On the Tongue River Railroad – “None of you would be here if the bottom line wasn’t money.”

On February 13-14, representatives from the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the Tongue River Railroad Company (BNSF & Arch Coal) and their contractors from ICF International came to Billings to host the second in-person Section 106 tribal consultation meeting for the proposed Tongue River Railroad.  Much was said those two days and I don't think anyone would disagree with my assessment that the tribal historic preservation officers and most other tribal representatives who were present do not want a coal railroad to disturb the Tongue River Valley. The folks that stand to make money from this project don't understand it when people say to them that, "hey, we may be monetarily poor but we have this land."  They don't understand the value we place on our wildlife. They don't understand emotional or cultural ties to the water, to the plants and to the animals. Emotions and culture don't have a monetary value and therefore they dismiss it. How much money is a deer worth that feeds your family for winter? How much money is it worth to walk into the Otter Creek valley and hear only birds singing?  How much money are petroglyphs worth that are thousands of years old? But wait, they say, we'll save the rock and put it in a glass case for you before we blow everything else up. Tell me, how much that is all worth, I want to know.
There is a message that is being sent over and over again to the people that live there, both explicitly and implicitly: Your only value is the minerals underneath your feet.
I'm going to pick a little bit on Jon Tester for a minute mostly because out of all of our elected officials, I think he understands agriculture, climate change and tribal issues more than the other ones and I think he understands what is at stake in southeastern Montana. But, since 2009, Senator Tester has hosted many small business opportunity workshops throughout the state, in Bozeman, Great Falls, Billings, Missoula, Butte and Kalispell but not one that I'm aware of in eastern Montana. I know dozens of people on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation that want to start small businesses (restaurants, solar air heaters, sustainable building, gardens and greenhouses etc) and need the information and resources to do so. People want leaders with vision. Not leaders who throw up their hands and tell us that the only value southeastern Montana has is as a commodity colony.

The Main Event

This relates to the STB meeting because Mark Roundstone from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe gave possibly one of the most impactful and important speeches about this issue that I have ever heard. It summarizes the meeting nicely and I hope you take the time to read it because it's important to hear how people talk about their land, their wildlife and their culture and what's at stake in southeastern Montana. I will hand the floor over to Mr. Roundstone. Exact transcript from the STB meeting. (All highlights and emphasis are mine and the blue text is used for explanation) MR. ROUNDSTONE: Good afternoon. Mark Roundstone, Northern Cheyenne Tribe. I just want to make a comment which reminded me when Mark (from ICF International) was talking about it's his place and the survey, I believe it was ICF that had conducted the survey this past summer season. I had received in my office several calls from homeowners along the Tongue River when they were conducting their survey of utilizing aircraft to do the survey and disturbing some very unique birds to our tribe, specifically the osprey next to the site. We have a couple eagle pairs that have decided to stay on the Tongue River Corridor all year round. I recall a mother who lives on the Tongue River calling me frantically at a few minutes after 8 o'clock. The helicopter had disturbed the eagle site and had literally blew down the nest of the eagle. I was literally disturbed about how they went about doing their survey related to my brother, the eagle or the hawk, with no remorse. And to me, I think I'm the only person within my tribe hired specifically to speak for animals. There's no other person within my tribe who speaks in protection of our animals. And this process is really hard for some of us traditional people who have chose to follow that life. Because in our selfishness, we separate ourselves from our own ecosystem. We separate ourselves from animals and from the ecosystem. I don't know why we do that. Maybe it's when we attained the right to start claiming property. Maybe it's when the time when we started keeping track of time. But I know for sure it was the time when we started valuing -- placing value on money. And all of this, none of you would be here if the bottom line wasn't money. The traditional Cheyenne always believes that wealth is having a family and having a home, and you're the wealthiest person. But I just wanted to make that comment of how the survey was conducted and support those ranchers that don't want these kind of callus surveys done on their lands because of what I had or my people had observed while these surveys were conducted last summer on, I believe, the wildlife surveys. I received a call from ICF and sent one of my representatives -- of course, I only have one in my office -- to accompany a bird survey. But I would just like to emphasize, you know, how these surveys are conducted and to have respect with the other people that live out there. These are their homes that you are destroying in this attempt to gather and secure your money. You know, us people and us animals, we have to live there long after you guys and your construction and your coal mine and your railroads are gone. We have to live there. My people have come from Oklahoma with 10,000 United States Army chasing 300 people, killing them like animals, because we loved our land. This land is the only place where we can gather our ceremonial plants, our ceremonial tems, and we came back to southeastern Montana because of that reason, because we loved it. Clear water, clean air, food. You know, when this cold came, I heard a lot of folks talking about the South and wanting to move south. I said, "Go ahead." Weak people like that. I said, "Us strong people, we stay in the North where that cold wind makes us stronger because we have to get up and fight it every day.” But I just wanted to make that comment, you know, and have you guys stop and evaluate that in yourselves, that we are not the only people that lives on that land. You know, we have millions of different types of species of animals that also live life there too that we're going to impact. You know, in an area where Clint lives, several years ago, there was a world record deer taken in that area. We're going to disturb that. We're going to take that away, simply because we're going to put a railroad there and stop their migration route. I know some of you Surface Transportation people say, "Oh, they'll just cross that railroad." Well, you know, some of them animals, they won't cross because they smell that metal, they smell that disturbance. It's a boundary for them. Think about some of them things when you go to bed at night, when you look at your children, not when you're in your office and have to be directed to do these things. Think about the impacts that you're going to have on others when you are going to bed. And I like the comment this lady made about that when this lawyer here said, "Oh, there's no more money. We can't do no more surveys." (referring to David Coburn, attorney for the Tongue River Railroad from Washington D.C.)  Well, that guy (referring to David Coburn) should go back to Washington, DC or wherever he's from and stay there. You know, he don't belong in this country if that's the way he feels. We need to do this process regardless of how much money a cultural survey is and how many cultural surveys we have to do. You know, as native people, most of you -- some of you in here are native people. All we simply want when you are doing something of this nature is to do it right. And I was sitting here thinking, you know, when you folks, Caucasian folks, first came amongst us, you told us that we needed education and we needed to become equal to you, and you built these real expensive buildings even for yourselves. 40, 60 years later you abandon these buildings because we started getting sick from the mineral or material called asbestos. But at the time you were building them, that was the best thing you could do, you know. So consider some of them things that you haven't seen or that you're not -- that you haven't had foresight of seeing when some of these things come to pass and you start seeing your son or your daughter suffer from cancer. Some of these minerals that are going to come up from Mother Earth. My elders always tell me, anything that comes from inside Mother Earth is not done processing yet, and when you bring it out too early, it's poisoned, and eventually it will kill you. We're already in that area in our history in this time, so be real, real careful when you consider some of these things and in your circle of talking with tribes and with the Federal Government. You know, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the reservation now is almost completely surrounded by industry. You know, we have I-90 running through the Crow Reservation that borders our reservation on the western end, and then we hear in the wind that the Crow Tribe is now going to and have negotiated the coal mine just right next to our western boundary of Northern Cheyenne Reservation, Thompson Creek, headwater to the Rosebud Creek. That's going to be a new battle because of the Feds, not the reservation. So pretty soon, energy industry is going to pit native against native, and that is a sad, sad thing to see. All because of energy, simple money, money that you're going to spend maybe on a shirt or something for your children that's going to be gone next year. So I really, really want to emphasize that we think about the others that are going to be impacted by what you guys are talking about today and the impacts that are going to come 20, 40, 60 years from now as a result of this. I want to wish each and every one of you a great afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to talk.

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