Not on This Land: A Western Tribe Takes a Stand and Says No to Big Coal

The Northern Cheyenne are opposing a proposed railroad that would cut through their ancestral lands to haul Montana coal to the Pacific coast for export. An e360 video reports on the Cheyenne’s fight against the railroad and the extraordinary coalition of tribal people and ranchers who have joined together to stop the project.

With coal development on three sides of their Montana reservation, the Northern Cheyenne know the changes that coal can bring to the landscape. So when a rail line was proposed that would carry coal from yet another huge open-pit mine planned near their border, the Northern Cheyenne decided to oppose it.

This Yale Environment e360 video, produced by The Story Group, tells the story of an unlikely alliance between the Cheyenne and local ranchers who are seeking to block the Tongue River Railroad, which would run alongside the reservation and carry coal from the planned Otter Creek mine to rail lines that connect to Pacific ports. The tribe’s long fight against the railroad is coming to a head, with a decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board expected in the spring. 

“This is our homeland,” tribal councilman Conrad Fisher tells the filmmakers. “It’s the cultural landscape, it’s the social landscape, it’s the spiritual landscape. Essentially, it’s the fabric of who we are as Cheyenne people.”