The president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana is backing coal development for the tribe’s economy, and calling for a referendum vote in order to “let the people to decide.”
The message from Northern Cheyenne President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher likely sent shockwaves through the environmental community, which has long attempted to use the Northern Cheyenne as an example of opposition to coal development. Leaders with both the Crow Tribe and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have strongly pressed for more natural resource development. In fact, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said “the war on coal is a war on our children.” Meanwhile, Fort Peck leaders have talked about being “more sovereign by the barrel.”
Clara Caufield has the story for The Native Montana magazine and allowed us here at The Flint Report to share it in full below. Here’s an excerpt from President Fisher’s statement:
President Fisher: Under my Administration, tribal members will soon have the opportunity to decide upon reservation coal development. Our people must decide this matter. While some are strongly opposed, many others think we should go this route. Spokespersons for both sides have talked to me about this matter. Both sides urge a referendum vote: “Let the people decide” they say. As the duly elected Tribal President, I believe this is the prudent course. We may not all agree, but will let the majority decide.”
At one time, I was opposed to on-reservation coal development, but have re-considered, considering the bleak financial future facing our Nation. We, as Northern Cheyenne must now explore all options for self-sufficiency. My own grandson, for example now makes a very good living, a railroad contractor. The Tribe cannot offer him the same opportunity So, I think about my grandchildren and all of the Cheyenne grandchildren to come.
FULL STORY FROM CLARA CAUFIELD
PRESIDENT LLEVANDO “COWBOY” FISHER URGES REFERENDUM VOTE FOR CHEYENNE COAL DEVELOPMENT
“You could have heard a pin drop,” said observers at the Section 106 consultation meeting (required by the National Historic Preservation Act) in Billings, MT on Thursday, February 13th,, when President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher, Northern Cheyenne Tribe made a formal statement about the Tongue River Railroad to the National Surface Transportation Board. Fisher spoke candidly, advising that the Northern Cheyenne Tribe will soon hold a referendum vote about on-reservation coal development. ”To date, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council has not adopted a position on the proposed Tongue River Rail road. I speak only as the President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe,” he clarified. “It is not up to me to single-handedly decide this matter. In our Tribe, there are strong opponents of the Tongue River Railroad and associated coal development, including on-reservation reserves. But, there are also many strong supporters of reservation coal development. Both sides have advised me of their views. That is why I think we must call for a referendum vote, allowing the majority of Cheyenne tribal members to decide this issue. Until, that happens, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe takes no position on the proposed Tongue River Railroad. We will be guided by the majority vote of our tribal members.” Fisher’s definitive statement marks a change in the views/opinions previously provided to the Surface Transportation Board, in charge of approving or disapproving the controversial railway. Previously, the Northern Cheyenne Cultural Commission, allied with groups such as the Northern Plains Resource Council, enumerated several concerns regarding the proposed railway in effect opposing the undertaking. As the primary affected Tribe, Northern Cheyenne is in key position to affect Federal decisions regarding the railway. Fisher also said that the recommendations of the Culture Commission, an advisory group must be sanctioned by the Tribal Council Fisher clarified that the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council must ratify his request for a referendum vote regarding on-reservation coal-development. .“I think the Tribal Council will pass that measure,” he noted. “The majority is in support while a few are strongly opposed..” Fisher plans to bring the measure to the Tribal Council in the near future. If approved, it will still take several months to bring it to the ballot. Following is the complete text of the formal statement provided by President Fisher to the Surface Transportation Board. “I would like that to be printed, so people know where I stand as the President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe,” he remarked.
Dear Chairman Elliot, Surface Transportation Board, Washington, D.C. :On behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, I thank you for conducting a Section 106 meeting in Billings, Montana during February 13-14, 2014 to consider the potential Otter Creek coal mine, the proposed Tongue River Railroad and the impacts that could have on the environment and culturally significant areas for the Northern Cheyenne. We know that Section 106 provides a mechanism for avoidance and mitigation of impacts to the environment. And, we understand that the National Historic Preservation Act sets out rules requiring federal agencies to evaluate impacts to historic and cultural heritage where a project might have an impact. Section 106 requirements are a federal levelcompliance issue for industry – compliance is not optional and penalties can be significant. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this process because development of the Otter Creek Coal Mine to be served by the Tongue River Railroad could also bring many employment and financial benefits to the Northern Cheyenne people. We join with you in seeking a reasonable balance.” Federal agencies must make a reasonable and good faith effort to identify cultural resources and concerns. We have worked hard to identify Cheyenne cultural and historic sites in the impacted area including identification work, background research, consultation, oral history interviews, sample field investigations and field surveys. The Northern Cheyenne Cultural Commission, an advisory board, has been entrusted with this duty by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. They have made a number of recommendations and listed several important concerns. In my view, we can work together in good faith to find and implement solutions that will protect our valuable cultural and environmental resources while allowing for jobs and income to our very poor people. I clarify that the final decisions on this matter rest with the Tribal Council, the duly elected representatives of the Northern Cheyenne People. At this point, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council has not adopted a position on the proposed Tongue River Railroad. The Tribe, is however, on record to support the development of the Otter Creek Coal Mine, supported by a binding agreement with the Montana Land Board, a tribal referendum in overwhelming support of Otter Creek and numerous advocates of such development, hoping for employment.” Under my Administration, tribal members will soon have the opportunity to decide upon reservation coal development. Our people must decide this matter. While some are strongly opposed, many others think we should go this route. Spokespersons for both sides have talked to me about this matter. Both sides urge a referendum vote: “Let the people decide” they say. As the duly elected Tribal President, I believe this is the prudent course. We may not all agree, but will let the majority decide.” At one time, I was opposed to on-reservation coal development, but have re-considered, considering the bleak financial future facing our Nation. We, as Northern Cheyenne must now explore all options for self-sufficiency. My own grandson, for example now makes a very good living, a railroad contractor. The Tribe cannot offer him the same opportunity So, I think about my grandchildren and all of the Cheyenne grandchildren to come. Thus, I have asked the Tribal Council to schedule a referendum, reservation wide vote about developing our own coal. I believe this will occur in the near future. As a leader, it is not my place to sole-handedly decide this matter or declare a policy about the Tongue River Railroad. We wait to hear from our people. If the Northern Cheyenne vote yes by a majority for coal development on our reservation we will go strongly in that direction. That would require a railroad to move our coal and other commodities. If they vote no, we will look for other options. Though at this time, I don’t know what that would be. Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement. I do, however, only speak as President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Not for all of the Northern Cheyenne. We await the verdict of our majority.