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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe calls Keystone XL rally

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

Oglala Lakota Tribal Vice President Tom Poor Bear protests Keystone XL Pipeline at Obama speech in Denver. Photo Courtesy walkinbeauty-bethechange.com.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– Saying it’s only “natural” to oppose tar-sands crude-oil development, Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice-President Tom Poor Bear convoked a Feb. 11 rally here to prevent construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

He said the Oglala Lakota Nation is sponsoring the rally on Saturday to drum up resistance to TransCanada Corp.’s controversial pipeline proposal and others like it. Preparations were set to begin at 11 a.m., with the program starting at 1 p.m. at the Mother Butler Center at 221 Knollwood Drive in Rapid City.

“When I got involved, like many others, in opposing this pipeline, it was for the love, the respect and the honor of Mother Earth,” Poor Bear told the Native Sun News on Feb. 3. “We have a history. We have a culture. We have a belief in always protecting a way of life, and without Mother Earth there would be no life,” he said. “It’s a natural resistance of protesting and opposing anything that tries to desecrate Mother Earth.”

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry tar-sands crude-oil mined in the boreal forest of Alberta Province across 1,700 miles of the Great Plains, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

“It’s a 1,700-mile snake that’s trying to bore itself into Mother Earth, and its whole purpose is to spit black venom into the water our future generations are going to be drinking,” Poor Bear said.

The Canadian oil company built another tar-sands crude-oil pipeline from Alberta through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois more than a year ago when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton succeeded in winning a motion to dismiss four Sioux tribal governments’ federal lawsuit to stop it for violating historic preservation, trust and treaty law.

Since then, the Oglala Lakota Tribe, Sicangu (Rosebud) Lakota Tribe, the United Tribes of North Dakota, and treaty councils have signed resolutions opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline for the same reasons mentioned in the lawsuit against Keystone I, as well as concerns over water pollution from spills.

U.S. and Canadian indigenous constituents submitted the Mother Earth Accord to Clinton and President Barack Obama in opposition to the oil company’s current proposal in October. The White House subsequently accepted the State Department’s recommendation to reject TransCanada’s 4-year-old Presidential Permit application.

However, Poor Bear said, “When Obama rejected the permit, to me, he didn’t do it because the respect and honor we have for Mother Earth or our future generations’ water. He was just upset with the Republicans because they were rushing him to make a decision.”

The Administration had 60 days to decide on TransCanada’s application, due to a Congressional rider on a December tax-relief extension act, which tied the hands of the State Department in making a decision on whether Keystone XL would be in the national interest, Obama said on Jan. 18:

“As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment,” Obama announced: “As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree,” he said.

TransCanada immediately divulged plans to submit a new application.

Poor Bear said the Obama decision was “just one small little victory. The war is still out there every day of our lives, so we decided to have a rally,” he said.

TransCanada notes that the project is “shovel-ready” to provide the United States with jobs and a stable source of more fossil fuel. Residents along the pipeline route argue that they are being forced to relinquish rights of way at some risk to their water and agricultural income sources, while environmental lobbies claim tar-sands are the worst global-warming fuel on the market, and Native Americans complain of treaty rights abridgement.

During August and September of 2011, Poor Bear took part in a two-week White House sit-in to stop Keystone XL. It was the biggest civil disobedience action in recent U.S. history. With more than 1,000 peaceful protesters arrested, it was among pressure tactics that propelled the controversial project to the world stage at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, and made it a political hot potato in the 2012 U.S. presidential race.

“We brought national and international attention to the pipeline,” Poor Bear said. From Washington, D.C., he went on to demonstrate against the tar-sands and pipelines at Denver University during a speech by Obama. But that wasn’t enough for him.

“Maybe what we want is just too simple for their complicated minds,” he said. We must become stronger in a united effort of all the indigenous peoples from the four directions, the four races of mankind, and all the people who love Mother Earth,” Poor Bear told the Native Sun News.

“So to keep ourselves fired up we decided to have a rally. Our people have natural opposition to this, so we felt we needed to bring all indigenous peoples together and draw attention to this, build our allies, keep awareness, and look ahead,” he said.

Poor Bear acknowledges that using the elected office of the tribe to facilitate direct action is a break from the norm. Forged in the militancy of the American Indian Movement of the 1970s, he has been an activist ever since. When he carried the vote in an unprecedented eight out of nine Pine Ridge Reservation districts, he felt responsibility to ensure the tribal government was accessible to constituents, he said.

The tribe’s access to participation in the Keystone XL public decision-making was limited, however. Oglala Sioux Tribal Attorney Jennifer Baker noted that the federal government extended “consultant” status to the tribal governments in negotiations for the proposed pipeline, but not “signatory” status, like the state governments had.

“The tribe would like to see the revamping of the consultation practice,” Baker said. “It’s failing completely. Something’s really going to have to give.”

The State Department’s programmatic agreement for TransCanada’s communication with interested government entities did not live up to treaty guarantees, Poor Bear said. “To me it was really a hard slap in the face that the Keystone corporation did it with no honor or respect – failing to consult with us to go over our sacred burial ground and over the water Mother Earth is keeping for our future generations,” he said.

After the Administration sent TransCanada back to the drawing board with Keystone XL, Republicans in Congress vowed to again force permission by making it a condition on either upcoming highway transportation bills or employee tax-cut extension proposals. “It’s all about profit and politics,” Poor Bear said. “It makes no sense why they would desecrate Mother Earth.”

Public perception drives Congress, Baker noted. The number of jobs is “blown out of proportion, so a lot of people think it’s a good thing” and “representatives ease their consciences about lining their pockets with oil money,” she said.

“As we educate people who aren’t from this part of the country or Indian country, the more they will understand the importance of the treaties and the sacred,” she said. “That’s going to make a difference.”

TransCanada advertises 250,000 jobs, but according to the Environmental Impact Statement approved by the EPA, the construction phase would employ 5,000-6,000 temporary workers, with 10 to 15 percent of them coming from the local workforce. Eleven percent of the construction jobs on the South Dakota segment of the first Keystone pipeline went to local people. Baker said only 20 permanent jobs will result from the entire Keystone XL.

Winner rancher John Harter, a member of the grassroots non-profit Dakota Rural Action, which is expected to participate in the rally, said TransCanada should be required to redo its entire permitting promise at local and national levels.

Only 30 percent of the promised tax revenues from the first Keystone project are accruing to the state, according to Harter.

“If this thing is a good thing, it should be making money from top to bottom, and our communities are being cheated,” he said during a panel discussion on the movie “Pipeline Dreams” in Rapid City on Jan. 30. He is one of a number of ranchers who are contesting eminent domain designations where the Keystone XL is slated to cross their lands.

South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune sparked Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux’s demand for an apology Jan. 18 by calling Obama’s decision to deny a permit “pandering to his anti-pipeline environmental extremist voting bloc”.

Poor Bear also took issue with Thune, saying, “A message needs to be sent from this rally to the representatives and senators of South Dakota and other states that we don’t want to be looked at as just environmentalists. The indigenous population is people of the land, and that’s where we’ve been for centuries. We must continue and carry the responsibility of our ancestors to protect our future.”

“John Thune doesn’t know the people of South Dakota,” Poor Bear told the Native Sun News. “With this rally he will know us. This is really for the people of South Dakota to know, in the words of one of our great ancestors, we borrowed it from our children so we must keep this land as sacred as our ancestors kept it.”

Rally organizers considered holding the event at the state capital in Pierre or on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation but chose the Rapid City site “to do it by our sacred Black Hills and Badlands and a large population of our people who live here,” Poor Bear said.

A water line called the Mni Wiconi, which the U.S. Congress created with enactment of public funds, is a prime concern of Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservation tar-sands opponents, who obtain their drinking water from the Missouri River through it. The Keystone XL would cross the water line in at least three places.

Another prime concern is pollution of the Ogallala Aquifer underlying South Dakota and seven other states, one of the largest water tables in the world and the main source of hope for agricultural prosperity in the U.S. heartland. TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone I tar-sands crude-oil pipeline through the Great Plains ruptured at least 14 times during its first year of operations.

“So I envision this rally as a message to all the oil companies and all the pipeline companies that we don’t want this 1,700-mile snake or whatever snakes they want to build,” Poor Bear said. But it’s just one rally of many rallies. We want to be heard. We want these oil companies to hear us, and if they don’t hear us, we must all turn into wild flowers – wild, free flowers that are so strong there will be no earth movers that’ll be able to move us.”

The American Indian Movement Grassroots chapter of the Grand Governing Council, founded in Rapid City in January 2011, is helping organize the rally.

Chapter President Tom Cheyenne said the group opposes the pipeline because it violates treaty rights. “I’m going to let them know where we stand: The treaty is supreme in all the land. That’s what they got to understand,” he said.

Pine Ridge non-profit Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) is among organizers, because when “it comes down to Mother Earth versus Father Greed, we must stand with Mother Earth," co-founder Debra White Plume told the Native Sun News.

Other expected rally participants include: Colorado American Indian Movement members, grassroots activists from Dinetah (Navajo Nation), representatives of Anishinabe custom councils, and First Nations chiefs of Canada.

“If we don’t voice for Mother Earth, who will?” custom council delegate Jo Redsky of Ginew, Manitoba, said in presenting Poor Bear with a Roseau River Anishinabe resolution in Rapid City against the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Custom councils are traditional grassroots governing bodies for indigenous bands in Canada.

“We have to think more than seven generations ahead,” she said in the meeting with Poor Bear on Jan. 3. “That’s what we’re doing with this and saying ‘no’.”

The letter was signed by 11 custom council representatives, First Nation Chief Ken Henry and three councilors. First Nation chiefs are elected in accordance with Canada’s federal governance system. Many testified before a federal panel in January in Edmonton, Alberta, about water and sovereignty concerns raised by tar-sands mining and Enbridge Corp.’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from the tar-sands pits to the Pacific Coast.

Poor Bear said he expects the rally to be a contributing factor in stopping the Keystone XL.

“The words of our people on Feb. 11 will be like a giant drum beating so strong that everyone will finally hear us. It’s going to be Mother Earth’s heartbeat that’s going to be heard until this pipeline is stopped,” he said.

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

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