Marching to stop a Montana mine

  If a successful protest is any kind of bellwether, Montana's long tolerance of mining may be coming to an end. When a group composed mostly of Native Americans marched 600 miles from South Dakota to Montana to protest a gold mine last June, people from local communities supported them every step of the way. March leader Brock Conway, a Blackfeet-Lakota, was joined at various times by the great-granddaughter of a homesteader, a grandmother from the Crow tribe and a cowboy herding cattle on an ATV.

The march represents an unusual coalition of ranchers and seven Montana tribes. Their aim is stopping businessman Ernest Lehman from developing his mining claims on public land in north-central Montana. The tribes want the hills protected because they have been a source of visions and sacred ceremonial songs; the ranchers fear that cyanide used to leach gold will contaminate the water table (HCN, 8/9/93).

The coalition persuaded the Bureau of Land Management to issue a new management plan this April; it prohibits new mining claims on all 19,000 acres of public land in the Sweet Grass Hills. Although Lehman can mine his existing claims once a two-year mining moratorium ends in 1997, the coalition is considering legal challenges and is working to elect a sympathetic congressional representative this November.

* Emily Cousins