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.