Leaders of the Blackfeet Nation joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at the headquarters of the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., on November 16, 2016. Photo by U.S. DOI
It's turning out to be a banner week for the Blackfeet Nation of Montana despite uncertainty in the political climate.
After decades of work, the tribe scored significant victories on two fronts. And both actions took place on Wednesday as a contingent of Blackfeet leaders were in the nation's capital to take stock of their long-overdue achievements.
"I came late to the dance and left with the prettiest girl," Chairman Harry Barnes said at the headquarters of the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.
Barnes was referring to the Obama administration's brokering of an agreement to protect the sacred Badger-Two Medicine Area from energy development. The land, which sits adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation, was opened up to oil and gas drilling during the Reagan era more than 30 years ago.
"I'm sorry it took so long to get to this point," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, acknowledging the tribe's fight to reverse a series of decision that were made without prior consultation.
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"It’s a great day for the Blackfeet," council member Roland Kennerly Jr., said on Capitol Hill in a video provided by the office of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), the sponsor of the bill. "It has been a long process --- many, many years, you know."
"My father worked on it, Earl Old Person worked on it throughout the years," he said, in reference to his late father, a former council member who passed away in 2004, and Earl Old Person, the tribe's 87-year-old chief. "We are just joyful that we got it through the markup."
With just a few weeks left in the 114th Congress, time is running out for lawmakers to take final action on the measure. But on the Senate side, the settlement has
already been added to S.2848,
the Water Resources Development Act, so it stands a good chance of becoming law by the end of the year.
"This is a giant step forward, truly historic. The Blackfeet have waited the longest and given up the most," Zinke, who won re-election to a second term on November 8, said in a press release.
Badger Creek in the
Badger-Two Medicine Area in Montana. Photo by Blackfeet Nation