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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe rallies against Keystone XL

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

Chief Oliver Red Cloud, chairman of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– More than 100 people attending the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s rally against the Keystone XL Pipeline on Feb. 11, voted by consensus to support a resolution appealing for the Great Sioux Nation Treaty Council to demand U.S. President Barack Obama oppose the tar-sands crude-oil project because it violates the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty.

The resolution calls for enforcement of the peace treaty’s Article I, which states, “If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will ... proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.”

The Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council will deliver the resolution to the other delegations of the Great Sioux Nation Treaty Council for action during the Feb. 17-18 meeting of the Seven Council Fires (Oceti Sakowin) at the Prairie Winds Casino on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, council interpreter Alex White Plume told the Native Sun News.

Nonagenarian Chief Oliver Red Cloud, chairman of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, inaugurated the rally by inviting participation.

“I need your help. We don’t want to just talk; we want to do something with vision today.” He surveyed the entire five-hour rally from his wheel chair alongside the speakers’ podium, and observed, “We have all kinds of laws in the United States to protect the United States. But we have a natural law for our tribe. We take care of the treaty, and anything like this, I have to work with the young people and tell them what they’re going to run into.”

His great grandfather, world-famous Lakota Chief Mahpíya Lúta, negotiated the terms of the 1868 Treaty, leaving to the Great Sioux Nation all of what now are western South Dakota and parts of seven nearby U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Four generations later, Oliver Red Cloud, itancan of the Oglala Lakota Band of the Great Sioux Nation, leads the band’s efforts to have the treaty upheld according to international law.

The pipeline rally initiative originated in the executive office of Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice-President Tom Poor Bear. He protested last year against the pipeline at a two-week civil disobedience action by thousands of people at the White House and later at an Obama speech in Denver.

“We are the true landowners,” Poor Bear said at the Rapid City rally. “We are all one. We only have one mother – that’s Mother Earth. We’ve got to protect the water that our future generations are going to drink one day,” he said.

Rarely do the tribal government and the treaty council share the same soap-box, noted Debra White Plume, co-founder of the Pine Ridge-based Owe Aku “Take Back the Way” non-profit organization. The treaty council’s authority stems from the traditional indigenous form of governance, while the tribal council, consisting of elected officials of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is an entity created by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

“It’s usually unheard-of for elected officials to do something like this,” White Plume said.

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. Obama’s Administration has denied a Presidential Permit, but Congress is advocating for it.

TransCanada Corp.’s earlier project, the Keystone I tar-sands crude-oil pipeline through the Great Plains, ruptured at least 14 times during its first year of operations (2010-2011), spewing toxic sludge. Another Canadian oil company, Enbridge Inc., is responsible for 610 pipeline spills, including one tar-sands crude accident in the Kalamazoo River watershed in Michigan in July that crews are still trying to clean up.

The resolution approved at the rally notes, “The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross countless rivers and streams, including the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River, the Cheyenne River, the White River, the Niobrara River, and the Platte River, and … in addition to interfering with our natural water sources, … would cross the Mni Wiconi pipeline, which pumps water from those sources to our communities on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Rosebud Indian Reservation, thus endangering our access to clean drinking water. Operation of the Keystone XL pipeline would also threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the drinking water source for millions of people including many Lakota people,” it says.

“The Lakota people have never consented to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through our lands, and … such malevolent use of Lakota Treaty Lands by TransCanada would violate the traditional law and the natural law of the Great Sioux Nation, and would therefore constitute a ‘wrong upon the person or property of the Indians’ in breach of the peace promised to the Great Sioux Nation by the United States in Article 1 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty,” the resolution continues.

If accepted by the Oceti Sakowin, it will conclude: “Whereas, the safety and protection of our Mother Earth and her life-giving water are of the utmost importance to our generation, just as they were to our ancestors, and just as they will be to our future generations, now therefore be it resolved that … the Great Sioux Nation hereby directs President Barack Obama and the United States Congress to honor the promises of the United States made through the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties by prohibiting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and any future projects from entering and destroying our land without our consent.”

Alex White Plume, who acted as master of ceremonies during the rally, said water protection is the unifying concern for tar-sands and pipeline opponents.

“There’s no way we can separate water and us. Mni is us,” he said.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal District 1 Council Member Bryce In The Woods enjoined rally-goers to go beyond the resolution and invite lawmakers to witness the tar-sands and pipeline destruction for themselves.

“You need to hold your elected officials accountable,” he said. “It’s a life threatening situation. We need to have those guys who are making decisions for all the children on the planet walk barefoot through those tar-sands hills and swim through that water where that [Michigan] spill created 30 miles of dead-zone and tell us it’s not detrimental to their health.”

Indigenous Environmental Network pipeline organizer Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake Ojibwe, traveled to the rally from Minnesota to call for more signatures on the Mother Earth Accord submitted to Obama last year by U.S. and Canadian indigenous leaders opposing tar sands and pipelines. Also addressing the rally were representatives of the Navajo or Diné Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute, Colorado American Indian Movement, Deep Green Resistance, and South Dakota and Nebraska private landowners “crossed” by the Keystone XL Pipeline route.

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

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