The Crow Tribe welcomed then-Sen. Barack Obama with open arms in 2008, making him an “adopted” member of the tribe. But eight years later, the Crow are hurting financially by the environmental policies of the man they once applauded.
The Crow will furlough 100 employees, or 25 percent of its workforce, due to falling revenues from coal mining — the tribe’s main source of income. Other employees will be forced to work less as a way to save money.
Furloughed workers will be called back to work once tribal revenues increase, but with such a heavy dependence on coal mining, it’s unclear how well the Crow will weather the current slump. Tribal leaders have become so frustrated, they’re blaming Obama’s environmental policies, which aim to reduce U.S. coal use.
Old Coyote, the tribe’s chairman, said the furloughs occurred “because of revenues reduced by the Obama’s ‘War on Coal,’” according to a tribal Facebook post from early January.
“Our bread and butter is coal. A war on coal is a war on Crow families,” Old Coyote said, according to Billings Gazette.
For years, the Obama administration has put out regulations aimed at reducing America’s reliance on coal power. The first major blow to coal came in 2012 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued mercury regulations that are projected to shutter 60 gigawatts of coal-fired power. The agency has since issued other rules, including a major rule to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which have furthered dimmed the hopes of the industry.
EPA regulations, combined with cheap natural gas and China’s faltering economy, have pushed coal prices downward to the point where many major companies have become heavily indebted. America’s second-largest coal company, Arch Coal, recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
Obama’s time in office has seen power plants and coal mines close down and tens of thousands of people in the coal industry lose their jobs.
The Crow’s unfortunate budget shortage comes just eight years after they adopted Obama as part of their tribe during the 2008 presidential campaign. They called him “Barack Black Eagle” after he was adopted by the Black Eagle family that year — a name he is still called by Crow members.
“I like my new name: Barack Black Eagle. That is a good name,” Obama said at a campaign event with Native American tribes in Montana during the 2008 campaign. “I was just adopted into the tribe. I’m still working on my pronunciations.”
In Montana, Indian tribes are a key voting demographic. Obama was adopted into the Crow tribe in a private ceremony inside a tent that was closed to the press.
“Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as native Americans – the first Americans,” Obama said in 2008, promising to appoint a Native American adviser to his administration. He also promised to improve health care and education on reservations.
“I understand the tragic history,” Obama said. “Our government has not always been honest or truthful in our deals.”
Now the Crows are facing serious budget problems as coal markets stumble.
The Crow tribe has about 13,000 members and is the biggest employer on the reservation, which spans three states — Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Outside of coal revenues, the tribe relies on funding from states and the federal government to employ about 900 people.
The tribe budgeted $2.9 million in coal revenue for February, but it now appears they will only make $1.6 million from sales, Old Coyote told tribal members earlier this month.
Old Coyote was also appointed by Montana’s governor to be part of an advisory council examining the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — a rule expected to close even more coal plants.
Old Coyote said he talked to Obama about funding technology to reduce emissions from burning coal, but it “kind of fell on deaf ears.”
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