The Northern Cheyenne Weigh In On Coal Exports

Tribes speak out on Otter Creek Mine.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports
Coal train and dust. Photo credit: Columbia Riverkeeper

Coal train and dust. Photo credit: Columbia Riverkeeper

It may be easy to think that the coal export debate is mostly about trains, street closures, coal dust, and vessel traffic. And it is about that. But it is equally about the big country east of the Rockies where new mines and rail projects act like daggers pointed at a much older way of life.

Like many tribes in the interior, the Northern Cheyenne are staunch opponents of the coal export proposals in Oregon and Washington. For a taste of their righteous fury, I highly recommend reading Vanessa Braided Hair on Why the Otter Creek Mine Will Never Be Built.

Here’s an excerpt:

Arch Coal understands money. What Arch Coal doesn’t understand is community. They don’t understand history. They don’t understand the Cheyenne people whose ancestors fought and died for the land that they are proposing to destroy. They don’t understand the fierceness with which the people, both Indian and non-Indian, in southeastern Montana love the land.

This is why not one dragline will rip the coal from the earth and not one dynamite blast will loosen the precious topsoil. It is why not one rail car will be loaded with coal and why not one toxic orange cloud will pass over someone’s house or the Tongue River. It is why not one burial site will be dug up and why not one elk will be displaced. It is why our water will continue to run clean and plentiful and our wildlife will continue to roam free.

This is why the proposed Otter Creek mine in southeastern Montana will never be built.

It’s good a good reminder that what happens in the remote Tongue River Valley—where Arch coal aims to open up a new mine in order to export coal to Asia—will impact downtown Seattle and other coastal cities. Just so, what happens on the shores of the Columbia River and Puget Sound—where coal interests want to build export terminals—will impact wildlands and communities in the interior West.



  1. steve small says:

    These are powerful words and little romanticism injected for good measure. However, does this person realize the impoverishment of this area where there is unemployment as high as 80% and 32 % of the employed live below poverty level. High suicide rates,teenage pregnancy,alcoholism is rampant. All the ills of severe poverty is very prevalent on the Northern Cheyenne reservation and responsible development is what is needed. Otter mine is and will be built to save this sector of Montana and the world.

    • Don Steinke says:

      Steve, you ask, “Does this person realize the poverty of the area?” Duh, she lives on the reservation.

      Isn’t coal country a synonym for poverty and environmental grief?

  2. Bob Ferris says:

    Mr. Small that is such an obvious and transparent ploy. Conditions are bad and people are suffering, ergo they need a coal mine or miles of trains to run through their neighborhoods and all will be well. Please show me where this has happened? Because we certainly have plenty of examples where these promises have been made and not kept. The tragedy of reservations is a reality that must be dealt with but not by adding another impact or insult that will only make matters worse. And as to saving the world, really? How exactly does selling an under-priced resource to Asia and accelerating climate change, Asia health issues and ocean acidification “save the world?”

    • steve small says:

      You have obviously not lived here or visited here. To live and feel some of these conditions of destitution these people experience every day. Do you have a job, a decent education. It’s easy to sit somewhere and condemn development.

      • Steve Erickson says:

        It is even easier to sidestep the issues as you are doing here. But this is such transparent propaganda, as if any mine will result in long lasting improvement. The boom will bring some jobs, mostly for outsiders, including the whores, drug dealers and other camp followers. The people who live there are left with the pollution, even more social dislocation, and a degraded landscape with reduced carrying capacity when the coal barons move on to the next victim.

      • Jean Stillwell says:

        How many of the people of this area will the coal companies be hiring? Will it be those you mention who are undereducated, addicted to alcohol, whose lives are already in shambles? And, when the coal is used up, how much money will the coal companies be leaving to repair the damage to the environment and health of these people? It is likely that they will walk away blaming and portraying the damages to the bodies and souls of these people on those “greedy native people.” Then the tribes will be left with the loss of lives, health, and the cost of the cleanup, if it’s even possible.

  3. Dorethea Simone RN, BSN says:

    As a Registered Nurse who understands that Big Coal is still bringing us Black Lung Disease and mine collapse due to unsafe mines and has brought actual deaths in the Black air towns of Communist China, despite claims of caring one wit able humans, I ask how can anyone believe anything a coal company says?

  4. Beth, ISCO says:

    Peabody’s coal mine on Crow is shut down, the coal gone. Why are the Crow not the prosperous leaders of Montana?

    Wyoming has a long history of allowing, and now promoting mining and drilling. Sure, taxes to individuals living off the rez are low, and college is cheap, where programs promote…mining and drilling.

    Following your logic, Mr. Small, the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho should be living like movie stars, complete with sunken swimming pools! How many millionaires, or even “middle class” do you personally know on the Wind River Rez, Mr. Small?

  5. Jayme says:

    Well, if its about jobs and the economy. These folk have never driven a little south to Gillette or Sheridan, WY. Where coal is taken out of the ground and shipped by rail. Most forget there would be nothing here if the railroad would not have came down to Colstrip in 1921 to mine coal. The crow are mining like crazy out the Sarpy line and have figured out how to put money to good use the last 20 years. I invite you all to come to colstrip and eat some beef from the cows that roam the reclaimed land from strip mining, maybe even share some bread from the grain grown on it. There is a spirit of bondage that the few on the reservation are trapped into believing that keep them poor. And there are a few that have escapped that and have become gainfully employed with PPL, mining, and the railroad who take home and provide to thier families.

  6. Timothy says:

    I would like to see more information. I was born in billings, I guess raised in lame deer, and grown a man in Washington. Like I’ve asked, I would like to see more information.

  7. Timothy says:

    The only thing I shall say is I’m Northern Cheyenne . And question my people, will they listen to a halfbreed?

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