Indians last week to highlight the dangers of coal exploration.
Among the onlookers are five members of the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe from Washington’s Puget Sound, who traveled some 1,200 miles to this remote prairie not far from where Gen. George Armstrong Custer famously made his last stand nearly 140 years ago.
The Lummi brought with them a 22-foot totem pole hand-carved from a 300-year-old Western redcedar tree so that Medicine Bull could offer it as a blessing. The Lummi people have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing.
Ranchers who work nearby land also attended the ceremony.
“We’re looking at country here that could be impacted by coal mining,” (Brad) Sauer said during an interview on the ranch earlier in the day. “There are coal mines close to here.”
Sauer said ranchers raise food on these lands, and they can’t do that without ample supplies of clean water. Industrial mining operations could threaten both the quantity and the the quality of the water that nurtures these valleys.
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Many people see Otter Creek as ground zero in the battle over the future of coal development in America. If Otter Creek coal is ever to be mined, then its probable its final domestic destination will be coal export terminals on the West Coast.
One of those terminals is proposed to be built on the Lummi people’s ancestral homeland, a place called Cherry Point. From there, the coal would head to Asian markets.
Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are making coal less desirable as an energy source here in the United States. Arch Coal, the company that bought the leases to mine coal at Otter Creek, admitted that fact in recent filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
Read the rest of Adams’ story here.