Oglala Lakota Tribe Calls On Tribes to Oppose Otter Creek Coal Mine

Guest post by Joyce Whiting

Recently, my Tribe, the Oglala Lakota, passed a resolution opposing the proposed Otter Creek coal mine and Tongue River Railroad in our historical homelands and hunting grounds of southeastern Montana, and we are calling on all of the Tribes that were part of the Fort Laramie Treaty Tribes to stand with us in opposing this mine and railroad.

Otter Creek Valley. Photo by Kestral Air Services.
Otter Creek Valley. Photo by Kestral Air Services.

Why we oppose the Otter Creek mine and Tongue River Railroad

The region where the mine is proposed, the Otter Creek and Tongue River valleys of southeastern Montana, is of great cultural and historical significance to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The region is part of our aboriginal homelands and importance of this region cannot be overstated.

The proposed mine and railroad, if developed, will damage the land, the cultural sites, the water and the wildlife that our people are still very much connected to.

The Otter Creek and Tongue River Valleys:

  • Contain many identified culturally significant places and contains the burial sites and remains of many of our ancestors as well as battle sites, stone features and artifacts.
  • Are within the area originally promised to the leader of our ancestral families, Crazy Horse, and the status of that act on part of the United States has never been fully evaluated or addressed since Crazy Horse’s murder.
  • Are within the hunting grounds our ancestors reserved in the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, and our claim to the area as a hunting, fishing and aboriginal gathering area for our people has never been ceded, extinguished, or diminished since our rights to the area were reserved in those Treaties.
  • Are the homeland of our long term and current allies, the Cheyenne people, and they could suffer harms if the mine is permitted without proper consideration of their concerns.

The process being followed by the government agencies responsible for the permitting of this project has been deeply flawed. The permit application that Arch Coal submitted to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should have been presented to the Oglala Sioux Tribes’s Historical Preservation Office and legal counsel for review for the purposes of tribal consultation and oversight, monitoring related to the identification and evaluation of archeological sites, cultural artifacts and the identification and protection of indigenous vegetation and animal and insect life.

It is my understanding that Arch Coal’s permit application doesn’t even include a Cultural Resources Mitigation Plan or a Reclamation Plan. Arch Coal says that they will be completed at a later date. How can the Montana DEQ allow any process to move forward without these important plans?

These valleys contain countless tribal burial sites and human remains. We believe that we must be involved in any early determination regarding the remains’ cultural identification and disposition. However, this will likely be carried out without consultation from the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. As our brothers and sisters from Cheyenne country bring up, our blood runs in every creek in the region. We fought and bled for it and it is important to us as a people. How is the Montana DEQ planning on making sure that the the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act are followed?

What the Oglala Sioux Tribe is asking for

Oglala Sioux Tribe is demanding that our Tribe be formally included as a consulting part in the development of the Environmental Impact Statements in the location of Otter Creek and elsewhere in the Tongue River Basin.

Oglala Sioux Tribe does hereby express its opposition to the current proposal for mining activity at Otter Creek and for rail service to support such activity, for the reasons listed above.

We call on all other descendants of the signatories of the Treaties of Fort Laramie are hereby called upon to resist and object to continuation of the Otter Creek coal mine and Tongue River Railroad.

About the Author:

Joyce Whiting is the Section 106 Project Review officer/Interim Director for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Oglala Sioux Tribe located in South Dakota.