From WILL PARRISH
While Sierra Rose Alexander was growing up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeastern Montana, several influential members of the tribe were keen on leasing reservation land to Arch Coal Corporation. This corporate leviathan was seeking to develop one of the USA’s largest coal strip mines, link it by rail to a Washington State terminal, and thence ship the dark and combustible substance to burgeoning Asian energy markets, in addition to domestic ones.
An area of rolling prairies and statuesque buttes called Otter Creek would have been sacrificed. Arch Coal and other companies were in the midst of a broader push to expand mining in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border, the nation’s largest coal-producing region.
But Alexander’s grandfather had helped lead the opposition to a similar proposal in the 1970s. She and her immediate family members are among many Cheyenne traditionalists who continue to oppose any coal mining.
“My grandpa’ told my mom, ‘Never go for coal. Never tear up the land,’” recalls Alexander, who is 24 years old. “I grew up with my mom telling me how important the land is, that the land is all we have.”
This past March, Sierra and other Northern Cheyenne traditionalists could breathe easier when Arch Coal suspended its application for the mine, citing a weak market and “an uncertain permitting environment.” Nearby ranchers and conservation groups had also resisted the mine proposal.
Currently a goat herder and vegetable farmer at Green Uprising Farm in Willits, Sierra is now spearheading a combined Mendocino County/Bay Area support caravan to Standing Rock Sioux territory in North Dakota, where indigenous people, local ranchers, and environmentalists are standing off against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline: a $3.7 billion, 1,168-mile-long mega-project that would carry up to 570,000 barrels a day of Bakken Shale oil to Illinois (via South Dakota and Iowa). From there, it would link with another pipeline for transport to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps also connecting to rail lines to the East Coast.