Between 1966 and 1971 the tribe signed agreements with six companies, possibly committing a quarter of a million acres to mining—half the reservation. Allen Rowland, chairman of the Tribal Council, and Jim Canan, supervisor of the Billings office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Indians' trustee, differ in their accounts of why such a large slice of the reservation was let out. At any rate, many Cheyennes subsequently had second thoughts when two companies began to talk of gasification plants, and some wondered if the royalty they were promised-171/2 cents a ton—was fair. The tribe petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to void the agreements, alleging violations by the BIA. The leases are now in abeyance, and the tribe is deciding what it wants to do.
Mining Will Be on Cheyennes' Terms
Hector Knowshisgun, Jr., feels that the Tribal Council needs more information. "People don't want to lose the reservation. It's their home," he said. "Their ancestors are buried all over the reservation. We've got to know how much of our heritage is going to go down the drain, what would happen with a large influx of non-Indians." The tribe has hired experts to help provide the answers.
"I think the coal will be mined," council chairman Rowland told me. He added emphatically: "But on our terms, nobody else's." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23383209
South of the Cheyenne reservation is an area where BLM has proposed the mining of 285,000 acres. I asked ranchers there how they felt. One wife told me her husband had given an option to a company, but she hoped mining would never begin. One rancher was holding out for a better price. A widow had refused even to allow prospectors to drill on her land. Still another rancher felt that the mining of a small area might not be bad, but that railroads, power lines, gasification plants, and many new people would devastate the country.
Near the Tongue River, Mark Nance pointed to what he hopes will be the site of the next strip mine in Montana. Not only is some of the surface his, but some of the coal also. His family might realize 10 to 20 million dollars from a mine, he said. How could he refuse?
Burton Brewster, who is 73 years old, has leased a brussels accommodation. "I believe we can mine and run cattle at the same time," he said. "And the money is something that is hard to ignore. I'm not sure government should ignore it either. The county and the state could do a lot with the taxes."
He intends to stay in his madrid apartments while mining goes on. "And I think my grandchildren will stay. Coal money can make this a better place for them than I've known."
I dropped in on Ellen Emerson Cotton, who has straight gray hair and a face grooved by time. "This land is valuable for agriculture," she said. "There's afood shortage. Maybe we shouldn't feed so much grain to cattle. We could feed them longer on grass. Then there's just the plain beauty of the country. By gosh, there has to be someplace, somewhere, that's left alone for peace and quiet."