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Justice Prevails for Blackfeet Nation as appeals court upholds drilling ban in Badger-Two Medicine

Source: Youtube - Ecoflight

Federal appeals court upholds cancellation of the last oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region—the historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat.

JUSTICE FOR THE BLACKFEET NATION: FEDERAL COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF PROTECTING BADGER-TWO MEDICINE

On Tuesday 16 June 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favour of cancelling a controversial lease that would allow drilling in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine area. The Badger-Two Medicine region is an almost entirely unroaded expanse of mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front that is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation. Over thirty years ago, the area was leased with neither tribal consultation nor approval.

With the cancellation of the Moncrief lease last year, only one oil and gas lease remained in the Badger-Two Medicine area, held by Solenex, LLC.
The Blackfeet bid farewell to the last of the oil companies: With the cancellation of the Moncrief lease last year, only one oil and gas lease remained in the Badger-Two Medicine area, held by Solenex, LLC. Source: Montanaotg.com

Decades-long fight to safeguard wild and sacred lands is finally over

The Blackfeet people have been utilising the Badger-Two Medicine region for more than 10,000 years. This sacred area provides strength, subsistence, and cultural identity to more than 17,000 tribal members. The Blackfeet believe that their people were created among the mountains and springs that rise from where Badger Creek and the Two Medicine River trace their headwaters. 

But the Blackfeet are not the only ones who prize the region. The oil and gas industry have also shown a keen interest in the area, and for more than 30 years they’ve been fighting to drill holes in it.

However, on Tuesday, the 16th of June 2020, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) reported that a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., had finally upheld the cancellation of the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park. The historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat. 

The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, dug their heels in.

Source: NPCA 

The Badger-Two Medicine (B2M) on Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, is a 130,000-acre area bounded on the north by Glacier National Park and on the east by the Blackfeet Reservation. The Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas lie to the west and south. The B2M is a Traditional Cultural District (TCD) under the National Historic Preservation Act because of its religious and cultural significance to the Blackfeet Nation.
In the heart of the Crown of the Continent: The Badger-Two Medicine (B2M) on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, is a 130,000-acre area bounded on the north by Glacier National Park and on the east by the Blackfeet Reservation. The Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas lie to the west and south. The B2M is a Traditional Cultural District (TCD) under the National Historic Preservation Act because of its religious and cultural significance to the Blackfeet Nation. Source: YouTube/Eco-flight

The court’s decision provides great hope that historic mistakes can, at least in part, be corrected

The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, write NPCA, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, dig their heels in and filed a 2013 lawsuit demanding the right to begin drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine backcountry.

In March 2016, federal officials responded to those Solenex demands by canceling the company’s holding, saying the lease had been improperly issued in violation of environmental law and without required tribal consultation. Solenex again sued, seeking to overturn that decision, and a federal district court ruled for the company in September 2018, reinstating Solenex’s lease. But this latest hearing, the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, and restored the cancellation of the Solenex lease.

In their ruling, the Appeals Court judges fully vacated the lower court’s judgment, writing that “The district court erred when it entered summary judgment in Solenex’s favor,” and noted that the basis for the earlier judgement was flawed.

“Blackfeet have lived under a cloud of threat and uncertainty for decades, with the risk of our traditional homelands being industrialised,” said John Murray, Blackfeet Tribal Preservation Officer. Murray also leads the Pikuni Traditionalist Association, which was among the groups intervening to defend against the Solenex lawsuit. 

“The Badger-Two Medicine is essential to the cultural survival of the Blackfeet. It is our last refuge. The court’s decision today highlights the original error in leasing the Badger and provides great hope that historic mistakes can, at least in part, be corrected.” 

Source: NPCA 

The view from above Dog Gun Lake, in the Badger-Two Medicine area. Source: StephenLegault/EarthJustice.org
An alpine meadow overlooking Two Medicine Valley. Source: RyanMcKee/EarthJustice.org
Two Medicine River, in the Badger-Two Medicine area. Source: GeneSentz/EarthJustice.org
“For thousands of years Badger-Two Medicine has shaped the identity of our people. I have always been told by our elders that our responsibility was to save those lands for our children and all future generations of Pikuni People.
Chief Old Person has been an impassioned ambassador for the Blackfeet Tribe for more than six decades. “For thousands of years Badger-Two Medicine has shaped the identity of our people. I have always been told by our elders that our responsibility was to save those lands for our children and all future generations of Pikuni People.” — Chief Earl Old Person was elected to the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1954. He was named Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, a lifetime position, in 1978. Source: RebeccaDrobis/EarthJustice
Badger-Two Medicine: Protect this Sacred Place The Blackfeet people have utilised the Badger-Two Medicine region for more than 10,000 years. This sacred area provides strength, subsistence, and cultural identity to more than 17,000 tribal members. The cancellation of these leases is essential to conserve the resources of the Badger-Two Medicine. Source: YouTube/Badger-TwoMedicine
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