Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sacred grounds

Posted on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 2:21 PM

The first week of September, I sent a letter to Sidney Longwell, the Baton Rouge speculator, whose lawsuit to drill for oil threatens Montana's Badger-Two Medicine wildlands, bordering Glacier National Park. Fracking the "Backbone of the World" would desecrate both the integrity of this landscape and the cultural identity of present and future generations of Pikuni-Blackfeet people.

Within the Badger-Two Medicine, there are numerous landmarks whose narratives form the foundation of our Pikuni Sun Dance, which is a central religious ceremony in our tribe. For traditional Blackfeet, its promise of renewal can be likened to the role of Easter within Christianity. Two of these landmark mountains are Feather Woman and Scarface.

Feather Woman connects us to a long ago union between an Earth woman and Morning Star. She is entrusted with celestial teachings and subsequently returns to her Earth people. These teachings are manifest within our Sun Dance.

From the union of Feather Woman and Morning Star there survived a son, Scarface. He ventures, courageously, to the Lodge of the Sun. On route, he is assisted by Wolf, Grizzly, Badger, Wolverine and, finally, Trumpeter Swans. In communion with the Sun, Scarface gains additional rites that further complement our Sun Dance. The odyssey of Scarface is forever memorialized by the mountain sentinels of the Badger-Two Medicine. These parables are but a fragment of the ancient narratives associated within the landscape in which Sidney Longwell, the Louisiana "purchaser," intends to drill.

The drilling lease that Mr. Longwell clings to is the soiled residue of an egregious error made by the U.S. government more than 30 years ago. Under the Treaty of 1855 and the Agreement of 1895, our people reserved traditional rights in this area that include pre-existent religious freedoms. Pilgrimages, within social and individual settings, are fully incompatible with the industrialization of these watersheds.

The most considerate option for Mr. Longwell is following the path of other energy speculators who have found mutually beneficial alternatives, relinquishing their leases in our Badger-Two Medicine. Mr. Longwell would deliver our people a compliment by abandoning his lawsuit. I encouraged him to work with both the federal government and with Montana's congressional delegation to capitalize on the 2006 lease withdrawal legislation. There is still time for him to exchange his claim for opportunities elsewhere.

The Badger-Two Medicine region is a refuge for our Blackfeet, one of the last geographical strongholds for our ancient culture. The site of his lease, Hall Creek, is a pristine component of that refuge. I am invested in its protection, for it serves as a keystone in our cultural memory.

I conveyed to Mr. Longwell that my spiritual perspective springs from twin sources. From my Blackfeet grandmother, I inherited the parables of my ancestors. My recollection of her faith challenges me to place principle before personality, profit or pride. As a matter of principle, I maintain it is immoral to vandalize the headwaters of our cultural identity for the sake of profit or pride.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition I inherited from my Euro-American ancestors, Old Testament prophets respectfully removed their shoes when standing before God. If sandals are to be shed upon sacred ground, then how can bulldozers, fracking rigs and flare stacks be deemed acceptable? Recently, a Native elder reminded me, "Our way is to venture into the mountains to converse with God." I cherish the poetic essence of both of these time-honored traditions.

I have invited Sidney Longwell to the "Backbone of the World," where we can deepen our understanding of each other's motives and visions regarding this land we both treasure. As of Sept. 23, there has been no response from Mr. Longwell, who dwells in the state where Montana's waters fold into the Gulf of Mexico.

Jack Wallace Gladstone


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