It Changes Everything
“If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arm around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, their mountains and their rivers protect them. ” - Arundhati Roy.On Monday, I sat on the bench just outside the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council chambers. At 12:24 my friend who was in the room walked out and held up his fist; the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council voted unanimously (9-0) in favor of a resolution introduced by Councilman Conrad Fisher to oppose the Tongue River Railroad. I turned and looked down the hallway to the north to see the totem pole carved by Jewell James of the Lummi Nation for the Northern Cheyenne people arrive in the parking lot. Then, I cried. We have come so far in the almost six years since the Otter Creek coal tracts were leased to Arch Coal in March of 2010. After the Montana State Land Board voted 3-2 to lease the coal, there was a sense of resignation and inevitability; the coal would be mined, the railroad built. Many people felt powerless, not in the general, overwhelming global forces sort of way, but in a very specific way caused directly by that vote. If you remember, the public, both in southeastern Montana and across the state, was overwhelmingly opposed to the leasing of the Otter Creek tracts. Tens of thousands of comments were submitted against it, there were packed public hearings, rallies, you name it, yet we lost the vote anyway. Then, on the very same day, the same elected body voted to protect the Flathead River from coal mining. The Flathead River is special and the Tongue River, well, those people should be grateful for the economic development opportunity we’re giving them. This is not a new story east of Billings. It is a story that has been recited to us since the 1970s and it's powerful. It defines how we think about the problems in our communities and also tells us what the solutions are. This story doesn’t like to be challenged. We hear it loud and clear. The storytellers say our worth is based on what is under our feet: burn it, mine it, sell it. They tell us it is the best we’re gonna do and we should be grateful because they are giving us the opportunity to fight for the scraps from corporations as they dig up the land and ship it overseas. They tell us to take what we can get.