Thu, 09/17/2015 - 5:00am admin
Sage Creek Road barricaded in land dispute with BIA
By Andrew Turck, Big Horn County News
Basically, we’re here as a peaceful protest.” – Elias Goes Ahead, Pryor resident
Sage Creek Road, a remote path in the Crow Reservation bordered by its namesake body of water south of Pryor, has become the site of a barricade set up by local residents owing to a land use disagreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This cuts off a route to the Custer Gallatin National Forest, home to the tallest mountain in Montana – Granite Peak – and one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the state.
Among the three main resident-guards of the barricade is Elias Goes Ahead, a descendant of Chief Plenty Coups, who had spoken five days previous in Pryor for the famous warrior and diplomat’s 21st Day of Honor at Plenty Coups State Park.
In what is regarded by many historians as one of Plenty Coups’ greatest acts, he led a campaign between 1907 and 1917 against a U.S. Senator’s efforts to take away Crow tribal land. In Goes Ahead’s case, he just wants the BIA to, in his opinion, stop misusing his and the other residents’ property without compensation.
The BIA, he said, doesn’t maintain the road, while allowing non-Indian farmers to bring more cattle in the area than he believes the land can properly feed with little to no conservation regulations. He confirmed that he believes this would be similar to allowing someone to live in one’s house without paying rent, adding that the area residents are missing out on “thousands and thousands of dollars.”
“The BIA has been taking advantage of us and treating us like we don’t have any rights,” he said. “There’s no compensation for going through our land: Back and forth, back and forth.
“Basically, we’re here as a peaceful protest.”
Information in regards to the roadblock was not available from the BIA Office of Public Affairs at press time.
The trip to the trailer, truck and gate forming the recent blockcade involves more than a half hour of traveling through a nest of Pryor Mountains over dirt roads in dusty, rugged conditions best handled using four-wheel drive. While most of the public are only able to approach the area from the southwest through Bridger, Mont. – owing to the Pryor entrance being gated off in 2002 by the Plain Bull family – an exception was made for a certain reporter who became lost on that route despite well-intentioned instructions.
Acting as a guide to “headquarters,” area resident Sealmer Red Star exited his truck and pointed out unusually square-topped mountains where alleged sightings of the “Little People” – small, demon-like creatures from Crow folklore – occurred. He and his son, Sealmer Red Star Jr., also aided fellow family members whose truck overheated and erupted coolant through the top of the engine after built-up pressure blew the gasket into the air.
The three barricade guards – Goes Ahead, along with Terry Plain Bull and her aunt Ruby Plain Feather – have been able to maintain their post largely through the donations of others. Donations include a bag of Supreme pet food for the group’s honorary fourth guard, a German shepherd named Mercedes. Before the interview, Goes Ahead asked for copies of that day’s Big Horn County News and Billings Gazette, as the group was reluctant to leave just two people at the gate.
In addition to his current barricade situation, Goes Ahead mentioned more than three times that, as head officer of the Crow Allottee Association in Pryor, he wants to help attain funds in an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the BIA.
The lawsuit, currently in Ninth Circuit Court, concerns what he believes to be a lack of representation for individual tribal members in regards the Crow Tribal Water Settlement.
A homemade sign at the site made by Goes Ahead, which he hopes will go viral, asks 12 nations including England, France, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to help “Preserve ‘R’ Lands, Water and Mountains” from the “corrupt” BIA and Crow government.
During the interview, a truck with a Wyoming license plate approached the site from the Bridger side and Plain Bull exited the gate to explain the situation. The Wyoming couple, once they heard the story, wished Plain Bull luck and left.
“They were older people and they understand,” she said.
Larry Hay, a resident along Pryor Mountain Road who admitted to simply “knowing the hearsay” in regards to the situation, takes a different opinion from the Wyoming couple. As a 38-year resident, he goes through the Sage Creek route about three times a year for recreational activities, though other people have been known to take that route on a far more regular basis.
“I, like a lot of other people, [think] ‘why cause trouble?’” he said. “You’re going to cause a lot of trouble with the local residents and surrounding people, and they’re going to have an animosity against these Indians for doing this, because that’s what [residents] do for recreation: They work all week long and they want to go up there snowmobiling, fishing, camping, whatever, and all of a sudden the Indians say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ That’s taking our rights away.”
According to Hay, local residents and ranchers are going to “create a lot of problems” over the blockade, especially if the ranchers can’t get to their cows.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, “but they’re not going to feel good about it.”
Mariah Leuschen, public affairs specialist for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said since receiving a letter from the Sage Creek residents in regards to the closure, the U.S. Forest Service has been attempting to find an alternate route around the road.
One possibility the Forest Service is examining, she said, is the “Powerline Road,” which includes a 60-foot easement across 1.5 miles of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The road then connects to a two-track road near the southwest corner of the Crow Reservation.
“It is important to the Forest Service that we are providing access to public lands in the Pryor Mountains,” she said. “We’ve been working with the BLM to get a right-of-way across BLM land via that Powerline Road – we’d be able to have consistent access into the Pryor Mountains.
“Right now, it’s a four-wheel drive road; we’d look at maintaining it for a two-wheel drive passenger road.”
For instructions on alternate routes to sites in the Pryor Mountains including Big Ice Cave and Dryland Vista, visit the Pryors Coalition website at www.pryormountains.org/ and click on the link, “Welcome to the Pryors.”
The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of Crow tribal government were unavailable for comment at press time.