“We oppose the tar sands oil mine in solidarity with Mother Earth and our First Nations allies,” one tribal member said.
A united front of Native Americans opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline’s path through protected sacred sites is calling out the Obama administration for ignoring land treaties dating back to 1868.
This week, tribal leaders and members from the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Ponca, Pawnee and Nez Perce communities gathered for a meeting in Rapid City, S.D., with what was expected to be representatives from the Obama administration.
Instead, they were met by two low-level administrative clerks.
In the eyes of tribal members, it was a slap in the face and a clear sign that their concerns are not being taken seriously. Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer called out the bureaucrats’ visit, publicly referring to the meeting as a sham, according to Kent Lebsock of Moccasins on the Ground.
“I will only meet with President Obama,” Brewer told the Rapid City Journal.
Brewer’s sentiment was echoed by those present at the meeting, as members from 11 Native American tribes walked out, chanting, “Sacred Sites, Worth the Fight, Territory by Treaty Right.”
A violation of treaty?
At the center of this battle is the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would impact sacred sites of the Great Plains Red Nations — a violation of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty, which guaranteed the Sioux people control over portions of South Dakota, including the Black Hills.
The treaty was signed between the U.S. government and the Lakota, Yanktonai Sioux, Santee Sioux and Arapaho tribes, guaranteeing Native Americans land rights over the Black Hills, while also providing the Native Americans hunting rights in that area. The treaty stemmed from Native American uprisings and wars with European settlers. In an effort to end the wars, the treaty was signed — but for those living there today, the war has not ended.
According to the Ft. Laramie Treaty, that land is theirs.
“We find ourselves victims of another form of genocide, and it’s environmental genocide, and it’s caused by the extractive industries,” Casey Camp-Horinek, a Southern Ponca Tribe elder, told the Rapid City Journal.
The Keystone pipeline does not run through Indian reservation land, which comprises 16 percent of the state. But tribal members say the lands the proposed route through which the Keystone XL would run are treasures of the Native American tribes in that area — land that provides them with water and is considered to have significant spiritual meaning.
Charles Lone Chief, vice president of the Pawnee Business Council, testified at the hearing that Keystone will pass through critical water source areas for those living on reservations. The likelihood for oil spills worries Lone Chief, who says it stretches through portions of land that contains aquifers and other natural water sources.
“[If] this gets into our waterways, our water tables, our aquifers, then we have problems,” he told the the Journal.
In 2010, there were more than 71,000 Native Americans living in South Dakota.
Solidarity and action
Aside from spills associated with the proposed pipelines, there’s also concern among those living on the Pine Ridge reservation regarding trucks traveling through the northern portion of the state, through tribal lands, and onto their Keystone pipeline site destination.
In March, five Native Americans were arrested in South Dakota after blocking trucks associated with Keystone XL pipeline construction passing through their land.
“We oppose the tar sands oil mine in solidarity with Mother Earth and our First Nations allies” Debra White Plume, who was arrested in the blockade, told Censored News.
Plume alleges the truck route for the pipeline, which passees through the Pine Ridge reservation, was a strategic move by TransCanada, the company responsible for Keystone XL.
“[Drivers] said their office in Canada made the route with the State of South Dakota to cross the Pine Ridge rez in order to avoid paying the state of South Dakota $50,000 per truck,” Plume told Censored News.
A concern dismissed
The united Red Nations front against the State Department has been ongoing, as tribal community members acknowledge the reality of the situation: The state department may pay them lip service, but action is unlikely.
In April, the State Department told the Huffington Post it would meet with the tribal nations in order to gather input from the community before the conclusion of the environmental impact statement relating to the pipeline is published. The meeting this week was intended to serve as that very opportunity for tribal members to voice concern.
The State Department has indicated that its communication with South Dakota tribes over the Keystone pipeline has been extensive, yet those living in the area don’t feel that’s the case.
Last year, the Sioux tribe made a direct statement to the president, urging him to honor the Laramie Treaty and halt Keystone construction through protected lands.
“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,” a resolution crafted in 2012 stated.
The response they heard from the State Department did not address the issues presented by the Native Americans — and now they’re prepared to protect their land through alternative means.
“I believe this is going to be one of the biggest battles we are ever going to have,” Robin LeBeau, council representative for Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said.