The Crow reservation is the largest reservation in Montana encompassing 2.2 million acres, and has a membership of 11,000, of which 7,900 live on the reservation – and 85% speak the Crow as their first language. This community is culturally rich in this way, but colonialism in the form of poverty and intervention put the people and land at continued prey. Despite forty years of coal strip mining adjacent to the reservation, and the Colstrp l-4 Powerplant complex, there is a 50% unemployment rate on the reservation. The tribe owns 20% of the land on the reservation, the rest is held by allotees, who have been some of the staunchest opponents of mining operations.
The Crow Reservation has estimated coal deposits of 17.1 billion tons, which 16.1 billion may be prospective for CBM development. Currently there are no surface coal mines operate on the reservation -- however, they are moving Colstrip 1-4 closer, representing some Crow coal, is also a significant source of carbon dioxide contamination, releasing 19 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2012 alone. With a decline in conventional coal plants, and no new coal plant proposals being forwarded by most utilities, the Crow are looking into different partnerships for non-conventional use of their coal. This has included exports to China and a possible coal gasification plant.
This month the Crow Nation signed an agreement with a Wyoming mining company (Cloud Peak Energy) to mine up to 1.4 billion tons of coal on the Crow Nation. The agreement represents more coal than is presently consumed in the US. Tribal sovereignty and tribal politics have kept the Crow largely out of the eye of the storm on fossil fuels extraction, as jobs are hard to come by, political allies are able to keep jobs and others are not, and the cloak of invisibility which covers tribal sovereignty is likely to be used to keep others out. However, internal tribal opposition has been continuous, and Honor the Earth is responding to both the community’s hopes to avert ecological and cultural devastation wrought by large scale mining, as well as address the climate change impact of Crow decision-making on the world at large. There is opposition outside of Crow to the impact of this proposal. The Lummi Nation has opposed a terminal, which would involve Crow coal resources in their territory at the Salish Sea. This represents the potential export terminal for Crow and other Powder River basin resources.
Durable Indigenous Economics
Tribal economics like Crow are skewed towards fossil fuels as a result of historic leasing policies by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, complimented by large amounts of fossil fuel influence, and a lack of re-indigenized and long-term self sustainable development strategies. The problems are mirrored throughout Native America, and require a careful deconstruction, in order to solve. This is our work…
Over the past ten years Honor the Earth, partnered with many organizations and associations, as well as our local affiliate the White Earth Land Recovery Project, has become able to assess tribal energy economics and tribal economics for the purpose of proposing and actualizing sustainable development strategies. This information is requested by many tribal governments and community organizations (as the issues repeat each election year), and with each new environmentally, culturally, and economically destructive proposal. We have developed several strategies, which we will bring to Crow, and also to the Northern Cheyenne. In our White Earth energy study, we found that the tribe spends one quarter of its funding on energy in the form of fossil fuel imports for transportation, heating, and electricity.
This represents a significant drain from a tribal economy, particularly in terms of fuel poverty -- or the lack of ability to heat our homes. Crow suffers from exactly the same losses. The standard economic solution proposed by policy-makers is to import more job and income opportunities, but despite the heroic mining efforts over fifty years, 50 % of Crows are unemployed and poverty remains high. In part this is due to the lack of a multiplier, and the loss of control over energy and food economics. We will work on this in several ways, including pairing with Montana State to create a tribal training program in Applied Indigenous Economics, assessing the Crow economy, and providing solar thermal installations with Trees Water and People. We will pair this with offering a training for Crow tribal youth and interested individuals at the solar, wind and solar thermal facilities we have installed on the White Earth reservation. These facilities, combined with an in–process training manual on renewables for tribal communities, will build capacity to transform the Crow economy.