A mural on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. Photo: Jimmy Emerson
Environment | National | Politics

Northern Cheyenne Tribe won't touch coal deposit despite economic woes





Jobs are few and poverty is plenty but the Northern Cheyenne Tribe doesn't think coal development is the answer to its economic woes.

The tribe's reservation in Montana is home to a large deposit of coal. But tribal leaders, past and present, say the impacts of development outweigh the benefits.

"I have a cultural worldview that is opposed to the destruction of our land," President Jace Killsback tells National Public Radio.

But some tribal citizens support development, saying it will create more opportunities on the reservation. Even former president Larry Spang believes the coal deposit will eventually be exploited, even if it takes a long time to get a project off the ground.

"We've got to do something," Ernest Littlebird, an entrepreneur on the reservation, told NPR.

Few in Indian Country engage in coal development but the neighboring Crow Tribe is one of them. Yet their fortunes have fallen in recent years as coal prices have dropped.

Crow leaders and Republicans blamed the industry's downturn on the Obama administration's so-called "war on coal." They think President Donald Trump will turn things around though not everyone is sure of that.

"He's for development. He's trying to create jobs," Spang, who used to work in a coal mine, tells NPR. "But I don't trust that guy."

Read More on the Story:
People Of Coal-Rich Northern Cheyenne Torn Between Jobs And Sacred Culture (National Public Radio 6/25)

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Northern Cheyenne Tribe sues Interior Department over pro-coal policy (March 29, 2017)