Fort Belknap Indian Community, Montana


The tribes on the northcentral Montana reservation sued the federal government, claiming gold mining permitted in nearby Island Mountains polluted their water supply and desecrated sacred areas. The suit wants the government to reclaim the mines at Zortman-Landusky and bar any future degradation of the land and water. A spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management called the suit frivolous. The agency is doing a new environmental analysis to outline reclamation for the mines and has been working with the Fort Belknap tribes on that project. No final decision on how to reclaim the mines can be made until the environmental study is complete a year from now. Tim Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center, said the suit is less about dictating the future than about assigning blame for what happened in the past. "We're looking for a judgment that would identify the trust responsibility that the BLM has toward the tribes, the responsibility that they have to protect, the health, welfare and well-being of the tribes," he said. The mines are adjacent to the 652,000-acre reservation's southern boundary, operated by the bankrupt Pegasus Gold Corp.