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Fort Belknap tribes pushing for investigation into new Zortman-Landusky mining claims

 Tribal members monitor mine pollution in the South Big Horn Creek near the Zortman-Landusky mine complex July 2016.
Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes
Tribal members monitor mine pollution in the South Big Horn Creek near the Zortman-Landusky mine complex July 2016.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community is requesting an investigation after a mining company filed claims on an environmental reclamation area south of the reservation.

The Zortman-Landusky mine reclamation area has been under a mineral withdrawal for 20 years — that’s an administrative process that keeps land exempt from new mining claims.

The federal Department of the Interior had been renewing the mineral withdrawal every five years, but earlier this month a lapse in that agreement opened up the reclamation area for 48 hours, allowing a mining company out of Minnesota to lay claims on it.

Tribal community members and environmental activists want answers about the lack of communication between the Department of the Interior, the tribes and environmental rights groups that have been working since the late '90s to clean up the Zortman-Landusky Mine.

Bonnie Gestring is with the conservation group Earthworks. She says the organization has been working to treat water at the old mine.

"So the extension of the mineral withdrawal is really crucial because not only do you need to protect the existing reclamation work, but there's ongoing reclamation work and water treatment that needs to be protected in order to provide a safe public resource for those public lands and for the people who live downstream, which is of course, the Fort Belknap Indian community," she says.

Gestring says that the reclamation project has cost around $50 million of state and federal funds.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community and the environmental nonprofits on the project are still awaiting a response from the Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Taylar Stagner is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indigenous Affairs reporter.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

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