Fort Peck Tribal Chair: “More Sovereign by the Barrel”

If you get the chance, check out this interesting new report posted at the Indian Country Today website. 

The article is headlined “Beckoning the Bakken: Will the Oil Boom Reach Montana’s Impoverished Fort Peck Tribes?”   It was sent to me by a listener in Helena, and written by Matthew Frank, whose reporting was supported by Science Source, a project of the University of Montana School of Journalism. 

When it comes to the desire for more oil activity in Northeast Montana, here’s what the Chairman of the Fort Peck Tribe had to say:

Historical but persisting: The unemployment rate among tribal members holds at around 60 percent. On the oil patch near Sidney, Mont., and in western North Dakota, it’s less than 2 percent.

Tribal Council Chairman Floyd Azure says tapping the Bakken would make the tribes “more sovereign by the barrel,” echoing the mantra of tribal leadership on North Dakota’s oil-rich Fort Berthold Reservation. “That means that we can take care of ourselves. If we didn’t have to depend on the federal government, we’d be a hell of a lot better off than we are now. We depend on the federal government for damn near everything we have.”

Forrest Smith, a chemical engineer and director of the tribes’ minerals department added: 

“You’ll lose your culture and language faster with poverty than you will with economic development,” he says.

Meanwhile, if you catch the front page of The Wall Street Journal today (Wednesday), you’ll notice a big article highlighting a push to make Wyoming one of the leading states in the nation when it comes to wind energy.  Mentioned in the piece is an effort by billionaire Philip Anschutz who is looking to build the largest US wind farm on his 500-square-mile Wyoming cattle ranch. 

The name Anschutz might ring a bell for you, as Anschutz also owns a concessionaire company, Xanterra, that was placing a bid to operate concession contracts in Glacier National Park.  Environmentalists sought to derail the Xanterra bid because Anschutz was also doing oil exploration on the nearby Blackfeet Indian Reservation, with support from the tribe.  Well, now the folks on the Blackfeet have lost out, as Anschutz annnounced that it would halt oil and gas activity on the reservation.  A report in The Missoulian seemed to brag about the halt in drilling coming “days after” their Missoulian report.   That same Missoulian piece also quoted former Missoulian reporter Michael Jamison who is now leading an activist group opposed to the drilling. 

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