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Native Sun News: Lakota leaders rally against Keystone XL

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

Daryl Hannah and Lakota leaders escort Tom Weis in his tricycle, along the proposed pipeline route through South Dakota.

MANDERSON, SOUTH DAKOTA -- No stranger to the cause of protecting Mother Earth, actress Daryl Hannah joined Lakota leaders and clean energy advocate Tom Weis Oct. 27, in calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to prevent construction of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL tar-sands crude-oil pipeline.

“We really need President Obama to show some leadership, because it’s going to take a real leader to challenge the big-oil bucks,” Hannah said during a visit to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Hannah was here to take part in a mustang-mounted escort for colleague Weis during his 1,700-mile tricycle ride along the proposed pipeline route linking the oilfields of Canada’s Alberta Province to U.S. refineries via an underground conduit through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Hannah, the award-winning star of Blade Runner, Grumpy Old Men, Wall Street, and Kill Bill was arrested along with Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota activist Debra White Plume and some 1,250 other pipeline protesters during two weeks of civil disobedience actions on the White House lawn in August and September.

The Obama Administration has promised the Canadian company a decision by the end of the year on its 4-year-old Presidential Permit application, in what has become the term’s biggest political test over environment.

The $7-billion undertaking would create 20,000 immediate temporary construction and manufacturing jobs where pipeline materials are sourced, provisionally stimulating niches of a faltering economy, according to testimony at the U.S. State Department’s Oct. 7 hearing in Washington, D.C., on whether the proposal is in the national interest.

“The pipeline will provide a tremendous economic benefit and much-needed jobs for Oklahoma communities while following the strictest environmental guidelines for a pipeline project in our nation’s history,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a written release.

The EPA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement deems the project would have “no significant impact.”

But participants in the Pine Ridge rally said it’s not in the national interest. Weis’ “Ride for Renewable Energy” along the pipeline route is to publicize its dangers. The Boulder, Colo., resident hopes to inspire imagination and creativity in stopping the pipeline and converting the economy to a renewable domestic fuel base, he told Native Sun News.

The pipeline is bound to spill somewhere along its path, which crosses the Missouri River, Mississippi River and Ogallala Aquifer, he noted. The Ogallala provides “one-third of the entire country’s farmland irrigation water in the breadbasket of America,” he said, adding, “We cannot just go clean that up.”

TransCanada’s existing Keystone I Pipeline, which began carrying tar-sands crude-oil from Alberta through eastern North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and the Midwest a year ago, has had 14 toxic spills to date. The EPA specifically highlighted 57 conditions required by law that are designed to avoid such mishaps in the event the Keystone XL goes through.

The company has already secured lease agreements for a pipeline easement, in advance of receiving permission to build.

In order to get the leases, “TransCanada is bullying U.S. citizens with the threat of eminent domain,” Weis claimed.

Historically, the power of eminent domain, or the right to seize private property for a public project, has been reserved to governments. The Keystone XL Pipeline is a private project.

However, most landowners don’t know those things when approached to lease their land for pipeline construction, said Draper, South Dakota, rancher Paul Seamans, a rally participant representing the 26-year-old, non-profit farm-crisis organization Dakota Rural Action, whose members control one-third of the proposed pipeline route in the state.

Their lease agreements include gag clauses, prohibiting landowners from speaking about their stipulations.

Rosebud Sicanju Lakota Chief John Spotted Tail likened the leasing process to the colonization of the 1900s. “They took the land and left us on reservations, and now it’s happening to the non-Indian,” he said. TransCanada counters that it has received more than 100 letters of support for the project and some landowners enjoy leasing because of its income benefits.

Spotted Tail took part in an Oct. 15-16 Emergency Summit of Native Americans and First Nations at the Sicanju Orate, which drafted a Mother Earth Accord against the pipeline and in favor of energy alternatives to fossil fuel development. Dakota Rural Action and other organizations signed it before tribal leaders submitted it to the Obama Administration during the State Department hearing. Weis was slated to visit the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation after leaving Pine Ridge.

Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council representative Alex White Plume proposed “unity” between Indians and non-Indians in opposition to the pipeline and in favor of renewables, pledging to Seamans, “I promise to be a good friend and I want to have an alliance with you.”

White Plume was the instigator of an annual winter trail-ride to Wounded Knee for healing scars left by the Dec. 29, 1890 massacre there on what is now the Pine Ridge Reservation. To Hannah he said: “We need your help to get everybody to support us because the pipeline is going to cross our healing trail and it’s going to kill our healing.”

The pipeline also would cross the Mni Wiconi Rural Water pipeline, which provides drinking water from the Missouri River to the Oglala, Rosebud, and Lower Brule Lakota Nations, as well as several other communities in western South Dakota.

The treaty council announced on Oct. 26 at Pine Ridge Village that it would insist the Obama Administration take into account the 1851 and 1868 Fort. Laramie treaties in considering the permit application, council elder Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand told reporters at the rally the next day.

Steadying himself on the arm of Weiss and flanked by Hannah and Seamans, Hand declared: “I ask all the people of the United States to put our minds together as one and think about how are we are going to preserve the beautiful way of life we live without tar sands.

“If we unite together, we’re going to survive. If not, we are going to perish because tar sands are going to bring cancer and poor health to the stock and our way of life,” he said.

“I feel that if President Obama makes the right decision he can lead the people. If not, then we need to look at holistic leadership and that’s very important,” Hand concluded.

Four Siouxoun tribal governments failed in a federal lawsuit to stop the Keystone I Pipeline, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded it be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. However, treaty council members believe that Obama’s recent endorsement of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People might create different conditions for decision-making on Keystone XL, Hand told the Native Sun News.

At the Pine Ridge Village community meeting on the eve of the rally, Debra White Plume, founder of the reservation-based non-profit Owe Aku (Take Back the Way), described pipeline protests occurring at every stop on Obama’s October nationwide tour. They are a lead-up to a Nov. 6 national day of protest in Washington, D.C., she said, adding that reservation activists are considering simultaneous demonstrations at BIA offices in their jurisdictions that day in order to pressure the U.S. Interior Department.

She warned that dissidence will continue if the pipeline permit is approved. “Grandmas like me in Montana and Nebraska are willing to lay down their bodies, when construction begins wherever we are going to make our stand,” she said.

Oglala Lakota Tribal Vice Chair Thomas Poor Bear joined demonstrators at Obama’s whistle-stop in Denver, with a statement pegging pipeline opposition to U.S. treaty obligations. “As our great leader of our ancestral days Crazy Horse once said: ‘You cannot sell the land your people are buried on.’ I believe today he would say you cannot desecrate the land your people are buried on,” Poor Bear declared.

Only about 25 percent of the reservation people know about the pipeline, estimates Olowan, a spokesperson for the Pine Ridge-based Oglala Band of Native Youth, who attended the community meeting. She thanked Weiss for carrying the message and “coming through this territory.”

Organizer Pte San Win considered the meeting had a good turnout. “This is our first get together on Pine Ridge about this and I would like to encourage everybody to spread the word and speak in behalf of the Earth Mother,” she said.

Hannah, who lives in low-carbon housing and drives a hemp biofuel vehicle, called the tar-sands crude-oil exploitation “unethical and insane”, adding that investment in the pipeline would “only be going to expand the tar sands and pad the pockets of those already making profits off our natural resources.”

She has forged her 34-year-long screen career into a tool for social change, protesting against mountain-top removal by coal mines and for local food economies, among other things.

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

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