Politics Blog

Update: No news from Northern Cheyenne offices; coal mine operates near reservation

UPDATE Thursday, March 26: This blog post, including the headline, was corrected to say the Rosebud Mine was near the Northern Cheyenne reservation, not on it. Apologies for the error. -RS

UPDATE Wednesday, March 25: A phone call to the executive offices of the Northern Cheyenne on Wednesday, March 25, was not returned. I left a voice message asking if tribal officers had an official position on coal mining or coal exporting. Lacking more definitive information, I suspect the Northern Cheyenne have a complicated relationship with the coal industry — not a bold statement, as most individuals and organizations have a complicated relationship with most things. I did notice, on the tribe’s homepage is an announcement of a college scholarship offered by Western Energy Company of Colstrip, Mont. The scholarship is for students going to college in a field applicable to mining. It turns out that Western Energy operates the Rosebud Mine to feed the adjacent Colstrip Power Station. The mine, which produces 10 to 13 million tons of coal per year, is near the Northern Cheyenne reservation, according to this webpage .

This is to follow up on a blog post from March 12, which drew a contrast between Lummi Nation’s position on a coal export terminal at Cherry Point, and that of the Montana tribe Crow Nation, which is sitting on billions of tons of coal that would be mined for export through Gateway Pacific Terminal.

That post made a passing reference to the Northern Cheyenne tribe, whose reservation borders that of the Crow in southeast Montana. The Northern Cheyenne hosted the Lummis in September 2013 in a show of solidarity against coal. But then it was brought to my attention that a Northern Cheyenne member was published in The (Butte) Montana Standard, promoting the idea that the tribe should profit from its coal resources, like the Crow do.

That tribal member, Jason Small, who was published on March 10, didn’t get the last word. Another Northern Cheyenne member, Alaina Buffalo Spirit, wrote a response piece in The Montana Standard that was published late yesterday, Monday, March 23.

Buffalo Spirit wrote:

I agree that our people need to work to build our economy. But we shouldn’t pretend that coal is the answer. We won’t prosper from an industry that will destroy our land, water and plants with strip mining that will not be able to make a profit, that relies on violating other tribes’ treaty rights (those of Lummi Nation), and that is full of almost-bankrupt companies.

Buffalo Spirit, for one, would not say that Small represented well the Northern Cheyenne’s position:

Jason Small doesn’t speak for our people. I strongly disagree with him about coal, and so do many of the Northern Cheyenne.

In Buffalo Spirit’s camp is Robert Raleigh of Salt Lake City. I don’t think he’s a Northern Cheyenne member. A quick online search reveals him to be a technical writer and a computer guy. But because we live in this great big social media world, in which everyone gets a spotlight, I share two responses Raleigh had to my March 12 post. (Besides, I enjoy embedding tweets.) He specifically had concern about me including Jason Small’s words:

Mention of the neologism “crowdsourcing” rankles, but what the heck. I can get groovy with these modern social media times. Anyone else out there who has some insight into Northern Cheyenne’s position on coal should comment below.

Meanwhile, I’ll call the tribe’s headquarters tomorrow and see what I can find out. That would be called doing it the old-fashioned way — going straight to the source.