Monday, June 20, 2005

Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan

“On December 1, 1919, Browning became incorporated and now had all the firepower it and its citizens needed to do battle with Cut Bank for the County seat. Browning had the advantage of being near the center of the county and was the site of the Blackfeet agency, whose reservation covered all but a small portion of the county. Cut Bank, on the other hand, was the oldest incorporated town in the county and was the tax paying center.

“Some skull-duggery was evident in both sides of the campaign with spies from either side infiltrating the ranks of the opposition. J. H. Sherburne led the Browning campaign and Frank Van Denmark headed the Cut Bank forces.

“The election was held at the Charles Chattin ranch with the Browning Band there to help brighten up the occasion. Cut Bank supporters were more than just a little apprehensive about the outcome of the election. The few Blackfeet who had their land patents at the time cast their vote for Browning even though the majority of the Indians couldn’t vote. If they could have, the county seat would almost certainly be in Browning today.

"Despite the election crowd of over two hundred people at any given time, the Chattin ranch house was large enough to handle it. Located some five miles west of Cut Bank on the reservation, the huge log house had a 35’ X 60’ living room in which dancing went on through the night and into the next morning while the votes were counted. The party as over when the judges announced that Browning, despite their battle, had lost the race by 530 votes.

“Although the area farmers suffered more drought periods during the 1920’s and 1930’s, most of them adopted good farming procedures despite the advice of the Great Northern Railroad’s farm “expert” in the person of Professor Shaw. A lot of farmers had laughed at a fellow homesteader back in the late teens and early twenties as he planted his crops with alternating strips of summer fallow; he was called a ‘skunk-farmer.’ But many of those who survived became ‘skunk-farmers’, too. Those who didn’t left their fenceposts and blowing top soil as a mute testimony to Professor Shaw and his advice.

“The Indian Reorganization Act was passed by Congress in 1934 and provided for re-vesting the landless Indians with land for subsistence and for instituting conservation practices on timber, grass, soil and water resources. In additon, the Indians gained a provision for advanced schooling, adequate credit programs, and the right to organize a Tribal Government, which has been instituted in the Tribal Business Council compose of nine elected members.

“With the re-establishment of tribal powers in 1935, the Blackfeet have made slow but steady progress towards becoming the proud and industrious people they were prior to the arrival of the whites. Recent years have seen the educational level of the tribe steadily increase to rank as the highest among Montana Indians. New jobs and retraining programs have substantially decreased the number of unemployed and those on public assistance.

“A great many jobs for both white and Indian people has been provided by the production of crude oil and natural gas since discovery of Swift Current in 1904 and the first producing well in 1929. The oil industry has paid out royalties to many local residents and has provided a primary source of tax income, as well as being important to supply and service organizations and merchants.

“The Cut Bank oil field, on the eastern reservation edge, remains one of the Montana’s largest producers, second only to the recently discovered Bell Creek Field. This still producing field has pumped over 120,000,000,000,000 barrels of oil, while the gas wells are still capable of producing over 30,000,000,000,000 cubic feet every day.

“New explorations are currently underway in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains on the western slope of the reservation where lands are leased from the Canadian border to Lewis and Clark County. Recent discoveries just north of the Canadian line in Alberta continue and indications are that a new field is likely in the recesses of Marias Pass near East Glacier. [We know this today as Badger/Two Medicine.] Additional untapped mineral reserves lie on the reservation in the form of high quality bituminous coal, titaniferous magnetite, and extensive clay and gravel deposits of commercial quality.”
This whole section above is very carefully worded and massaged so as not to offend anyone who’s paying for the study.

First of all, this information about oil is 35 years old now. In the intervening time period, most of the oil has been removed that can be pumped out by conventional means. There are new technologies but they are often controversial and run risks of producing salty and mineral-laden water where it’s not wanted or sometimes can contaminate water tables for long distances. Even in 1970, this was clearly on the horizon.

The section is accompanied by a photo from the Historical Society of a number of old-time Indians on the Old Agency by Badger Creek in 1888. There is no photo of a modern blue collar OR white collar competent-seeming Blackfeet, though they certainly existed in 1970. Without saying a word, the writers manage to give the reader the impression that Blackfeet wear blankets and long hair -- even breechclouts -- so what can be wrong with a fancy planning outfit advising them? They can’t figure things out themselves.

The strategy of the writer often seems to be to stir up animosity against the Great Northern Railroad or Anaconda Copper in order to unite the reservation Blackfeet and Glacier County whites in resentment.

The tension among federal/county/tribal entities continues. The county (actually parts of the reservation extend into Pondera county as well) are very good at pushing off their expenses onto the tribe or federal agencies: law and order, schools, welfare, family law, roads -- it seems as though every small issue has to be fought and argued through since the beginning.

This writing is just a bit early for the wave of ecological consciousness that swept over the West and often united with the Native American Empowerment movement to break up sweet little deals like the Badger/Two Medicine drilling project. These movements have changed everything and pointed out that not all technology is an improvement -- some of it leaves permanent damage. Even more ironic, it may not provide much profit for those who need it most.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you have your figures wrong about the quantity of oil. the number is in trillions you state, which is to much I'm guessing. what's in a number?