Thousands of tribal citizens and their allies marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., as part of Native Nations Rise on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Indian Country mounts another fight after Donald Trump approves another pipeline

Indian Country is preparing for another round of resistance after the Trump administration approved the Keystone XL Pipeline without consulting tribes.

Tribes and grassroots activists thought the controversial crude oil pipeline was dead when former president Barack Obama rejected a necessary permit back in November 2015. The 1,200-mile route, which runs through treaty territory, crosses sacred and historic sites and impacts tribal water resources, was considered a detriment to the environment.

But everything changed once President Donald Trump came into power. Four days after taking office, he invited the Canadian firm behind the project to resubmit its application for the permit.

Just two months later, the State Department announced the approval of the presidential permit. Although the record of decision insists tribes were consulted, it acknowledged those efforts occurred during the Obama era.

The Trump administration in fact did not engage in new government-to-government talks with Indian nations even though his own nominees -- most notably his pick for the Supreme Court -- have repeatedly said tribes haven't been treated honorably by the United States.

"This is not something new for the tribal nations," Chairman Larry Wright Jr. of the Ponca Tribe said on a conference call on Friday.

"We've lost land -- it's been taken away," Wright continued. "We signed treaties -- those treaties have been broken."

"Here we are again," Wright said.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network speaks at Native Nations Rise in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Poncas are among the dozens of Indian nations affected by Keystone, which runs through three states. In Nebraska, the 275.2-mile preferred route crosses the Ponca Trail of Tears, which marks the path the tribe was forced to take by the federal government in the late 1800s. An alternative path follows the trail even more closely.

"Our history with Native Americans is not the prettiest history," Trump's high court nominee Neil Gorsuch observed earlier this week.

But with the unprecedented battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline still fresh in Indian Country's minds, activists are hoping to change the course of history. From asserting a physical presence like the one seen at the now-dismantled #NoDAPL encampment in North Dakota to holding marches in the nation's capital to knocking on people's doors, they are quickly mobilizing against the new threat.

"This fight is not just going to be in one location," said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, which has been a key player in the Dakota Access and Keystone efforts, "but it will be throughout the entire length."

Legal, political and procedural challenges are also in the works, with efforts focusing on Nebraska and South Dakota. Tribes and activists are petitioning regulatory bodies in both states in hopes of getting them to reject the pipeline.

"The tribes in Nebraska have not ever been properly consulted," said Jane Kleeb, the president of Bold Nebraska, one of the many groups opposed to Keystone.

"You're looking at two to three years of legal challenges, at least, in the state of Nebraska," she added.

Despite the uncertainties, TransCanada announced approval of the presidential permit early Friday morning. The firm's leader, who acknowledged the lack of permits in the state, later appeared at the White House with Trump.

"The fact is that this $8 billion investment in American energy was delayed for so long -- it demonstrates how our government has too often failed its citizens and companies over the past long period of time," Trump said in the Oval Office. "Today, we begin to make things right and to do things right. Today we take one more step in putting the jobs, wages, and economic security of American citizens first. Put America first."

Trump did not say whether the pipeline would be built with American-made materials, which he previously said was required for new infrastructure.

The Keystone XL route runs through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before connecting to existing infrastructure in Kansas and in Oklahoma.

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