Fracking on the Blackfeet Reservation (updated)

Anshutz Exploration Corp., an energy exploration company that has been searching for oil and gas on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, has just announced that it would cease drilling and shut down the project. The company notified the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council of its decision on Monday.  

The Blackfeet Reservation’s western boundary forms the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park. In 2006, the Blackfoot Tribal Business Council granted oil exploration and fracking leases on the western edge of the reservation to the Denver-Based Anshutz Exploration Corp, owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz, one of the richest men in the nation. Many tribal members are concerned about the impact of Anshultz’s operations on the natural resources, including clean water. Anshutz has refused to conduct a cumulative environmental assessment, something that is of great concern to officials in Glacier National Park and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Opposition to Anshutz and to fracking on the reservation has resulted in the formation of the Blackfeet Anti-Fracking Coalition on Facebook.  The Facebook group was started by Destini Vaile, a Blackfeet tribal member who has studied the fracking process and opposed full-field development on the reservation.

For more background see:…

Glacier National Park:

One of the companies looking at bidding on the concession for Glacier National Park is Xanterra, which currently holds the concession for Yellowstone National Park. Xanterra is owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz who made his fortunes in oil, railroads, telecom, and entertainment. Anshutz purchased Xanterra in 2008.

A petition opposing Xanterra’s bid for the park concessions can be found at…

For more background on the petition see:…

American Indian Place Names in Glacier National Park

Since there is going to be a meet up in Glacier Park in June, I thought it might be interesting to do a tour of the park from west to east along today’s traditional tourist trail, commenting on some of the Indian names and heritage along the way. As with many national parks, the names of many of the mountains, creeks, and lakes have been changed to reflect the egos of the conquerors and the traditional Indian names are often ignored.  


We are going to start our tour in Kalispell, the closest city to the park. Kalispell was named for the Kalispel Indians who currently have a reservation in eastern Washington. The designation “Kalispel” refers to camas, an important food plant, and we might translate this as “camas eater.”


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The original name of the town at the west entrance to the park was Belton (notice that the sign on the railroad station still says Belton) and it was changed to West Glacier in 1949. The Kootenai call the Belton Hills “Spotted Foot Mountains.”

Flathead River:

River 3180 photo DSCN3180.jpg

We enter Glacier National Park by crossing over the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Two of the park’s boundaries are formed by the North Fork of the Flathead River and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The river is named for the Bitterroot Salish who are also known as the Flathead.

Lake McDonald:  

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Shortly after entering the park (stopping at the entrance stand to pay the fee or show a park pass), we come to Lake McDonald which was probably named after Duncan McDonald, the son of Hudson’s Bay Company trader Angus MacDonald who founded Fort Conah (now on the Flathead Indian Reservation) and Catherine Baptiste (Eagle in the Wind) whose heritage was Nez Perce, Mohawk, and French.

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The foot of Lake McDonald had traditionally been used by the Kootenai as a ceremonial site and thus the Kootenai name for the lake and the area around it seems to have been “good place to dance” or “where people dance.” This is sometimes indicated as “sacred dancing.”

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There is an oral tradition which tells of a time when a Kalispel band was camped at the foot of the lake when they were attacked by a Sixika (North Blackfoot) band.

Upper McDonald Creek, which flows into the lake, was called Barrier Creek by the Kootenai.


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Within Glacier Park, a creek, a lake, and a campground all carry the name Avalanche. Long before this area was part of a national park it was used by the Kootenai who hunted in the area. They designated it as Beaver Head (lake, creek, and basin). They also have creation stories about this area and conducted ceremonies here.

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Logan Pass:

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Located at the top of the Going to the Sun Road, Logan Pass today is a very popular tourist stop that offers spectacular views of the mountains as well as opportunities to see mountain goats and marmots. The pass is named for William Logan, the first superintendent of the park. While he had previously been the Indian agent for the Blackfeet Reservation and for the Fort Belnap Reservation (Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes), he was not known for his empathy for Indians.

For thousands of years, Indian people had used this pass in crossing the Rocky Mountains. The Blackfoot, whose traditional homelands lie just to the east of the mountains, call it the Ancient Road. The Kootenai, whose traditional home is just to the west of the mountains, would cross through this pass on snowshoes in the wintertime. The Kootenai called it the trail “where packs are pulled up in a line.”

St. Mary Lake:

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Leaving Logan Pass and driving down the east side of the mountains on the Going to the Sun Road you will come to St. Mary Lake. The origin of the English designation “St. Mary” is somewhat controversial with lots of speculation about its origin. There are some who champion its origin with the Jesuit missionary Father DeSmet, who probably never saw the lake. Other missionaries, French Canadian m├ętis, fur trappers, and many others have also been credited with naming the lake. However, for thousands of years prior to the European invasion and the arrival of the Jesuits, this was Blackfoot land. The Blackfoot referred to the lake as “inside big water” or “blue banks.” There are also some indications that it might have been called “many chiefs gathered” in reference to intertribal meetings in the area.


There are lots of other waterfalls and mountains which carry Indian names along the Going to the Sun Road. In addition, there are Indian names to many of the lakes, mountains, creeks, and other features in other parts of the park, but these are topics for further discussion.

Fracking and Glacier National Park


In 1998, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, passed the National Park Service Concessions Management Improvement Act which was intended to open up the bidding process for national park concessions and make them more competitive. At the present time there are about 600 concession contracts at 120 national park units.  

While national parks are public lands, the government has traditionally given concessions to private enterprise to operate the tourist facilities-hotels, gift shops, restaurants, transportation, campground management. The concession contract for Glacier National Park in Montana is currently up for bid. According to Tristan Scott:

Prospective bidders vying for the 16-year prospectus contract, a venture that involves managing the park’s five historic lodging facilities, its food and beverage services and its retail operations, must commit a mountain of money in initial investments alone – $33 million – and will face a future rife with financial risk and costly maintenance projects due to senescent buildings and crumbling infrastructure.…

One of the companies which may be bidding for the contract is an oil and gas company which is engaged in fracking operations on the park’s eastern boundary.  

The new concession contract will go into effect on January 1, 2014. Proposal are due on March 14, 2013.

The Blackfeet Reservation:

The Blackfeet Reservation’s western boundary forms the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park. In 2006, the Blackfoot Tribal Business Council granted oil exploration and fracking leases on the western edge of the reservation to the Denver-Based Anshutz Exploration Corp, owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz, one of the richest men in the nation. Many tribal members are concerned about the impact of Anshultz’s operations on the natural resources, including clean water. Anshutz has refused to conduct a cumulative environmental assessment, something that is of great concern to officials in Glacier National Park and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Opposition to Anshutz and to fracking on the reservation has resulted in the formation of the Blackfeet Anti-Fracking Coalition on Facebook.  The Facebook group was started by Destini Vaile, a Blackfeet tribal member who has studied the fracking process and opposed full-field development on the reservation.

Dave Beck, the chair of the Native American Studies program at the University of Montana, said:

“Fracking has become a very contentious issue for the Blackfeet. The question is how to balance cultural preservation, environmental protection and economic development, and I think that is really what tribes everywhere are trying to deal with right now.”


The Concessions:

When Congress created Glacier National Park in 1910, they did not allocate any money for the development of tourist facilities in the park. The bill that created the park had been promoted and influenced by Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway and son of James J. Hill. The southern boundary of the park is the railroad.

Having helped create Glacier National Park, Hill set out to create within the park a tourist facility for wealthy easterners who would ride his railroad to the park. Since Glacier’s mountains looked somewhat similar to the Swiss Alps, Hill envisioned the park as America’s Swiss Alps which would draw the wealthy tourists who had traditionally vacationed in Europe. Between 1910 and 1930, Hill commissioned the construction of nine Swiss-style chalets to be built in and around the park.


Lake McDonald Lodge is shown above.

The Great Northern Railway laid out and built most of the early roads and trails in the park. In 1914 Hill made arrangements with the White Motor Company to provide bus services in the park and the following year White Motor Company formed the Glacier Park Transportation Company to operate the buses.

By 1917, the Great Northern Railway had spent more money than the government-about twice as much-in developing Glacier National Park.

In the decades that followed, the National Park Service relied on private enterprise to build, maintain, and promote Glacier’s tourism. In exchange, the company that held the concession received exclusive rights to the tourist business within the park.

At the present time, Glacier Park’s private lodging concession is held by Glacier Park Inc (GPI), but their contract has expired and has been opened for bids.  GPI has an estimated $22 million in possessory interest in Glacier Park and operates properties outside of the park, including The Lodge at St. Mary, Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier, and Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish.  


One of the companies looking at bidding on the concession for Glacier National Park is Xanterra, which currently holds the concession for Yellowstone National Park. Xanterra is owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz who made his fortunes in oil, railroads, telecom, and entertainment. Anshutz purchased Xanterra in 2008.

Tristan Scott reports of Anshutz:

He is a Republican Party donor and supporter of numerous religious and conservative causes, and helped fund a 1992 Colorado ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

With regard to the environment, the Xanterra website states:

Xanterra’s vision is simple: provide quality services to visitors to our parks and resorts in the most sustainable ways possible. Our 2015 Environmental Vision goals guide all Xanterra employees in our quest to become the most environmentally responsible company possible – protecting our country’s national and state parks along the way.

Glacier National Park: Avalanche Lake (Photo Diary)

For centuries before the creation of the United States and the concept of a National Park Service, Indian people from several very different tribes utilized the plant, animal, geological, and spiritual resources of what is now Glacier National Park in Montana. The Blackfoot occupied the area east of the continental divide and the area west of the continental divide was used by the Kootenai and the Pend d’Oreille.

Avalanche Lake and the small creek which runs from it to the larger McDonald Creek are featured in some of the Kootenai stories. Since I am not Kootenai, I am not privy to these stories. Since the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910, the hike up to Avalanche Lake has been popular with tourists and for many, visiting the lake can be a spiritual experience.  

The Trail:

Trail 1

Trail 2

Trail 3

Trail 5

Shown above are some photos of the two mile trail from the trailhead at the campground to the lake. It is classified as an easy hike, but for those who are overweight and underexercised it may seem a bit rough. About half-way between the trailhead and the lake there is a blowdown area and one large tree is now across the trail.

The Creek:

Creek 1

Creek 2

Creek 3

Creek 4

Creek 5

Creek 7

Creek 8

For the first half-mile, the trail follows the creek fairly closely, giving hikers some fantastic views of running waters.

The Mountains:

Mtn 1

Mtn 2

Mtn 3

Mtn 4

Mtn 5

Glacier National Park is in the Rocky Mountains and Avalanche Lake is a mountain lake: thus hikers usually notice the mountains which surround them.

The Lake:

Avalanche Lake 1

Avalanche Lake 2

Avalanche Lake sits in a mountain bowl with four major waterfalls bringing freshly melted snows down to the lake. Sitting on the beach it is easy to understand that this lake, the waterfalls, the mountains, the clouds passing overhead, can easily be a symbol for creation.  

Glacier National Park: Spiritual Water

Water is a living thing according to many Native American traditions. In some Anishinabe traditions, water symbolizes humility and provides the people with many important lessons regarding life, harmony, and healing. Water is often a part of Native American spiritual practices.  

I recently had the honor of escorting two Kossacks (oke and rfall) a short distance into Glacier National Park, an area which has a spiritual history associated with at least three tribes (Blackfoot, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille). What follows are simply some photos snapped during this short excursion. Those who follow Native spiritual paths may get a sense of the spirituality of water. Those who follow other paths may simply enjoy the beauty of the park.

Lake McDonald 1

Lake McDonald 2

from bridge

from Apgar

Shown above is Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Upper McDonald 1

Upper McDonald 2

Upper McDonald 3

Shown above is upper McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

Moose Area

Shown above is a moose habitat area. In the Anishinabe oral traditions, the place of moose is between the west (which represents death) and north (which represents dreams). Moose is about the nurturing of dreams.

Avalanche Creek 1

Avalanche Creek 2

Avalanche Creek 3

Water Pool

Avalanche Creek 4

Shown above is Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park.

Water Seep

Shown above is a water seep in an old growth cedar forest.  

National Parks & American Indians: Glacier National Park

( – promoted by navajo)

Glacier National Park was designated our nation’s 10th national park on May 11, 1910. Half of the new park was formed by the “mineral strip” which had been sold by the Blackfoot to the United States in 1895. The enabling legislation for the park, however, contained no reference to the Blackfoot, nor does it acknowledge their hunting, fishing, and timber rights to the area, rights which they had reserved in their treaty with the government. The tribe was not invited to the congressional hearing about the park.

Lake McDonald

Glacier’s first superintendent was William Richard Logan, the son of an Army captain who made a career out of fighting Indians. He was no friend to Indians, calling them “natural beggars and bummers” and subsequently served as the Indian agent to the Blackfeet and to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre at the Fort Belknap Reservation. Since he also had little sympathy for conservation, he was made superintendent of Glacier National Park and introduced programs that were developmental rather than environmental.  

Glacier National Park, according to archaeological data and Native American oral tradition, has been used by American Indians for more than 10,000 years. When the first Euroamerican explorers began entering the region about two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot controlled the prairies to the east of the Park and used the mountains in the park for hunting, for ceremonies, and for gathering plants. The Salish-speaking tribes (Pend d’Oreille, Kalispel, Flathead) and the Kootenai lived in the valleys to the west.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the policy of the American government was that all Indians were to become farmers with small, family farms. All other forms of economic development were discouraged. Therefore, when there were rumors about the possibility of gold in the mountains on the western portion of the Blackfoot reservation, there was no consideration given to the possibility that the Indians could mine the gold themselves. All of the Americans agreed that the Indians would have to sell the land so that the gold could be exploited by non-Indian mining interests.

In 1895 representatives from the United States government met with 35 handpicked Blackfoot leaders. The United States wanted to purchase the western mountains, but the Blackfoot were reluctant to sell. Under much pressure, the handpicked leaders agreed to the sale and asked for $3 million, but the government paid them only $1.5 million.

The mountainous area involved in the sale was an area in which the Blackfoot traditionally hunted, fished, gathered plants, cut timber, and conducted religious ceremonies. Indian religions were illegal at this time so the Blackfoot were quiet about the spiritual use of the mountains. However, since the government seemed concerned about minerals, the Blackfoot insisted that they must maintain all non-mineral rights to the area. White Calf told the Americans:

“I would like to have the right to hunt game and fish in the mountains. We will sell you the mountain lands from Birch Creek to the boundary, reserving the timber and grazing land.”

One of the American negotiators was George Bird Grinnell who felt that there would be few minerals found in the area. Grinnell, however, felt that it was important to destroy Indian cultures by breaking up the communal ownership of land. Grinnell also felt that the area had great scenic potential and could be a tourist destination.

Indians and Hunting:

Two years after the creation of Glacier National Park, two Blackfoot hunters were arrested for hunting in their usual areas within the park. Their firearms, traps, and hides were taken from them. The Department of the Interior later instructed the park to return these items, but the Indians were not to be allowed in the park.

At this time, non-Indians were allowed to hunt in the park and government hunters were actively seeking to exterminate coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions within the park. While the Blackfoot felt that the treaty had reserved their right to hunt in the park, the government simply ignored their concerns.

In 1924, Peter Oscar Little Chief began to circulate a petition among the Blackfoot calling for a recognition of their hunting rights in Glacier National Park. He claimed that the Blackfoot retained these rights in their 1895 treaty:

“We sold to the U.S. Government nothing but rocks only. We still control timber, grass, water, and all big or small game or all the animals living in this [sic] mountains”

He submitted his petition to the Bureau of Indian affairs, but received no response.

In 1929, Peter Oscar Little Chief complained to Senator James Walsh that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had not responded to his 1924 petition regarding Blackfoot hunting rights in Glacier National Park. Walsh contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs who knew nothing about the petition but informed Walsh that Indians had no hunting rights in the park.

In 1929, assuming that the Blackfoot were subject to state law, the National Park Service attempted to end hunting near the eastern border of the park. Wardens arrested Blackfoot and Cree hunters for killing elk east of the park boundary. The judge, however, released the men and returned the elk to them. State officials were angered by the judge’s decision and demanded further prosecution. The National Park Service then advised the Indian agent in Browning, the capital of the Blackfoot Nation, that the elk in Glacier National Park were not native, but had been imported from Yellowstone National Park and therefore the Indians did not have the right to hunt them. The Indians simply laughed at this tale.

In 1955, the deer and elk herds in Glacier National Park increased beyond the park’s capacity. Rangers killed many animals and drove others onto the adjacent Blackfoot reservation. Blackfoot hunters, however, were not allowed to hunt the animals within the park.

In 1991, Blackfoot tribal chairman Earl Old Person, commenting on Indian rights to hunt, fish, gather, and cut timber in Glacier National Park, said: “We only sold them the rocks.”

In 2000, two Blackfoot tribal members killed two bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park. When the two were charged with violating a federal wildlife protection statute, they argued that the Blackfoot have treaty hunting rights to the area. They pointed out that in the1896 agreement with the United States, the tribe retained its right to hunt, fish, and harvest timber in the area. The federal judge did not agree and one of the two men was found guilty of violating the Lacey Act which prohibits the sale of wildlife parts when the animals are killed illegally.

Indians and Tourists:

Glacier National Park was created in part because of the commercial interests of the Great Northern Railway. The park provided a tourist destination and the Great Northern provided the transportation and also owned the concessions within the park. Great Northern promoted the park as an “Indian” destination and referred to the Blackfoot as “Glacier Park Indians.” Tourists were met by Indians as they got off the train and there were tipis around the park lodges.

As a part of its Glacier National Park promotion, the Great Northern Railway in 1915 produced a movie entitled A Day in the Life of a Glacier Park Indian. In addition, the Great Northern Railway took six Blackfoot to the San Francisco Exhibition where they presented lectures, movies, and transparencies about Glacier National Park.

In 1928, the Great Northern Railway published American Indian Portraits which featured paintings of Blackfoot Indians.

Indian Rights:

The Blackfoot and the Kootenai had explored and used what is now Glacier National Park for thousands of years and during this time they had given names to all of the major geographic features of the area. The United States government, however, ignored the aboriginal names and proceeded to rename these features. Thus the mountain known as Napi (Old Man or Trickster) to the Blackfoot was named Mount Cleveland in 1898 as a way of honoring President Grover Cleveland.  The glacier known as Azina Kokutoi (Gros Ventre Ice) to the Blackfoot was named Dixon Glacier in honor of Senator Joseph M. Dixon, who had helped push through the legislation which established Glacier National Park. Dixon also pushed through a bill which broke up the Flathead Reservation and added greatly to his personal wealth. The list of geographic features named for presidents, wealthy men, politicians, and their friends is fairly long.

In 1915, Blackfoot leaders Curly Bear, Wolf Plume, and Tail Feathers Coming Over The Hill visited Washington, D.C. to complain about the renaming of mountains, lakes, rivers, and glaciers in Glacier National Park. The Indians wanted Blackfoot names used and they were promised that in the future only Indian names or their translations would be used.

In 1925, as a part of a publicity program for the Park,  author J.W. Schultz, known for his autobiographical novel My Life as an Indian, began a program of assigning Blackfoot names to the Park’s features. Working with Eli Guardipee, Curly Bear, and other Blackfoot elders, the plan was to begin at the southeastern corner of the Park and work northward along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The idea was to assign names of Indians painted by George Catlin and Charles Bodmer rather than reasserting the aboriginal names.

In 1929, the National Park Service proposed to enlarge Glacier National Park by adding more Blackfoot land to the park. Ignoring the Blackfoot, the National Park Service asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for help in the matter and enlisted the aid of an “Indian expert”. The park was told that the Blackfoot would not give up an additional area to the park for any money consideration.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Woodrow L. Kipp refused to pay the entrance fee to Glacier National Park and was cited. In federal court Kipp was acquitted because of the 1895 agreement which allows the tribe free access to public lands taken from the tribe.

In 1975, the Blackfoot with the aid of the Native American Rights Fund petitioned the Secretary of the Interior claiming that the tribe has retained rights in the ceded “mineral strip” area which became Glacier National Park. Environmentalists condemned the Blackfoot:

“Indians may destroy something of value to both themselves and the rest of the nation.”

The Department of the Interior rejected the petition.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Darrell R. Momberg was arrested for tree cutting inside Glacier National Park. While the 1895 agreement does allow timber harvest, Momberg was convicted because he had not cut the wood for personal use as specified in the agreement.