Environment | Opinion

Vi Waln: Arrogance keeps Keystone XL plans alive in South Dakota

Vi Waln

Sicangu Scribe
By Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Columnist

Even though President Obama has denied a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline to cross the Canadian border, last month the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recertified TransCanada’s permit to construct the pipeline through this state.

TransCanada filed a “Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement” against The Government of the United States of America a day after the PUC action. Did the PUC decision have anything to do with the lawsuit being filed? I believe so.

I listened to the archived recording of the January 5 PUC meeting. Commissioner Kristie Fiegen sounded apologetic when she stated that the “proceeding has not been done in haste, and not conducted in a way that has been very fast. The record has not be subject to unreasonable limitations . . . and provided the opportunity for all intervenors to argue their case properly. We also allowed the construction of a very large oral and written record.”

Commissioner Gary Hanson, who participated by telephone, didn’t sound very confident. He stated “the Commission went through a protracted hearing process, probably more than it actually needed to, to examine whether or not XL should receive recertification.”

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota established up a camp known as Oyate Wahacanka Woecun, or Shield the People, to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo from Facebook

Commissioner Chairman Chris Nelson always sounds condescending. He said “one of the things that . . . had me puzzled from the very beginning, was the vehemence of the opposition to this pipeline from our tribal members in South Dakota. When Mr. Harter and Mr. Seamans come up and they are opposed, I can get that because I come from a rancher background just like they do. But with our Native American friends, that had me maybe a little bit puzzled.”

Nelson also said that a comment from Debra White Plume spoke to him “in a powerful way.” He stated that “it helped answer [what] I think a lot of what our tribal members are feeling.”

Parts of White Plume’s statement included “The Lakota worldview and the American worldview about land and water are different, as is our worldview about time and space. The American worldview, through its institutions and policies and laws and regulations, say that elected officials and appointed officials have the final decision on what happens in our shared space . . . In the Lakota world view everyone has a say, a collective decision is made by consensus. There is no hierarchy of one person being more important than another, all people are important and have a right to their say.”

Nelson also stated “we have a different world view and I appreciate her taking the time to explain to me in a way that I can understand, where our Native American friends are coming from in this docket . . . I can’t change the fact that we have different world views but I appreciate knowing about that world view.”

More than 400 activists cross the Missouri River at Fort Pierre in South Dakota during the Keystone XL Resistance Ride and March on July 26, 2015. Photo courtesy Dallas “Muscle” Goldtooth

Nelson also referred to an opening statement made by Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network; which reads in part “if we stuck strictly to the rules of law, we probably would have been in some tough situations . . . we have to allow ourselves to be influenced by our emotion and the greater context of our emotions as human beings.”

Nelson stated his oath of office was “to uphold the laws of the state of South Dakota, it was not an oath that directed me to make decisions based upon emotion. I was directed by that oath and I am bound by that oath to make my decisions based upon the facts and the law, as has been established through this proceeding.”

“As we know, one of the conditions . . . is obtaining a Presidential Permit,” continued Nelson. “We all know that’s not going to happen in the next twelve months. What we don’t know is what will happen after that point in time. There remains the possibility that a presidential permit can be obtained and therefore, that is not a reason to find the certification [for the KXL pipeline] invalid.”

It was very arrogant of the PUC to assume that a new President is going to grant a permit for KXL to cross the Canadian border. Still, most South Dakota officials are well known for their arrogance.

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Consequently, a reader recently suggested that I run for election to a State office, but I have no inclination to do so. When you are elected to public office, you have to take an oath to uphold constitutions and man-made laws, like Commissioner Nelson so pointedly stated. I could never swear to uphold man-made laws because my human emotions would get in the way. I would not make a good elected official. My personal integrity in upholding natural law would always over-ride any oath regarding man-made laws.

And that is the difference in world view between Lakota people and non-Lakota people. Most Lakota people view the universe from heart, emotion, spirit and conscience. Many of us do not pledge allegiance to oaths made to carry out superficial man-made laws, which were put in place in an attempt to govern Mother Earth. Man-made oaths are written from a world view that is disconnected from natural law.

We are not being good ancestors when we disregard natural law. Our children deserve a life where they have access to clean water. Our children are counting on all of us to guarantee their right to a life with clean water. Further oil pipeline development poses an immediate threat to our access to clean water.

Despite reference to his “Native American friends,” Commissioner Nelson is no friend of mine. I encourage all the pipeline fighters to stand strong in this battle against people who view the world differently than we do.

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