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Video: Northern Cheyenne Fight for Their Land and Life Against Big Coal

The Northern Cheyenne, Lummi Nation and assorted ranchers are fighting a proposed coal mine and railway across Montana; video by The Story Group.
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The Northern Cheyenne Tribe has been fighting coal mining and rail terminals on the reservation’s eastern flank for decades. For their most recent battle they have been joined by the Lummi, who are fighting the potential construction of a coal terminal at Cherry Point in Washington State.

RELATED: Tribal Leaders in Pacific Northwest Take a Stand Against Coal Terminals

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The Northern Cheyenne are hemmed in on three sides—north, west and south—by coal development. Now Arch Coal Co. wants to build yet another mine, to the east. The resulting railway would bisect at least one ranch as it wends its way through the Tongue River Valley. The coalmine would add to the pollution and contamination already dumping mercury and perhaps contributing to asthma on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, tribal members say. Standing alongside the tribes are local ranchers.

The Northern Cheyenne have already passed a resolution against the coal trains.

“Our lives depend on it. We call it the water of life. It flows through our veins,” says Barbara Braided Hair in the video below. “The mining—I mean, I can’t even think about how devastating that would be.”

RELATED: Northern Cheyenne Council Unanimously Opposes Coal Trains

Representatives from the two tribes and the ranchers gathered last year to talk about protecting their land and sacred sites, and uphold their responsibility to the land, to food production, to heritage.

RELATED: Totem Travels 1,300 Miles to Sites Threatened by Coal Terminals in Northwest

The Story Group, a Boulder-based independent media company, was there to film parts of the gathering, and to profile this resistance and the reasons behind it.

“One of the things that I want to bring out today is, when I look across this crowd, one thing that jumps into mind is the variety of cultures that are here today,” notes Montana rancher Clint McRae in the video below, which filmed a gathering and ceremony for delivery of a totem from the Lummi Nation to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. “The spot that we’re standing on is a campsite. There’s teepee rings on the top of these hills, and there’s burial sites wherever you look.”

“I can’t speak for all landowners, but my personal feeling is, is these sites are not my own,” McRae says. “These are Sioux. These are Cheyenne. These are others who were here before us. But as a landowner it is my obligation, my responsibility, to protect those sites.”

His tribal counterparts would no doubt agree. Below, see The Story Group’s 10-minute video, Our Native Tongue, which was first published on Yale Environment 360.