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Thursday, 30 October, 2014

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Blackfeet urge government to cancel energy leases

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Blackfoot tribal leaders from Canada and Montana are calling on the U.S. government to cancel oil and gas leases on sacred land near Glacier National Park, as a lawsuit works its way through the federal courts.
Representatives from the three tribes in Canada and one in Montana that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy sent a letter Friday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to cancel 18 leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.
They are backed by a resolution of support from the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, which represents the Native American tribes in those states.
Badger-Two Medicine area is the home of the creation story of the four Blackfoot tribes in Canada and Montana, and the Sun Dance that is central to their religion. The land, which is habitat for grizzly bears, elk, mountain goats and other animals, is not on the Blackfeet Reservation, but is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Originally, 47 oil and gas leases were issued in the area in 1982, but they were indefinitely suspended in the 1990s. Over the years, most of the leases were retired or surrendered, and now only 18 remain covering more than 40,000 acres.
One leaseholder, Sidney Longwell of Solonex LLC, filed a federal lawsuit last year to lift the suspension and begin exploration on the 6,200-acre lease Longwell has held since 1982. The lawsuit says the suspension was never meant to last forever and it has caused an unreasonable and illegal delay in development.
The parties in the lawsuit in August asked a U.S. District judge in Washington, D.C., to decide the case without going to trial.
In their letter to Jewell and Vilsack, Blackfeet Tribal Business councilmen Harry Barnes and Tyson Running Wolf say the leases were granted without consultation with the tribes, without review of the land's cultural value and without a proper analysis of the environmental effects.
They say the government has the legal authority and the moral obligation to cancel the leases before any development begins by Solonex.
“Should this company prevail, any short-term private-industry profit from energy development will irrevocably change the Blackfeet's ancient right to the natural capacity, power and ability of the land, including its plants, animals and the region's pristine and isolated nature,'' the letter says.
Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said Saturday the agency has received the letter and will review it.
Solonex attorney Steven Lechner did not return a call and email for comment.

4 more workers allege racial bias at Daimler plant

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon expanded its investigation into discrimination at the Portland truck-making plant of German automotive giant Daimler AG after four more employees came forward with allegations of racial harassment.
The four new civil rights complaints against Portland-headquartered Daimler Trucks North America bring the total to nine, all filed over the past few weeks.
The state's Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating the complaints, which allege discrimination as far back as 1994.
The four new complaints include allegations of racial discrimination against African-American employees. They also say a Native American worker faced harassment and threats of physical violence when his supervisor pushed him against a truck and challenged him to a fight.
The four workers also claim unfair treatment based on race, national origin and age; use of racial slurs against black employees; retaliation; and failure of management to take action to improve Daimler's workplace. At least one complaint says the person was forced to leave his position because of working conditions at the Portland facility.
In a statement, Daimler Trucks said it doesn't tolerate discrimination or harassment on any basis and is committed to diversity and inclusion. The company is fully cooperating with the investigation and has hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations, the statement from Daimler Trucks spokesman David Giroux said.
Three weeks ago, Oregon's labor commissioner Brad Avakian filed a complaint after four initial complaints were filed by employees at the Portland plant, alleging they were subjected to racial slurs and physical threats. A fifth employee filed a complaint shortly afterward.
Among those allegations is that a Daimler Trucks employee threatened a black co-worker with a noose, saying he'd drag the African-American behind a car, records show. Another alleges there's a swastika carved into a bathroom door.
Avakian said the company has a history of civil rights complaints. One complaint alleging discrimination based on national origin was filed in January and settled earlier this year. In addition, at least 26 other civil rights complaints have been filed from 2002 to 2013 against the Portland truck division — some were settled, some moved to state or federal court, and others were closed due to lack of evidence or because the investigation was taken over by another agency.
“Our investigators will see whether there's evidence of a pattern of oppression, of assaults, of racial epithets, and whether the long history of abusive conduct is still affecting the workplace today. And I believe it is,'' Avakian said.
In addition to the commissioner's complaint, each of the nine employee complaints will be investigated separately, he said.
Investigators may take up to a year to determine whether there's substantial evidence of discrimination, but the investigation into Daimler's practices is likely to be quick and could be concluded before the end of the year, Avakian said.
The Oregon-based truck company is a subsidiary of Daimler AG, a German multinational corporation that also makes Mercedes-Benz automobiles.
Earlier this year, Daimler Trucks broke ground on a new $150 million headquarters in Portland. When it announced its plans last year, Daimler said it expected to add up to 400 white-collar jobs when construction is complete, expected in 2016.
At the time, its Portland workforce was 2,800, including about 750 people in blue-collar manufacturing jobs making Western Star trucks.
The truck division employs more than 20,000 employees in North America. Daimler also has manufacturing facilities in Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and in Mexico.

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