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Native Sun News: Sioux activist arrested at White House protest

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

WASHINGTON, DC – At an Indigenous Day of Action on Sept. 2, during White House protests, Oglala Lakota grassroots leader Debra White Plume spoke on behalf of her non-profit Owe Aku Organization in South Dakota.

“In front of the White House, we defend our land and water,” she said.

“All we have are our bodies and our freedom to send the message to President Obama that we are serious we do not want the XL Keystone Pipeline coming through our treaty territory, so we trespass and risk arrest hoping he will hear us and say ‘no’ to the corporations,” she stated.

SWAT Team members then arrested, handcuffed and jailed her on the charge of failure to obey lawful order at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The charge was reported to the FBI, she noted.

Like other demonstrators, White Plume was fined $100 and released the same day. “Our Lakota people oppose this pipeline because of the potential contamination of the surface water and of the Ogallala aquifer,” she said. “We have thousands of ancient and historical cultural resources that would be destroyed across our treaty lands,” she told Native Sun News.

As the Tar Sands Action campaign to stop TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline geared up for a new round of activity this week, Native Americans and First Nations representatives returned home from jail for participating in the previous round. Addressing U.S. President Barack Obama with statements in defense of sacred lands, indigenous leaders were among those arrested with about 2,000 others during two weeks of sit-ins at the White House that organizers called “The largest environmental civil disobedience in decades.”

Meanwhile, the Vancouver, B.C.-based TransCanada Corp. was lobbying on Capitol Hill for a Presidential Permit from the U.S. State Department to build one of several pipelines from its Alberta Province tar-sands oilfields across the Canadian border into the United States and on to the Gulf of Mexico’s international shipping points. The oil company’s latest proposal is the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas to connect with existing lines in Oklahoma and Texas.

First Nations in Canada have refused to let TransCanada Corp. build a pipeline to carry the toxic slurry from the Alberta tar sands through their territory to the Pacific Coast ports. The Dene National Assembly in northern Canada has passed a resolution standing in solidarity with Native Americans and other people opposing the Keystone XL project.

“We want the people of America to hear our concerns first hand, as peoples that live downstream from the tar-sands development,” said Chief Bill Erasmus, Dene Regional Chief of Northwest Territories and representative of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest tribal organization.

Gitz Deranger, a Dene from the village of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, located downstream from the tar sands, related his experience, saying, “I have seen the devastation of our environment and people’s health with increased cancer deaths. If Obama approves this pipeline, it would only lead to more of our people needlessly dying.”

White Plume lauded First Nations’ exercise of self-determination. “This is an issue of our right to say ‘no’, as sovereign independent indigenous nations,” she said. “The U.S. government doesn’t have our best interest in mind, nor the rights of Mother Earth,” she added.

Another Lakota opponent of the tar-sands extraction and pipeline proposal from South Dakota, Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP) President Pat Spears voiced his opinion. “This is a matter of life and death, our way of life and our human rights should not be on the altar of U.S. energy policy,” he said.

“The arrogant pollution from mining and pipelines for tar-sands oil is totally unnecessary relative to meeting U.S. oil needs,” Spears added. “The building of this pipeline will result in the increase in the cost of oil and its exportation, from the Gulf Coast to other countries. This does not make good economic sense.”

Intertribal Coup consists of representatives from 10 tribes in the Northern Plains states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska: Cheyenne River; Flandreau Santee; Lower Brule; Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara; Omaha; Rosebud; Sisseton; Spirit Lake; Pine Ridge, and Standing Rock Sioux. Together, these tribes possess at least one-seventh of the United States’ total wind generating potential.

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), based in Bemidji, Minnesota, organized the Indigenous Day of Action during the civil disobedience activity that lasted from Aug. 20 through Sept. 3.

IEN Director Tom Goldtooth, a Dakota-Diné, called on the administration to stick to campaign promises when considering the permit, in what has become one of the most politically important environmental decisions of the Obama White House, according to analysts.

“The Canadian tar sands, the proposed Keystone XL and all the other current and proposed pipelines and heavy hauls are weapons of mass destruction leading the path to triggering the final overheating of Mother Earth,” Goldtooth said.

“President Obama made promises to Native nations,” he said. Here is an opportunity for him to honor those promises and be a man of conscience by standing up to corporate power; address the compounding changes of climate change and over consumption of the resources of Mother Earth; and say no to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Also on the picket line at the White House, Cree Regional Chief George Stanley of Alberta reminded protesters that the pipeline proposal was initiated under the previous administration of George W. Bush and inherited by Obama.

“Our First Nations in Alberta have been concerned of the lack of consultation of the pipelines and tar sands expansion,” he said. “President Obama can do what’s right. For the President to approve this pipeline is not in the national interest of U.S. or Canada.”

(Talli Nauman is the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Related Stories:
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Robert Redford: Keystone XL pipeline threatens US heartland (9/13)
Native Sun News: Tribal rights at issue in Keystone XL pipeline (9/1)

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