Native American love of nature, expressed in the maxim “We do not inherit the Earth from our fathers; we borrow it from our children,” helped inspire America’s environmental movement. But life is not simple, and the innate conflicts between protecting natural capital and maximizing present consumption have stimulated disagreements in the Blackfeet tribe. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation owns 1.5 million beautiful acres just east of Glacier National Park and just south of the Canadian border. In the past few years, tribal leaders have leased drilling rights to a million of those acres, and the tribe and its 16,500 members have received $30 million. Oil companies which paid the money have drilled exploratory wells and begun “fracking” to extract oil and gas from deep under the tribe’s land. Hydraulic fracturing, breaking tight rock formations by water pressure to release oil and gas, has energy, water and pollution costs.
According to today’s New York Times story, “Tapping Into the Land, And Dividing Its People,” the leases, exploratory wells and fracking have divided tribe members. A Blackfeet woman expressed one side’s view, asserting that current drilling “threatens everything we are as Blackfeet.” Others reject veneration for tribal lands; one member of the tribe’s oil and gas division dismissed worries about spoiling the tribe’s mountains as follows: “They’re just big rocks, nothing more. Don’t try to make them into nothing holy. Jesus Christ put them there for animals to feed on, and for people to hunt on.” And presumably to chew up for the land’s oil and gas.
The Blackfeet split is a microcosm of the drama that is playing out all over the world. Evidence of human-caused climate change tells us that consuming more than our planet can support in the long term steals from our children and grandchildren. The Blackfeet answer for their ancestral land is that it’s hard to trump dollars you receive now. But one piece of good news from the Times’ story is that environmentalism is mainstream, and insults to the planet are frequently noticed and sometimes challenged.
Image by Richard Smith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons