Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lummi Totem Pole multimedia

(Editor’s note: this post contains the recently published story on the Northern Cheyenne and Lummi Indians’ fight against coal, including video and a 360° interactive panoramic photograph of the Otter Creek Valley.)

OTTER CREEK -- Sitting just a few hundred feet from the banks of Otter Creek, on the fertile plains the Northern Cheyenne Indians have called home for thousands of years, Sundance Priest Kenneth Medicine Bull carefully packs tobacco into the bowl of a ceremonial pipe.

About a hundred onlookers, many wearing red T-shirts with the words “Save Otter Creek” stamped on them, watch silently as Medicine Bull rhythmically recites a prayer in his native tongue. Medicine Bull puffs the pipe several times, and then with his free hand washes the smoke over face and head. He then gently touches the pipe to the ground, turns it, and then hands it to his son, J.D. Little White Man, who repeats the ritual.

Among the onlookers are five members of the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe from Washington’s Puget Sound, who traveled some 1,200 miles to this remote prairie not far from where Gen. George Armstrong Custer famously made his last stand nearly 140 years ago.

The Lummi brought with them a 22-foot totem pole hand-carved from a 300-year-old Western redcedar tree so that Medicine Bull could offer it a blessing. The Lummi people have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing.

The Lummi, like the Northern Cheyenne, are fighting for the future of their homelands against coal mining and exportation. The totem pole, known as a healing totem, began its spiritual journey at Otter Creek on Wednesday. It’s the first stop on Pacific Northwest trek to North Vancouver, British Columbia, where it will eventually stand as a cross-border symbol of spiritual solidarity in the fight against industrial resource extraction of coal and oil sands.

“We need to protect our way of life,” Medicine Bull said in an interview after he blessed the Lummi totem pole on the first stop of its spiritual journey. “I addressed the grandfathers, those who have gone before us, and I told them the reason we were here and I asked them to hear our prayer and stand beside us.”

Standing beside the Northern Cheyenne and the Lummi at the totem blessing ceremony were area ranchers. Many ranchers in the region are fighting against coal development, citing the loss of prime agriculture land. They’re also angered by possibility that land that has been in many of their families for more than a century could be condemned to develop the proposed Tongue River Railroad.

Roger Sprague and his wife, Bonnie, ranch near Greenleaf Creek, not far from Colstrip.

Sprague said his family trailed into the Rosebud Valley in 1881 and have traded with the Northern Cheyenne ever since.

“We’re neighbors with these people and we’re proud to work with these people,” Sprague said at the Otter Creek blessing ceremony. “We don’t want this mine in here. We don’t want the railroad in here. It’s our life. We’ve fought hard to put it together and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Brad Sauer manages a ranch north of Lame Deer, just outside the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation boundary. The ranch is home to ancient teepee rings, hunting points, rock engravings and other signs that native people occupied this area long before European settlers arrived.

Sauer said it’s no wonder the Northern Cheyenne settled this part of the country with its verdant stream bottoms, abundant game, and rich grassland. It’s the same reason ranchers have survived here for nearly 150 years.

“We’re looking at country here that could be impacted by coal mining,” Sauer said during an interview on the ranch earlier in the day. “There are coal mines close to here.”

Sauer said ranchers raise food on these lands, and they can’t do that without ample supplies of clean water. Industrial mining operations could threaten both the quantity and the the quality of the water that nurtures these valleys.

“It’s getting to be harder and harder with the impacts from energy development and everything else,” Sauer said. “We’re not against coal mining, we think it can be done responsibly, but we’d like to see it done in a way that doesn’t affect what we do in a long-term fashion.”

Many people see Otter Creek as ground zero in the battle over the future of coal development in America. If Otter Creek coal is ever to be mined, then its probable its final domestic destination will be a coal export terminals on the West Coast.

One of those terminals is proposed to be built on the Lummi people’s ancestral homeland, a place called Cherry Point. From there the coal would head to Asian markets.

Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are making coal less desirable as an energy source here in the United States. Arch Coal, the company who bought the leases to mine coal at Otter Creek, admitted that fact in recent filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Gas-fueled generation has the potential to displace coal-fueled generation, particularly from older, less efficient coal-powered generators,” Arch Coal President and CEO John W. Eaves wrote in the company’s March 1, SEC 10-K filing. “We expect that many of the new power plants needed in the United States to meet increasing demand for electricity generation will be fueled by natural gas because gas-fired plants are cheaper to construct and permits to construct these plants are easier to obtain as natural gas is seen as having a lower environmental impact than coal-fueled generators.”

So Arch is now looking to sell its coal elsewhere, which likely means shipping it overseas to Asian markets.

That prospect is of great concern to the Lummi people, who would be directly impacted by the development of a massive coal export terminal.

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a Lummi Nation master carver and tribal leader who designed and crafted the healing totem pole. He and four members of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers brought the totem pole to Montana for the ceremony. James’ healing totem poles have been raised at sites throughout the country, including the sites of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

James said like the Northern Cheyenne, the Lummi people’s way of life and ancestral range grounds, including ancient burial grounds, are threatened by the prospect of coal export to Asia.

“We’re concerned about protecting the environment as well as people’s health all the way from the Powder River to the West Coast,” James said. “We’re traveling across country to help unify people’s voice. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re at, or what race you are — red, black, white or yellow — we’re all in this world together and we have to live in the aftermath of corporate development.”

Lummi Nation member and House of Tears carver Romona Charles said the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point would impact human health, destroy fish habitat, and disrupt sacred Lummi burial grounds.

“The terminal that they want to build ... is right on top of an ancestral burial site,” Charles said. “It was an old village and it’s a known grave site. My people are from there. I truly believe that if you allow these white corporations to stomp on one grave, they’ll dance on all the rest. There has not been one time thought I thought, ‘let’s go put a coal port at Arlington Cemetery.’”

After the prayer, James addressed the 100 or so people who gathered for the ceremony.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our treaty rights and our way of life,” James said.

James offered a sharp rebuke of corporate greed and industrial-scale resource extraction that threatens the homelands and ways of life of people who have occupied these impacted landscapes for millennia.

“We kill the Earth as if we had a license to do it. We destroy the life on it as if we were superior. And yet deep inside we know we can’t live without it,” James said. “We’re all a part of creation, and we have to find our spot in the circle of life.”

The Lummi totem pole traveled to Missoula on Thursday and on to Spokane on Friday. It was schedule to make its way accross eastern Washington and northern Oregon and arrive in Portland, Ore. today. Later this week it heads back north to Seattle.

On Friday the Lummi will bless the totem pole at Xwe’chi’eXen, the Lummi name for the Cherry Point area. On Sunday the totem makes the final leg of its journey to Tsleil-Waututh blessing ceremony in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Barry Beach’s full clemency application!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/barry-beach.jpg

In response to reader interest I’ve scanned and posted Barry Beach’s entire 413-page clemency application.

As most Lowdown readers know, Beach is once again appealing to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, this time asking them to commute his 100-year, no-parole sentence.

More than 200 people wrote letters to the board on Beach’s behalf, including Sen. Jon Tester, former Sen. Conrad Burns, and Billings Mayor Tom Hanel.

Below is a DocumentCloud including the entire clemency application. To view and download the file (57 mb) in a separate window click here.

The letters begin on page 73.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Allegations against former Montana Highway Patrol chief uglier than previously revealed

According to an email Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Glenn Quinnell sent to a superior officer in Aug. 2011, former MHP chief Col. Kenton Hickethier’s comments and behavior at a law enforcement conference in Arizona were pretty obscene.

I’m publishing the entire civil rights complaint case file below in DocumentCloud format so you can read it for yourself. I highlighted some of the most offensive content. WARNING: The documents contain obscene language that may offend some readers.

As the Tribune reported on Sept. 11, Quinnell accused Hickethier of sexual harassment, ordering state troopers to make illegal arrests and making racist comments, and then retaliating against him after he brought Hickethier’s actions to the attention of his superiors.

Hickethier retired from MHP on Aug. 30 after his comments were revealed to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s office. Fox’s spokesman said Fox did not ask Hickethier to resign, but Hickethier offered up his retirement citing his inability to lead by example after making such “inappropriate” comments.

Fox appointed Hickethier in January 2013. Fox’s spokesman said Hickethier’s application, references and reputation gave the hiring team no indication that they ought to check out his personnel file.

According to the state’s response to Quinnell’s allegations, the now-retired MHP chief doesn’t deny he said and did the things Quinnell alleges, including making a seriously offensive comment about Quinnell’s wife, making a racist statement about Quinnell havening dinner with black troopers from another state, and a mean-spirited “joke” about an overweight speaker at the conference.


The state Department of Justice, in a 19-page response, admits to the majority of Quinnell’s allegations about Hickethier’s behavior, but denies Hickethier retaliated against Quinnell.

The state denies that Quinnell was “passed over” for promotion. The state argues Quinnell was not promoted because he was not among the most qualified and highest-scoring applicants for the various positions.



(Click this box on the DocumentCloud viewers below to view the documents in a separate window.)

Here is Quinnell’s amended human rights complaint:

Here’s the state’s response to Quinnell’s complaint, which includes the email Quinnell sent to his superiors in Aug. 2011. WARNING: This is the document that contains the offensive language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Here’s Quinnell’s rebuttal to the state’s response:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video of Westboro Baptist Church’s unsuccessful Montana demonstration

(Editor’s note: Some readers have reported difficulty viewing the Tribune videos embedded in this blog. As a courtesy I uploaded a YouTube version as well as the complete story from Monday’s demonstration. Please visit for more great news videos from around Montana. )

BOZEMAN - A handful of sign-waving acolytes of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church did not find a receptive audience on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman on Monday afternoon.

Hundreds of people from across Montana’s vast geographical, political and social spectrum descended upon the controversial demonstrators to counter the group’s message that God is punishing the United States for tolerating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

Westboro Baptist Church is famous for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers with messages such as “Thank God for IEDs.” More recently they made headlines by claiming the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was God’s work.

The church, which has been widely condemned by religious leaders, veterans groups and human rights groups for more than a decade, announced earlier this year that it planned to picket MSU and Bozeman High School.

Approximately five Westboro demonstrators stood on a corner across from Veterans Memorial Park holding signs. However, the demonstrators and their signs were barely visible through the throngs of counter-demonstrators who quickly surrounded and obstructed the view of the Westboro picketers.

Robbie Regennitter of Great Falls was with a group called Patriot Guard Riders. The Patriot Guard Riders travel to Westboro demonstrations around the United States to show support for America and to denounce hate.

“I don’t think anybody needs to be preaching hate,” Reggennitter said. “There’s enough hate in the world already.”

A group of motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders and a pair of men in a muscle car did laps in front of the Westboro picketers, revving their loud engines and drawing huge cheers from the raucous crowd.

Many counter-demonstrators and those gathered at a nearby anti-hate rally just a few hundred yards away on the campus grounds wore T-shirts and held signs denouncing Westboro’s message.

MSU Junior Matt Morris of Greeley, Colo., donned a homemade T-shirt that read “I’m a Christian and God Loves this Campus.”

Morris said Westboro’s teachings run counter to true Christian principles.

“I came out here today to support a positive image of Christians,” Morris said.

The anti-hate rally drew even more people than the anti-Westboro picketers as hundreds gathered to hear speakers talk about equality, acceptance and dignity for the LGBT community.

Event organizer Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network said Westboro’s unwanted presence created an opportunity to have a conversation about the broader movement for equality for LGBT Montanans.

Greer said Montanans sometimes lose sight of the fact that unlike other parts of the country where the LGBT community enjoys many of the same rights as heterosexual residents, Montana only recently struck language from its code books making it illegal to be gay.

Greer said Westboro’s appearance in the state gives Montanans a good opportunity to examine issues like dignity, safety, security and fairness for all.

“I think groups like Westboro Baptist Church coming to town give us an opportunity to talk about where discrimination exists and how we can work together to end it,” Greer said.

Dr. Jay Smith, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bozeman, addressed rally-goers. Smith said the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent the true teachings of the Baptist Church.

“You need to know that by some definition I, too, am a religious nut job, just of a different sort,” Smith said. “As a follower of Christ, I believe that God loves everyone: red, yellow, black, brown, white, gay, lesbian, transgender, straight, drunks, drug abusers, gossips, musicians, religious people, atheists, athletes, nerds, educated intellectualists and homespun country folks. Everyone.”

Rabbi Ed Stafman, of the Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman, is the acting chairman of the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Coalition.

Stafman said the rally was aimed at showing the world that Bozeman does not tolerate hate toward any group or people.

“This is a gathering to make the affirmative statement that Bozeman is a place where we tolerate diversity, and we seek equality,” Stafman said. “It doesn’t matter who the victim du jour may be.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Highway patrol chief disciplined in 2008 and 2011 for inappropriate comments

The recently retired chief of the Montana Highway Patrol was disciplined in 2008 and 2011 for inappropriate comments he made to subordinates under his command.

Col. Kenton Hickethier announced Friday that he is retiring effective Sept. 30 after just seven months on the job.

According to memos contained in Hickethier’s personnel file, the former captain was twice officially reprimanded for violating Montana Highway Patrol policy, which requires officers to “treat supervisors, subordinates, and associates with respect and courtesy.”

The incidents came to light in the wake of a discrimination complaint filed against Hickethier earlier this summer.

The first incident occurred in March 7, 2008. According to the disciplinary memo in Hickethier’s file, on that date Hickethier told a female trooper that other troopers were upset with her and, “If she were a man they would take her behind the woodshed.”

A second incident occurred the week of Aug. 16, 2011, at a law enforcement meeting in Phoenix.

According to his personnel file, at that event Hickethier made inappropriate comments “in regard to the age of (an unidentified trooper’s) spouse, a joke in regard to a female instructor’s weight, and a comment about (an unidentified trooper) having dinner with black troopers from North Carolina.”

According to the memos, Hickethier “took responsibility” for his comments.

John Barnes, a spokesman for Attorney General Tim Fox, said the disciplinary records came to light after a Montana Highway Patrol employee filed a discrimination complaint against Hickethier with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Human Rights Bureau. Fox’s office was notified of the complaint July 10.

“In preparing our response to that complaint we became aware of the fact that Col. Hickethier, prior to being named colonel, had been disciplined for two instances of making inappropriate comments to troopers,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the decision to retire was entirely Hickethier’s.

“The Attorney General’s Office did not ask him to retire,” Barnes said.

Barnes said Hickethier notified Fox’s office Wednesday of his decision. 

“I regret that I have made inappropriate remarks to subordinates that have compromised my ability to effectively lead Montana’s Highway Patrol by example. Therefore, I have chosen to retire from the patrol,” Hickethier said in a written statement released by Fox’s office Friday. “I am sorry for these mistakes and any harm they may have brought to Montana’s finest law enforcement agency, which has been the center of my life for the last 28 years.”

News of Hickethier’s retirement was held until after Friday afternoon’s graduation ceremony for new Montana Highway Patrol troopers.

“We felt it would not be appropriate for that announcement to interfere with that ceremony,” Barnes said.

Barnes said Fox’s transition team found no red flags while reviewing Hickethier’s application for chief of the Montana Highway Patrol that would have triggered a review of his personnel records.

“During the transition process every applicant for every appointed position was asked if there was anything in their background that was problematic or inappropriate and they were asked for permission, if necessary, to review their personnel record,” Barnes said. “(Hickethier) interviewed very well, he had a very strong resume, and he had absolutely glowing reference checks. Based on all of that there was no reason to believe there was a problem, and so those past incidents referenced in 2008 and 2011 were not known.”

Hickethier is no longer serving for the Montana Highway Patrol and is using up leave time until his official retirement date. His home telephone number is not listed, so he could not be reached for comment.