Tribe, Conservation Groups Sue to Stop Mining Project 

Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Community and three conservation organizations are opposing a proposed mining project that threatens to worsen previous mining damage in the Little Rocky Mountains.

On Monday, September 19, the tribe — along with the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and Montana Trout Unlimited — submitted a request for intervention in support of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) stricter environmental review of proposed mining exploration reclaimed mine site near Fort Belknap Reservation.

In July 2021, a person named Luke Ployhar applied to the State to conduct exploration activities at the site of past cyanide heap leach gold mines in the Little Rocky Mountains. The Zortman and Landusky mines operated between 1979 and 1998, polluting the surrounding water. According to the intervention request, the state of Montana and the US Bureau of Land Management have since spent an estimated $80 million on reclamation and water treatment at the site.

In February 2022, the Montana DEQ completed an environmental review of the property and concluded that a more comprehensive review, referred to as an Environmental Impact Statement, was required to analyze the potential impacts on areas of tribal cultural importance.

“That was the right decision for this location. DEQ has received comments from three Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, all of whom have highlighted potential serious impacts on Nakoda and Aaniiih cultural resources,” said Chris Dorrington, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, in a statement.

Ployhar appealed this decision to the Board of Environmental Review in May 2022. According to Earthjustice and the Indian Law Resource Center, which is representing the tribe and organizations on appeal, Ployhar is the subject of an ongoing enforcement action by the Montana Department of Environmental Protection for alleged illegal exploration activities at seven other locations in the Little Rockies. In July 2022, DEQ fined Ployhar $516,567.

“There is an extensive history demonstrating the adverse effects of past mining activity in the Little Rockies,” Jeffrey Stiffarm, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said in a statement. “The effects on the environment can still be felt today. The Fort Belknap Indian Community will continue to actively monitor any issues adversely affecting the homelands of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine. This includes supporting the positions of other authorities who understand the need for a comprehensive review of any proposed mining exploration.”

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About the author

Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeE-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Staff writer

Jenna Kunze is the Indian Health, Environment and Breaking News Reporter for Native News Online. She is also the publication’s lead reporter for stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriations. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle, and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze lives in New York.

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