Vi Waln: Keystone XL Pipeline a threat to tribal water supply

I attended two interesting meetings last week to learn more about TransCanada’s application for a Presidential Permit to construct an expansion to the Keystone pipeline. Both events were very educational. They were also very depressing. Mother Earth is in extreme danger. Our water source is being threatened.

At the September 27 meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, which included tribal, federal and TransCanada representatives, I learned that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) was in violation of the trust responsibility as an agency of the federal government. The BOR is required to collaborate with the Oglala Sioux Tribe regarding the Mni Wiconi waterlines and the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System.

However, the BOR was accused of not consulting with the Oglala Sioux Tribe in regard to a right-of-way that TransCanada must obtain prior to crossing the Mni Wiconi waterline if their permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Also, those attending the meeting were informed that the OST council had voted against the Keystone XL project.

When the original Keystone Pipeline was built it had to be constructed around most Indian lands because many of the Tribes would not agree to have it buried on our reservations. Rosebud has also voted against the expansion; wopila to all tribal officials who fought the first pipeline and continue to fight the proposed expansion.

I learned a lot last week. First, the federal government is supposed to consult with our people on a government-to-government basis. I believe they actually dread dealing with us because we are not afraid to stand up and speak out for our inherent rights as tribes or for Mother Earth.

Second, I suspect the federal agencies with whom the tribes must deal with on a regular basis look for ways around informing our elected and program officials about what is being proposed. I listened to government employees who work for federal agencies come up with a myriad of excuses as to why or why not things are the way they are in terms of relationships with Indian tribes.

Third, I learned that some tribal officials could care less about what happens on our lands. It was pointed out by a tribal employee that the tribal administration was notified about what was going to be coming in terms of the Keystone pipeline expansion. However, no action was taken until after a new tribal administration took office.

TransCanada sent two attorneys and a Native American advisor to the meeting in Rapid City last week. They did not send anyone who has any decision making authority to listen to what the tribal officials had to say. Most lawyers are experts at dancing around questions or offering excuses as to why things are the way they are. And, in my opinion, TransCanada’s Native American advisor is a sell-out.

I heard this advisor initially tell the tribal officials in attendance that the First Nations in Canada were in favor of the Keystone expansion. But after he was informed that First Nations Chiefs from Canada had traveled to South Dakota recently to express their opposition to the pipeline expansion, he admitted that the Indigenous people who live closest to the tar sand mining areas are opposed to the pipeline.

I also attended the State Department’s Public Hearing held in Pierre, South Dakota, on September 29. It was sure an eye opener for me. Even though I arrived early, there was a very long line of people outside of the Ramkota Hotel waiting to sign up to speak. Some had orange t-shirts, others had fluorescent green t-shirts and still others had white t-shirts with red lettering. These people represented out of state labor unions and other companies.

Someone’s money paid for the buses which brought these groups in from several states. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming all had representatives speak in favor of the Keystone XL expansion. They testified that the project would create thousands of jobs.

Not one of these people were even remotely concerned for Mother Earth. I could sense their disconnection from nature by being in the same room with them. It was very disheartening. I said many prayers for them so their minds could open to what this pipeline expansion could bring to our region and Mother Earth.

I was very appreciative of the Tokala who showed up to protest the pipeline expansion. I wanted to leave within the first hour because of all who were testifying for the expansion. But when our anonymous young people entered the meeting room carrying medicine and wearing eagle feathers, they gave me inner strength to stay and listen.

There must have been a hundred cops at the Ramkota Hotel! They began intimidating our Tokala. There were city and county police along with state troopers. Indians still have the power to put non-Indians into great fear. But really, the only thing to fear is fear itself.

The Keystone XL pipeline expansion will see a 36 inch diameter steel pipe buried along 1,912 miles of ground. It will cross the Mni Wiconi water line and the Ogallala Aquifer. A mixture of tar sands and other highly dangerous chemicals will be heated to at least 150 degrees in order to be moved through the pipe. And it will take at least six barrels of water to extract one barrel of tar sand.

The pipeline will start in Alberta, Canada and snake its way down to the Gulf of Mexico. There are many discrepancies as to how many temporary jobs this project will actually create. Some say 20,000 jobs will be created while others say 6,000. I heard many people say only 6 long term jobs will come out of this expansion.

The burden of approving the permit for the pipeline to cross the Canadian border rests with President Barack Obama. He must understand that our water is sacred and crucial to our survival. He will lose the support of many voters the day he signs the permit.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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