Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School/College

Department of Sociology

Committee Chair

Celia Winkler

Commitee Members

Becky Richards, Robin Saha


Blackfeet Indians, Bureau of Land Management, post-structuralism, standpoint theory, Sweet Grass Hills


University of Montana


The Sweet Grass Hills of north-central Montana are part of the four Tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy’s traditional territory and play a vital role in perpetuating Blackfeet culture. The Blackfeet Tribe of Montana was forced to sell the Sweet Grass Hills to the federal government in 1888 after the decimation of bison populations. In 1992, the first large-scale corporate mining proposal in the Sweet Grass Hills was proposed by Lehmann and Associates and Manhattan Mineral, Ltd. In response to public outcries, environmental impact statements were issued by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages the area, and Secretary of Interior Babbitt closed the Sweet Grass Hills to mineral entry through Public Land Order 7254 from 1997 to 2017. To assess how the Blackfeet Tribe and other stakeholders have attempted to influence stewardship of the Sweet Grass Hills from 1985-present, I engage a discourse analysis of public documents and informant interviews. Post-structuralism and standpoint theory frameworks are used for analysis. I found that Blackfeet Indians succeeded in influencing stewardship of the Sweet Grass Hills through sharing of cultural information, which has been part of a ‘burden of proof’ to demonstrate their traditional ties to the Sweet Grass Hills to the dominant society. However, Blackfeet Indians failed to influence stewardship of the area through legal means because American Indian religious and cultural are subjugated, which I argue exemplifies institutional discrimination against Blackfeet Indians. Blackfeet Indians’ group identity politics were weakened because Canadian Blackfeet were excluded from consultation processes. Non-Native American residents living near the Sweet Grass Hills emphasized protecting their private property rights which decreased their support for Blackfeet influence over the area. The establishment of a Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer in 2004 increased the potential for Blackfeet Indians’ influence of stewardship in the area, but there is ambivalent evidence that consultations with the Office have been effective in affording Blackfeet power. With several years left before Order 7254 expires, assessment of discrimination against and political opportunities for the Blackfoot Confederacy is necessary before their culture and the Sweet Grass Hills landscape once again become vulnerable to mining in 2017.



© Copyright 2013 Cassie Sheets