Friday, August 17, 2012

Tribe divided over tapping their lands' resources

There is great beauty on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, writes Jack Healy of The New York Times. "But there is also oil, locked away in the tight shale thousands of feet underground," and tribal leaders of the Blackfeet Nation "have decided to tap their land’s buried wealth. The move has divided the tribe while igniting a debate over the promise and perils of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in a place where grizzlies roam into backyards and many residents see the land as something living and sacred. All through the billiard-green mesas leading up to the Rocky Mountains are signs of the boom."(NYT photo by Rich Addicks)

"Oil exploration here began in the 1920s, largely on the plains along the eastern edge of the reservation, but it died off in the early 1980s. Over the last four years, though, new fracking technologies and rising oil prices have lured the drillers back, and farther and farther west, to the mountains that border Glacier National Park," Healy reports. "It is an increasingly common sight for tribes across the West and Plains: Tourist spending has gone slack since the recession hit. American Indian casino revenues are stagnating just as tribal gambling faces new competition from online gambling and waves of new casinos. Oil and fracking are new lifelines. One drilling rig on the Blackfeet reservation generated 49 jobs for tribal members — a substantial feat in a place where unemployment is as high as 70 percent. But as others watched the rigs rise, they wondered whether the tribe was making an irrevocable mistake."

 “These are our mountains,” Cheryl Little Dog, a new member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the reservation’s governing body, told Healy. Pauline Matt told him, “Ity threatens everything we are as Blackfeet.” But tribal leaders think "Oil wealth could be more lucrative and reliable than any casino," Healy reports. But to find the opposing view, Healy drove just five miles toward the mountains. The divisions are more than disputes over the economy and environment — they represent two visions of the land where Blackfeet members have lived for centuries. It is a division without compromise. (Read more)

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