Take a moment and peruse this fascinating New York Times report about disputed oil drilling on a Montana Indian reservation. Tell me what kind of story it is:
A. Business story
B. Environmental story
C. Religion story
D. All of the above
Here’s the colorful lede:
BLACKFEET INDIAN RESERVATION, Mont. — The mountains along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park rise from the prairie like dinosaur teeth, their silvery ridges and teardrop fields of snow forming the doorway to one of America’s most pristine places.
Yes, there is beauty here on the Blackfeet reservation, but there is also oil, locked away in the tight shale thousands of feet underground. And tribal leaders have decided to tap their land’s buried wealth. The move has divided the tribe while igniting a debate over the promise and perils of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in a place where grizzlies roam into backyards and many residents see the land as something living and sacred.
The obvious right answer is D, which means that in a perfect world the story would encompass all three of those elements (A, B and C).
Since this is GetReligion — not GetBusiness or GetEnvironmental — I’ll focus on the religion angle. After reading the lede, I wanted to understand how and why many residents see the land as “sacred.” The story proved a disappointment in that regard.
Instead, the Times skirts at the edges of those crucial questions:
To find the opposing view, one needs only to drive five miles west from Browning, past the casino, heading straight toward the mountains, and pull off at the red gate on the right. There, on a recent summer afternoon, over mugs of horsemint tea, Pauline Matt and a handful of Blackfeet women were trying to find a way to persuade the tribal leaders to stop the drilling.
“It threatens everything we are as Blackfeet,” she said.
What exactly does that “everything” encompass? Does it relate to these tribal members’ view of their Creator and place in this world? The story provides no real insight, although readers do learn that the tribal members pray:
Ms. Matt and the women who oppose the fracking speak about the streams and meadows and mountains as if they were family members. They go on vision quests in the mountains. They braid native sweetgrass to burn in prayers and collect berries and herbs for food, medicine and ceremonies.
Left unanswered: Any inkling of the tribal members’ religious beliefs. Do they adhere to a Native American faith? Are they Christians? Again, the Times does not deem such questions relevant.
And near the end of the story, there’s this strange reference to Jesus Christ:
Ron Crossguns, who works for the Blackfeet tribe’s oil and gas division, has oil leases on his land, a 10-foot cross in his yard, and little patience for that kind of pastoral veneration. He called it “movie Indian” claptrap, divorced from modern realities. Mountains, he said, are just mountains.
“They’re just big rocks, nothing more,” Mr. Crossguns said. “Don’t try to make them into nothing holy. Jesus Christ put them there for animals to feed on, and for people to hunt on.”
What kind of story is this? How about we add another possible answer:
E. Ghost story
Photo of Blackfeet Nation sign via Shutterstock.com