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Native Sun News: Native activists join anti-Keystone XL rally

Filed Under: Environment | National | Politics
More on: barack obama, keystone xl pipeline, native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Native Americans joined other opponents of Canadian tar-sands mining and the associated Keystone XL Pipeline on Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. rally PHOTO COURTESY/Shadia Fayne Wood – Project Survival Media for under the following agreement:

National rally protests XL Pipeline
Indians and South Dakota legislators square off
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

PIERRE - As Native Americans joined other opponents of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline for what was arguably the largest climate rally in U.S. history, the South Dakota Legislature called on President Barack Obama to approve the crude-oil pipeline permit.

The state Senate voted 30-3, on Feb. 14, to pass House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 1006, “petitioning the President of the United States and the Department of State to authorize the Keystone XL Pipeline.” The South Dakota House of Representatives had passed the bill on Feb. 12, with a 57-11 vote.

Meanwhile, in a written plea Feb. 16, Oglala Lakota activist Debra White Plume, founder of the Manderson-based non-profit Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), declared, “We have to be brave and strong and take action to stop that pipeline and shut down the tar-sands oil mine.”

The resolution argues for the pipeline in the following terms: “The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would help reduce our nation's dependency on oil originating from unfriendly nations and unstable areas of the globe; … would provide additional employment opportunities in South Dakota and across the Midwest; … would contribute much needed tax revenues to South Dakota, which would be funneled to essential local government operations and school districts; and the failure to authorize this project will only result in the shipment of the vital petroleum resources of Canada to nations in Asia.”

White Plume counters that mining the tar-sands oil, which comes from the mines in the boreal forest of the Alberta Province’s Athabascan River watershed, “has wreaked havoc on the lands and waters and all of life there, only to feed the insatiable monster of greed of the fossil fuel industry. The discussion must include the need to get off the fossil fuel train wreck that is ruining the earth to line the pockets of a few.”

“Letting that pipeline in is actually supporting the continuation of the tar-sands oil mine while it risks our sacred water here because it WILL leak and spill. And when it does, it cannot be cleaned up; the technology does not exist,” she added.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard disagrees, saying: “There are proven technologies available to remediate groundwater contamination, and TransCanada, like any other responsible party, will be required to comply with the state’s petroleum cleanup standards.”

Like legislators, Daugaard is promoting the Keystone XL Pipeline. “I believe the project would be good for South Dakota,” he said in a constituent letter nearly a year ago. “This project will help strengthen our nation’s energy security and put thousands of Americans to work.”

Sabrina King, lobbyist for the 25-year-old grassroots non-profit Dakota Rural Action membership organization, noted however that “the legislature has consistently declined to require adequate bonding for new pipelines or to put in place an emergency response program to the spills that are guaranteed to happen.

“We feel it is premature and inappropriate for the legislature to ask President Obama to approve this project without first ensuring the safety of South Dakota’s people and land,” she added.

While the resolution is non-binding, King encouraged voters to contact their representatives about it, saying, “With its smooth passage through the legislature, we feel it is important to remind the 57 who voted for it that there are some unresolved issues.”

The lawmakers from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation voting district, Jim Bradford and Kevin Killer, voted against the resolution The Obama Administration in its first term twice denied a permit for the pipeline to cross into the United States and pass through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma in order to reach refineries and export terminals in Texas. The President argued that more time was needed to consider whether the proposal was “in the national interest” and that the government of Nebraska required a rerouting of the line to avoid contamination of the eight-state Ogallala Aquifer.

Since Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved an alternate route through his state in January -- albeit over the objections of residents’ groups defending the sensitive Sandhills ecosystem -- the Administration is slated to reconsider.

Canada’s Prime Minister Steven Harper has lobbied Obama intensely for the permit to aid the private company based in Calgary. Obama, during his 2012 campaign for a second term in office, appealed to Oklahoma oil industry workers by encouraging the building of the southern part of the $7-billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL, which has since gotten underway.

However, White Plume warned, “People need to see the bigger picture and realize the kind of government they have that sets up the situation so they have to choose a job over stopping the biggest threat to the Ogallala Aquifer and all our surface water as well. The sacred water must be preserved for our coming generations,” she said. TransCanada Corp.’s earlier Keystone I Pipeline experienced 14 spills in its first year of operations. It received a cross-border permit despite four Sioux tribes’ intervention in federal court. Finished in 2011 it runs from Alberta through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

Nonetheless, Daugaard noted, “There have been no main line releases. Each release occurred at a pump station due to failures of pump station equipment.”

The U.S. Transportation Department imposed 57 “special” safety conditions on what would be TransCanada Corp.’s second tar-sands crude-oil pipeline through the U.S. Great Plains. “If built, the Keystone XL Pipeline will be the most stringently monitored and regulated crude-oil pipeline ever built in the United States,” Daugaard assured constituents.

Among opponents that have passed resolutions against the pipeline proposal are the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, the National Congress of American Indians, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

In the wake of Obama’s State of the Union pledge to prioritize climate change issues, organizers of the President’s Day Weekend “Forward on the Climate Rally” called on him to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. They claimed upwards of 35,000 people attended the demonstration and march on the White House, one of several mass pipeline protests since a Feb. 2011 manifestation on the White House lawn.

“The Yinka Dene Alliance of British Columbia is seeing the harm from climate change to our peoples and our waters,” said Jacqueline Thomas, immediate past chief of the Saik’uz First Nation in British Columbia and co-founder of the Yinka Dene Alliance (“People of the Earth”).

“We see the threat of taking tar sands out of the Earth and bringing it through our territories and over our rivers. The harm being done to people in the tar sands region can no longer be Canada’s dirty secret,” she said at the rally.

“We don’t have the billions of dollars that industry has. But we do have our faith that people will do the right thing to protect Mother Earth. The ‘Forward on Climate Rally’ shows that we are not alone in the fight to stop tar sands expansion and tackle climate change.”

Activists in 187 other countries associated with the climate-change watchdog group showed support for the rally. “On this momentous day of climate action we are joining the struggles of communities resisting extreme energy worldwide, from KXL protesters in Washington, to First Nations in Alberta, to the community of Pembrokeshire in Wales trying to keep tar sands fuel away from their shores,” participants. in Europe said in a Feb. 17 message.

“In solidarity with those resisting tar sands and other carbon-intensive industries across the world, we urge (Deputy Prime Minister) Nick Clegg and the U.K. government to back the labeling of tar-sands-derived fuel as highly polluting in the European Union Fuel Quality Directive (FQD),” they said in a petition to the government of the United Kingdom.

“Tar sands are undoubtedly one of the world's most greenhouse gas-intensive fuels, and the process of extraction uses vast amounts of fresh water and natural gas, destroying large tracts of forest, leaving lakes of toxic pollution, poisoning the ground water and directly impacting numerous indigenous communities,” the petition says. “With extraction rates set to at least double by 2035 … this could mean a 6-degree global temperature rise. If new markets for tar sands are cut off, projected extraction rates will be forced to slow. The FQD is key to not only closing off Europe as a large new market, but to setting a precedent for other states and jurisdictions to follow suit,” it concludes.

(Talli Nauman is Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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