Proposed Coal Mine on Northern Cheyenne Reservation

By Vivian Rodriguez, SFSU, 2017

The Otter Creek Mine and Tongue River Railroad is a proposed coal mine in Montana on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation [1]. The reservation is currently in an ongoing battle with the government to stop the mine from opening [2]. I will show that the energy injustices at this site arose because coal is often a cheaper way to produce electricity. Native American reservations typically have natural resources underground.

northern cheyenne reservation
This is the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

The Otter Creek Mine and the Tongue River Railroad is a new proposed coal plant in Montana located near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The reservation is 44,000 acres with 5,000 people living on it [3]. This site has the biggest coal deposits in the country [4]. The Trump Administration is looking for ways to produce cheaper energy with coal mining companies like the Arch Coal company who want to gain profit from the coal resources [5].

The Northern Cheyenne tribe is worried their lands will become depleted if the Trump Administration continues to pursue this location. The reservation filed a lawsuit against the government for ending the moratorium leasing agreement [6]. The administration did not notify the reservation and tried to begin their coal extracting plans. Although, the Northern Cheyenne reservation won the first lawsuit, they are afraid they will lose the final case in the supreme court [7].

If the Trump Administration wins, there are numerous concerns for the people of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. The construction of the railroad itself will contaminate their beloved Tongue River which holds sacred values to them [8]. The river is said to have healing powers and it is where they hold their ceremonial events [9]. The reservation is known for having pristine waters and crisp, clean air in the country. The environmental impacts of coal mining include:

  • erosion
  • loss of biodiversity
  • contamination to the soil and water from the chemicals used to extract the coal.

Coal is a dirty fossil fuel known to cause health risks such as asthma, cancer, lung disease and the mining itself causes injuries to the miners [10].

northern cheyenne reservation
Landscape of Northern Cheyenne Reservation

Many tribes like the Crow Nation located across the Cheyenne tribe have profited from coal mining but still continue to have the largest unemployment rates. The Crow tribe were promised thousands of jobs but when the coal corporation no longer needed their coal, they went back to unemployment [11]. It has left people suffering from health issues aside from environmental problems and poverty.

There are few benefits the tribe will receive by allowing a coal mine on their reservation. The first being, the many jobs it will create for the Northern Cheyenne tribe [12]. Secondly, the profit the reservation can make by releasing coal from their land can help them economically. They have one of the largest coal deposits in the country and releasing the coal can rid them of poverty [13]. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is in control of their economic processes and what happens to their land which is why they sued the Trump Administration. Although the benefits sound enticing, the tribe knows it may not last long and they will be left with the same economic and environmental issues as the Crow tribe.

Environmental racism occurs because the only ones who profit from coal mining is the government while the reservation faces the harsh costs. Many Native American tribes have high poverty rates [14]. Many mines are in Native American reservations because that is where most fossil fuels are located [15]. The government does a terrible job at protecting their people from mining corporations if it includes making profit off of their land. The resource curse exists because most of the natural resources found on earth sit along poor communities who are desperate to come out of poverty and believe extracting their resources will provide stable jobs and a secure income. Once the reservation signs their rights away to the mining companies, they have surrendered their rights over the land and how it will be used which leaves them with costs instead of benefits.

The problem with this proposed plan is that the tribe is unsure of what is going to happen on their land since it is a current ongoing battle with the government. Some tribe members are for the new coal development while others are furious the coal extraction will deplete their land.


[1] Diaz, J., & Aponte, Y. (n.d.). Northern Cheyenne & Coal. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

[2] Hansen, T. (2017, April 06). Northern Cheyenne Sue to Block Coal Mining on Public Lands. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

[3] Diaz (2017).

[4] Rott, N. (2017, June 25). People Of Coal-Rich Northern Cheyenne Torn Between Jobs And Sacred Culture. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

[5] Diaz (2017).

[6] Hansen (2017).

[7] Hansen (2017).

[8] Hansen (2017).

[9] Diaz (2017).

[10] Rott (2017).

[11] Turkewitz, J. (2017, April 01). Tribes That Live Off Coal Hold Tight to Trump’s Promises. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

[12] Rott (2017).

[13] Turkewitz (2017).

[14] Bullard, R. D. (2002). Confronting environmental racism: Voices from the grassroots.

[15] Hansen (2017).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s