Lori New Breast is a passionate defender of the sacred waters of her homeland where the mountains meet the prairie in northwestern Montana. A member of the Blackfeet Tribe and a resident of the Blackfeet Reservation just west of Glacier National Park, she is concerned about the potential for this industry to destroy her tribe’s sacred land and water. The majority of her reservation has been leased for oil and gas exploration, and she fears the drilling companies are running roughshod over her people's land.
New Breast and other tribal members have been working to raise awareness within the tribe about the dangers of drilling, especially the practice of fracking. For the Blackfeet, water is the source of all their gifts, teachings, philosophy, and values, she says.
“In our community we don’t just talk about the top of the land, we talk about the underground rivers, the artesian wells, the lakes, and the interconnections of the waters that come off the triple continental divide.”
Building on the tribe’s shared values, New Breast has set out to work with tribal members and elders like Pauline Matt, Betty Cooper and Rachel Hibbert to educate their tribe and bring more attention to the issue. In the summer of 2012, New Breast and other community members supported Pauline Matt’s efforts to organize the Chief Mountain Water Walk, an 80-mile walk from Chief Mountain to Heart Butte. The walk’s purpose was to educate and highlight the dangers of fracking on this pristine area adjacent to Glacier National Park.
Since exploratory drilling started on the reservation a decade ago, several groups have emerged to oppose further development. Groups like the Blackfeet Anti-Fracking Coalition and the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance are urging a moratorium on fracking, providing the public with updates, and organizing tribe members to protect their cultural and natural resources. “We want to partner with like-minded, like-hearted people to preserve our way of life, and to contribute to the dialogue of the human family, that we have one earth and that we all have a part in preserving it and also in protecting it and to make sure that the environment is able to support humankind and all other living beings,” said Lori.
The owner of Anschutz Exploration Corporation, one of the companies that has been searching for oil and gas on the reservation, also owns a hospitality company that is expected to bid on the main concession contract for Glacier National Park. This perceived conflict of interest prompted concerned citizens to circulate a petition calling on park managers, asking them, “Do not award a lucrative park concessions contract to owner Phil Anschutz while he is threatening the future of the park with his fracking on abutting land.” The petition was endorsed by Blackfeet Tribal Business Councilman and state Senator Shannon Augare, and had more than 5,000 signatures.
On March 20th 2013, Anschutz Exploration Corporation who had drilled 14 exploratory wells in some of the most sensitive areas in the reservation announced they would be shutting down their exploration and will not be doing any further drilling in this area, stating that they did not find enough resources to support further exploration. While another company may step into the breach and this may be no more than a temporary moratorium, it is excellent news and a demonstration that when individuals join together to voice their concern over natural resources and the unknown effect of hydraulic fracturing, it can have an effect. Unfortunately the remaining two thirds of the reservation is still leased to other oil and gas companies and we need to help the various Blackfeet and conservation groups keep the pressure on to protect their pristine areas.
In an effort to raise awareness amongst tribe members about potential leasing, Lori teamed up with EcoFlight and flew tribal leaders and members over the reservation to see where the exploratory wells are, and what lands are proposed for drilling in the future. By providing the aerial perspective, EcoFlight hopes to give Blackfeet members a better understanding of where proposed leasing is, and how it would impact their reservation. Through a heightened understanding of the issue, individuals are emboldened to stand up and play a more involved activist role in the environmental issues on their reservation.
Chief Mountain Water Walk Prayer by Pauline Matt:
Creator, you have placed our people on a land that holds pure nutrient rich Mountain Fed Waters, Forests, Wetlands, the Winged ones, the Plant People, the Underwater People, the Four Legged… and the Two Legged… especially our small Children and Grandchildren. You provided us with a Spiritual and Cultural life that is weaved within all living things on the Earth.
Today you have placed a seed within our hearts to stand strong and protect this land. Our walk is only but a tool to follow the path that you have chosen for us.
We Blackfeet Sisters are humbled and honored as we lead this walk to protect a beautiful homeland you have freely given us to raise our children.
Help us to take this walk we have before us with good hearts and minds and honor the waters as our Ancestors did.
As we walk we are only facing our responsibilities to bless the Waters that give us life. We know our devotion to the Earth gives us spiritual strength and love.
Creator, please guide us to protect a land that you have created with your own hands.
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