GREAT FALLS — Leases to allow drilling for oil and gas near a mountain that is sacred to the Blackfeet Indian tribe have been canceled, Blackfeet officials said, days before a protest was to be held at Chief Mountain.
The mountain on the reservation’s border with Glacier National Park near the Canada line is protected for the spiritual use of the tribe. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s approval of the mineral leases earlier this year became public last week when a conservation activist posted the documents online, the Great Falls Tribune reported in a story published Thursday.
The documents included a resolution signed by council chairman Willie Sharp Jr. and acting council secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane approving the mineral development of 4,000 acres of tribal land by Nations Energy LLC. Three wells were to be developed within five years, the first to be drilled within 18 months of the lease signing.
The revelation angered many in the tribe and a protest had been planned for Saturday at the base of Chief Mountain. A petition opposing the development had gathered more than 2,200 signatures by Wednesday.
The tribe’s governing council released a statement Wednesday that said the leases with Nations Energy had been canceled last month because the company had not paid.
The council asserts its right to develop resources on its own land, but the area in question is at least two miles from Chief Mountain and outside a protected buffer zone, the council said.
Nontribal people are prohibited from making incursions into the one-mile buffer zone around the mountain’s base, which was reaffirmed by the council in 1992, the statement said.
“The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has always considered Chief Mountain as one of the most sacred sites on the Blackfeet Reservation,” the council said. “This area was for spiritual use of the Blackfeet people only. This protection continues to this day and nothing has or will disturb this area, including any oil and gas development.”