1973, the pit with Butte in the background.

Photo of the Day: Butte’s Berkeley Pit

Rising Water in the Pit Threatens the Future

1973, Butte's Berkeley Pit. Photo by Harvey Richards.
1973, Butte’s Berkeley Pit. Photo by Harvey Richards.

They turned off the pumps in the old mine shafts 3800 feet below the surface in 1982, on Earth Day, no less. Those pumps kept Butte’s Berkeley Pit dry  That was nine years after Harvey Richards took the photo in this blog post (see here for more photos on Butte). The mine was no longer profitable. Billionaire mining moguls had completed the rape of the earth and their exploitation of the miners, and left Butte to its fate. The water in the pit started to rise.  It is now within 150 feet of the ground water table that the 34,000 citizens of Butte draw their drinking water from. And rising. Geologists predict it will reach the drinking water in 2020. And then what? Will Butte become a ghost town?

Montana Tribes Territory 1889 map from Office of Public Instruction, State of Montana
Montana Tribes Territory 1889 map from Office of Public Instruction, State of Montana

The indigenous tribes that inhabit Montana are the Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Cree, Crow, Assiniboine, Chippewa, Gros Ventre, among others. These people had lived on the land for thousands of years and had flourished, along with the land and living creatures around them. When the miners arrived in the 1860’s, the tribes had treaties with the United State recognizing their homelands.

When Montana became a state in 1889, these treaties were no longer honored and the new settlers pushed the tribes’ reservations back to their current size. The way was clear for the land grab and exploitation of mining and other resources which has led us to the situation we face today. In many history text books, this aspect of our history is ignored, swept under the rug of “Manifest Destiny” or some other high sounding phrase to cover the dirty truth. What it comes down to is that private property had its way with the land. Fortunes were made.  Miners did the work, fought for unions and better conditions from deep below the surface in tunnels that went down 4000 feet below ground, almost a mile deep. All the while, the tribes, invisible to most settlers, witnessed the demise of their lands.

Reservations MAP base small1
Reservations Today, from http://visitmt.com/places_to_go/indian_nations/

Now, waiting for the poisoned waters of the Berkeley Pit to rise, we might ask ourselves if the free reign of the market, the philosophy of market capitalism, has not misled us. And if we look around for people who warned us about the direction we were headed, we have to hearken back to the tribes whom we displaced.

Jasper Saunkeah, Cherokee, wrote the Native Commandments which tell us to

“Treat the Earth and all that dwell theron with respect…

“Heal the raw wounds of the earth
and restore to our soul the richness
which strengthens men’s bodies
and makes them wise in their councils.

“Bring to all the knowledge that great cities
live only through the bounty
of the good earth beyond their paved streets
and towers of stone and steel.”

Butte Berkeley Pit Google Earth 2014
Butte Berkeley Pit Google Earth 2014
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