WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Thursday of last week, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was elected chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. On Friday, he turned around and took a crap on the majority of his Native American constituents.
Barrasso was elected by his colleagues in the senate last Thursday to take the chairman position of the ever important Senate Indian Affairs Committee formerly occupied by Sen. John Tester (D-Mt). The committee is responsible for reviewing and developing legislation impacting Indian Country and has had its ups and downs. However, the committee has been effective recently in passing bills with strong bipartisan support.
Sen. Tester had been one of the most active chairmen of the committee in recent history but lost the position after Republicans took control of the senate during this fall’s midterm elections. Under Tester’s watch several important pieces of legislation designed to address everything from IRS harassment in Indian Country to those supporting language revitalization efforts were fast tracked for passage.
In a statement Sen. Barrasso said that he looked forward to continuing passing bills on behalf of tribes.
“I’m honored to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. I look forward to working with Vice Chairman Tester and the members on the Committee to pass legislation that helps improve the lives of people across Indian country,” said Sen. Barrasso.
Sen. Barrasso was appointed to the senate in 2007, to fill a seat left vacant by Craig L. Thomas. In 2008 he won a special election for the seat and was reelected to the senate in 2012.
Despite spending nearly a decade serving in Congress, Barrasso, seemingly missed the memo outlining the position of tribes on Keystone XL. While speaking on the Senate floor last Friday, Sen. Barrasso, vowed to pass legislation that would force President Obama’s hand on the highly controversial pipeline.
“Now Republicans are going to show the leadership that the American people have been asking for and that they voted for last November. We’re going to bring a bill to the floor, force the President finally do to do something by putting it on the President’s desk. Democrats have been playing politics with this pipeline bill. The Republican majority will now get it done,” said Sen. Barrasso on the floor of the Senate.
The testimony on the Senate floor comes on the heels of statements clarifying his priorities while head of the Indian Affairs committee.
“As Chairman, I will focus on measures related to jobs, energy and natural resource development, health care, education and tribal self-governance. I will also make it a priority to remove red-tape and bureaucratic barriers to economic growth. Progress on these important issues will go a long way in helping tribal families, communities, and businesses succeed.”
According to Ballotpedia.com Barrasso is likely a sure bet to support legislation reflecting conservative ideas, “Based on analysis of multiple outside rankings, Barrasso is one of the most reliable Republican votes, meaning he can be considered a safe vote for the Republican Party in Congress.”
Pierre, SD – The fight to stop TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline can add one more state to its battleground: South Dakota. A powerful coalition of local allies intervened in the certification of the pipeline permit at the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, and the battle for the open US Senate seat in South Dakota could be decided by voters strongly opposed to Keystone XL.
Four tribal nations and a number of grassroots Native groups, each belonging to the Oceti Sakowin, have petitioned to intervene. Those tribes are the Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and Yankton Sioux Tribes. Dakota Rural Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and several South Dakota landowners have also petitioned to intervene. This coalition, called No KXL Dakota, is comprised of tribal nations, non-profit organizations, individual tribal citizens and non-tribal landowners, each dedicated to the protection of Mother Earth and the natural resources of South Dakota.
TransCanada opposed the intervention of several applicants to party status, including the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Utility Commission Office, both Native entities dealing with energy issues in South Dakota.
This high-profile pipeline battle has intensified with the South Dakota congressional race. Republican candidate Mike Rounds is the only candidate fully endorsing the pipeline, while Democratic opponent Rick Weiland has gained local support because of his opposition to Keystone XL and Independent Larry Pressler has also courted the Native vote.
Lewis Grassrope of Wiconi Un Tipi: “We are here to ensure that this committee [the PUC] hears our voice on this opposition to the pipeline or any pipeline through these lands.”
Joye Braun of Pte Ospaye Spirit Camp: “Pte Ospaye Spiritual Camp mission is stand in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and the social evils that come with Big Oil, to educate the people about the KXL Pipeline, fracking, and the pollution that occurs with oil production. Pte Ospaye Spiritual Camp is located just outside of the Bridger Community on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and 2.2 miles from where the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline proposes to go through. It is a hugely historic area known for centuries as a crossroads for Natives Peoples to travel through on their way to the Black Hills. It is ground zero for the Lakota people fighting this pipeline as it would have to pass through this area first to try and get to the other camps and Nebraska.”
No KXL Dakota allies have pledged to stand their ground and not back down in the now local battle over property, land, water, human trafficking, and treaty rights.
Aug 18 (Reuters) – Veteran musicians Willie Nelson and Neil Young are teaming up for a benefit concert in Nebraska to raise funds in the fight against land being sold for the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, charity organization Bold Nebraska said on Monday.
Nelson, 81, and Young, 68, both known for their ties to country rock and folk music and their environmental activism, will perform at the “Harvest the Hope Concert” on Sept. 27 at a farm near Neligh, Nebraska.
The farm is owned by Art and Helen Tanderup, who are campaigning against selling their land to TransCanada Corp to lay a pipeline that would carry crude oil from northern Alberta to refiners in Texas.
“Our family has worked this land for over 100 years. We will not allow TransCanada to come in here and destroy our land and water for their profit,” said Tanderup.
The concert is being hosted by Bold Nebraska along with Indigenous Environmental Network and Cowboy & Indian Alliance, comprising agricultural and tribal landowners who believe the pipeline will negatively impact the environment.
The Nebraska Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a dispute over the planned 1,200-mile (1,900 km) planned route for the controversial $5.4 billion pipeline. A court ruling is not expected until 2015.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)
The U.S. state department claimed that the Keystone XL pipeline would increase world carbon emissions by 30 million tons. However, a recent study released by scientists from the Stockholm Environment Institute shows that number could be off – way off. Seth Borenstein writes in an article published by the Portland Press Herald:
The researchers estimate that the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.,
The U.S. estimates didn’t take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.
Other scientists and organizations seem to be shrugging of this quadrupled number. The American Petroleum Institute (go figure) claimed that the study was pointless, because the pipeline itself would have nothing to do with the increase. Tar sands oil will reduce the price of oil per barrel, they claim, therefore increasing oil usage regardless of how it is transported. In his article, “Study: Keystone carbon pollution more than figured,” Borenstein interviews other scientists and academics all to happy to chime in their opinions:
Lower prices may be appealing at first, but there needs to be a balance between consumer happiness and environmental happiness, said Wesleyan University environmental economist Gary Yohe, who applauds the study’s findings.
A glass-half-empty perspective came from University of Sussex economist Richard Tol, who believes that 121 million is a “drop in the bucket” when compared to the 36 billion tons of carbon emissions released on 2013.
Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution of Washington, rode the fence, agreeing that 121 million tons is relatively small, but believes that we should be moving away from activities that boost carbon dioxide no matter the amount.
And, finally, independent energy economist Judith Dwarkin in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, blew off the study entirely, claiming that consumption of oil drives the price, not the other way around.
Whether millions or billions of carbon emissions, the Keystone XL pipeline will also damage a multitude of other environments. We need to see more studies that illustrate the whole impact of the pipeline and look at them as all interconnected, instead of relevant or irrelevant.
This morning, a group of protesters drove through the farm country of Kitchener, Ontario. They pulled up at a dirt-and-gravel-paved job site occupied by a security guard.
The guard knew the drill. While he phoned everyone who normally reported to the job site to tell them not to come in to work that day, the protesters set up camp. They posted a statement on Tumblr, inviting any interested parties to come and join them, along with guidelines for the occupation:
Here are some things to keep in mind while visiting the Dam Line 9 Action:
– We are on stolen Indigenous land. Deshkaan Ziibing (Antler River, so-called Thames River), Anishinabek territory.
– Have fun, but also remember that this is a site of struggle.
All summer, protesters have been appearing at job sites along the path of Line 9 — a pipeline that had lived in obscurity until the regulatory limbo surrounding the approval of Keystone XL made it famous. Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns Line 9, announced plans to expand it and to reverse its flow. Normally the pipe carries crude from Africa and the Middle East into Canada’s heart; Enbridge would like it to move oil from the Alberta tar sands to Quebec, where it could be refined and exported.
One of the protesters, Dan Kellar, was working on a PhD in environmental impact assessment and the application of environmental laws, so he was able to navigate the application process well enough to submit a comment, along with a group called Grand River Indigenous Solidarity. The NEB, unswayed, approve the pipeline anyway.
Most of the occupations last for a few days, according to Rachel Avery, one of the protesters at the site. In this case, police told the protesters that they would be checking in on the site at 6 p.m., but gave no word as to whether they had plans to arrest anyone.
In the meantime, says Avery, there’s lots of stuff to do, like set up tents and shade structures, and install solar panels. There’s also plenty of time to educate curious passers-by about the hydrology of the local watershed.
That’s what the call-out to visit on Tumblr was about — kind of like a consciousness-raising group, but under threat of arrest. Why not turn your site occupation into an educational opportunity? It’s just another way, says Avery, “to build a stronger movement.”
As this report went to press, the protesters had settled in for a frisbee match.
Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.
“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.
The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.
After an intensely debated, year-and-a-half battle, the South Portland City Council on Monday sided with residents like Jones who don’t want their city to end up as a new “international hub” for the export of tar-sands oil.
“The message to the tar sands industry is: ‘Don’t be counting your chickens yet,’” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “There is a pattern of communities saying ‘no’ to the threat of tar-sands oil.”
A clear signal
The ordinance could have global implications. The Canadian government expects the nation’s oil industry to be producing 4 million to 6 million barrels of tar-sands bitumen a day within a few years, and it’s pinning its hopes on somehow getting all that oil to coastal ports, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Washington-based pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that the industry needs export pipelines in order for its boom to continue.
South Portland’s move is just the latest setback for plans to pipe the bitumen out to international markets. Another big hurdle is the long delay over the Keystone XL pipeline. And in Canada, pipeline plans have met with opposition from indigenous peoples (known as First Nations), who are taking the lead to stop projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline through British Columbia.
Now, there is a clear signal that communities along the U.S. East Coast will fight tar-sands expansion too.
“Do not under estimate the power of a local government,” said Kuprewicz.
So the city council took up the cause. In December of last year, the council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil out through its port. Then a council-appointed committee crafted the Clear Skies Ordinance to permanently block tar-sands shipments, which is what the council officially approved this week. The law also changes zoning rules to block the construction of twin smokestacks that would be needed to burn off bitumen-thinning chemicals before the oil could be shipped out.
Over the past few months, concerned residents met in homes and Protect South Portland grew. Meanwhile, the group Energy Citizens, backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group, ran ads that said “It’s just oil. From Canada.” The oil companies hired a number of lawyers and brought public relations firms on board.
Protect South Portland spokeswoman MJ Ferrier estimates that the grassroots group was outspent by at least 6 to 1.
So how did residents win over Big Oil? “A lot of perseverance and a lot of community engagement,” Voorhees said.
After the vote, supporters of the ordinance went to a local bar, and “we raised our glasses,” Jones told Grist.
But while local activists are celebrating this week’s win, they know “this is not the end,” said Jones.
South Portland Councilor Tom Blake, who’s been a champion of the effort to protect the city from tar sands, said a legal challenge seems imminent, by either Portland Pipe Line Corp., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, or by the Canadian government. Blake had this message for the oil company and Canadian officials Monday evening: “This ordinance is the will of the people,” he said. “Do not spend millions of dollars and force the city of South Portland to do the same.”
But the oil interests are unlikely to heed his warning.
Tom Hardison, vice president of Portland Pipe Line, told reporters that the city had made a rush decision and bowed to environmental “off-oil extremists.” He added that the zoning changes amounted to a “job-killing ordinance” that prevents the city’s port from adapting to meet the energy needs of North America.
Matthew Manahan, attorney for Portland Pipe Line, told the city council before the vote that its ordinance is “illegal” and “would clearly be preempted by federal and state law.”
“The council is ignoring the law” and “ignoring science,” the lawyer added.
Air and water worries
Like the process of extracting tar-sands oil, the process of transporting it takes a huge toll on the environment. Before the heavy, almost-solid bitumen can be sent through pipelines, it has to be thinned with a concoction of liquid natural gas and other hydrocarbons. And then before it can be loaded onto ships, that concoction has to be burned off. ExxonMobil currently holds permits to build two smokestacks on South Portland’s waterfront that would do the burning.
Ferrier, a retired psychologist and a nun, joined Protect South Portland largely out of concern for what the oil companies’ plans would do to air quality in an area that has already received a “C” for ozone pollution from the American Lung Association. The proposed smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “We know there is benzene in it, a known carcinogen,” said Ferrier.
Resident Andrew Parker had similar concerns. “Tonight is about children,” he said at Monday’s city council meeting. “The oil company will put poison in the air, that is a fact.”
For Mayor Gerard Jalbert, who also sits on the city council and voted in support of the ordinance, it came down to concerns about water quality. The risk of water contamination in the case of a spill far outweighed the nebulous claims about job creation.
“When I look at the economic benefit, which no seems to be able to detail, the risk seems to outweigh the benefit,” Jalbert told Grist.
The easternmost 236-mile stretch of pipeline crosses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in Maine, including the Androscoggin River, the pristine Crooked River, and Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for 15 percent of the state’s population.
Blake, the council member, is worried that using old pipes to transport heavy bitumen could lead to a spill like the one that happened in Mayflower, Ark., in March 2013, when an ExxonMobil pipeline built in the 1940s ruptured and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil.
Saying “no” to tar sands is part of a bigger shift to a greener future in South Portland, Blake added. “Being a community that has been heavily dependent on petroleum, this turns a tide,” the councilor said.
He pointed to a new electric-car charging station at the city’s community center and potential plans to build a solar farm on an old landfill as steps toward a sustainable future. “I think we are starting to walk the talk,” Blake said.
Roger Drouin is a freelance journalist who covers environmental issues. When he’s not reporting or writing, he is out getting almost lost in the woods. He blogs at rogersoutdoorblog.com.
This past weekend, on June 29, TransCanada’s permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to build the Keystone XL pipeline quietly expired.
Well, sort of quietly. The Cowboy & Indian Alliance, which marched on Washington in opposition to Keystone XL earlier this year, held a celebratory buffalo roast at the Rosebud Sioux Spirit Camp and raised a flag with an image of a black snake cut into three parts.
The flag referenced an old prophecy about a black snake that would threaten the community’s land and water. Earlier interpretations had held that the snake was the railroad, and then the highway system. But when the plans for Keystone XL emerged, it seemed clear that, since both black snakes and Keystone XL traveled underground, this was definitely the black snake — or at the very least another one.
The expired permit means that TransCanada will have to go through the application process all over again, facing a much more unified resistance than it did the first time around. The fracking boom in places like North Dakota will also make it much harder for TransCanada to argue — as it did the first time around — that Americans need Canadian crude so urgently that a Canadian pipeline company should be given powers of eminent domain to bring it here.
Keystone XL could still get built, of course. But as time goes on, and the date of the State Department’s yes/no ruling on it keeps getting pushed farther and farther into the future, it seems less and less likely.
The fight against the pipeline is a vindication of the “everything but the kitchen sink” school of organizing, where small groups — like the Cowboy & Indian Alliance — join forces with other organizations for large short-term events, but continue working solo on the kind of gradual, incremental struggles that take years. This is not the kind of organizing that makes it into the history books, because its story is complex and it often lacks obvious heroes. But it’s an approach that, at least in this case, is making history.
“Pipelines aren’t normally shut down for maintenance shortly after being started up. They may have planned it but something is wrong,” an industry insider told DeSmogBlog. “A two day shutdown on a new line raises suspicions.”
“The Gulf Coast Pipeline is the safest oil pipeline built in the United States to date,” TransCanada spokesman David Sheremata told DeSmogBlog.
TransCanada states this claim often, despite the serious issues cited by pipeline regulators in warning letters, along with the two new special conditions added to the existing 57 required if the northern section of the pipeline is permitted.
Can that statement be true after an undisclosed number of new girth welds were introduced into the pipeline during the repair process? Despite the high weld rejection rate that regulators warned TransCanada about, a new pressure test was not required to check the new welds.
“During the first week 26.8 percent of the welds required repairs, 32.0 percent the second week, 72.2 percent the third week, and 45.0 percent the fourth week. On September 25, 2012, TransCanada stopped the Spread 3 welding after 205 of the 425 welds, or 48.2 percent required repairs.” PHMSA wrote TransCanada on September 26, 2013.
“Let’s remember, TransCanada claimed that the Keystone I pipeline system would be one that would ‘meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards’ and leak an average of 1.4 times a decade,” Rocky Kistner, a communications associate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote on the NRDC‘s blog.
Evan Vokes, former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower, told the Wyoming Tribune that speed was put ahead of safety on that project. He noticed problems with pipe alignment welding, excavation and backfilling, among other things while working on that project.
“It is questionable that a pipeline which generates millions of dollars a day, in operation for barely six months, is suddenly off,” Kathy DaSilva, an activist representative of the Tar Sands Blockade, told DeSmogBlog.
This latest incident led the Tar Sands Blockade to renew its call for Keystone XL‘s southern leg to remain shut down until further testing is done to ensure the pipeline’s integrity.
The advocacy group Public Citizen also called for a new pressure test on the pipeline.
“Given the stakes – the looming potential for a catastrophic spill of a hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers, and that comes within just one or two miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible for the federal government to allow tar sands crude to start flowing through the southern leg without ordering a complete hydrostatic retesting of the line and a thorough quality assurance review,” their report on the Keystone XL‘s southern route concluded.
The big question remains: is the Obama administration playing Russian roulette with Texas and Oklahoma aquifers by not requiring the retesting on the Gulf Coast Pipeline?
Faith Spotted Eagle slept. In her sleep, she saw her grandmother, lying on a table, wrapped in a blanket with her white braids on her chest.
Her sister appeared. “What’s going on?” Spotted Eagle asked.
“I don’t know. They told us to come.”
A door opened; a room full of people, ancestors, stared silently. She felt in their stares a sadness, but also a strength. Another door opened to another room with the same scene. She knew that if she were to keep opening doors, all the rooms in the house would be filled with those watchful, silent ancestors.
Spotted Eagle closed her eyes, unsure of what do to, but knowing that it was impolite to stare back. Then her grandmother’s voice came to her.
“Look at the treaties. There’s something in the treaties.”
That’s when she woke up.
Spotted Eagle is a Dakota/Nakota elder of the Ihanktonwan tribe in South Dakota. She wears skirts that brush her ankles, and her white braids hang over her shoulders like her grandmother’s — but when she puts on sunglasses, she looks like a badass.
She didn’t know exactly what the dream meant, but she believed it was the answer to a problem she’d been thinking about for some time: How to prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from going through Lakota traditional territory, sacred land.
“Who will be able to stand with us?” she thought. “We have to stand with somebody.”
She prayed. And then she remembered the 1863 treaty between the Ihanktonwan and the Pawnee that was the first recorded peace treaty between tribes. She also remembered that, throughout the last several decades, alliances of natives and non-natives in the northern Plains had formed and re-formed to defeat threats to land and water. Recently, Lakota elders had made moves to resurrect a new Cowboy Indian Alliance – this time, to take on Keystone XL.
In late January of 2013, exactly 150 years after the signing of that first treaty, Spotted Eagle and other activists convened tribal representatives from across the continent on the Ihanktonwan reservation. Their purpose was to ratify the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands and Keystone XL, a document based on that first 1863 peace treaty. It represented unprecedented unified action from North American indigenous people, with one new addition: This new treaty also included a few of the ranchers from the Great Plains, who feel their lands are also threatened by the tar sands pipeline.
Spotted Eagle told the visitors of how landowners and tribal members had come together in the past, and how they had successfully driven industry off their land. This was a version of the cowboy-Indian story these cowboys hadn’t heard.
Meanwhile, Jane Kleeb — an organizer of landowners with Bold Nebraska — was also looking for support for her small but somewhat isolated band of dissidents back home. Phone calls flew back and forth between South Dakota and Nebraska. Kleeb brought ranchers north to meet with Spotted Eagle and other indigenous leaders; the visitors were nervous and polite, unfamiliar with tribal customs – yet it became clear that they were connected by this pipeline, as well as everything they stood to lose if it went through. An alliance looked promising.
Since then, the alliance has developed, tentatively, through shared purpose. Last week, from April 22-27, members of the budding Cowboy Indian Alliance joined with activists and representatives from tribes across North America in a five-day convergence on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., called Reject and Protect. Wearing moccasins and dusty boots, they ate and prayed together, protested, danced, met with elected officials, and led a 5,000-person march through the streets, beginning each day with ceremony. Their message hung clearly on a banner by the circle of tipis: “No Damn KXL.”
A radical departure
While native/non-native alliances have been forming in various places to prevent all kinds of industrial projects, it is Keystone that has galvanized the environmental movement in a way not seen since the anti-nuclear campaigns of the 1980s. The fight has sparked hundreds of marches, rallies and legal challenges, as well as one of the largest mass civil disobedience actions in the history of the environmental movement.Time magazine wrote in 2013 that it was turning out to be a watershed, the Selma and the Stonewall of the climate movement. That remains to be seen. What’s certain is that the campaign against Keystone has already altered the political landscape.
The environmental movement has long come under criticism for being led by the so-called Big Greens — largely white, middle class membership groups whose interests don’t often represent those actually living in the frontline communities where the pipeline will be built. But the coalition of cowboys and Indians offers a radical departure from this history. Moreover, it is a model of relationship-based organizing, rooted in a kind of spirituality often absent from the progressive world, and — given the role of indigenous leaders — begins to address the violence of colonization in a meaningful way. It may be that these so-called unlikely alliances offer the only chance of forging a movement strong and diverse enough to challenge a continent’s deeply entrenched dependence on fossil fuels.
When TransCanada, the pipeline company, began claiming the right to run the Keystone XL through private property, ranchers and landowners said they finally understood, in some small way, what it might have felt like for Native Americans to lose their land. In speaking of the ranchers, Casey Camp-Horinek, an activist and elder of the Ponca tribe, said, “They, too, are suffering under things like eminent domain. They, too, have had their lifestyles impinged upon by these major corporations.”
The nightmare that’s fostering kinship
The day after Nebraska rancher Bob Allpress rode through the nation’s capitol on horseback in a cavalry contingent of ranchers and tribal members, he was a little stiff. He doesn’t ride much anymore. But Allpress, with his bandana, boots and well-groomed mustache, still looks every inch the cowboy.
When the pipeline route through Nebraska was changed in 2012, ostensibly to avoid the ecologically sensitive Sandhills, the newly proposed path now cut straight through the Allpress’ alfalfa field. If built, the pipeline would lie just 200 yards from their house.
This is no ordinary pipeline, just as tar sands is no ordinary oil. According to aNatural Resources Defense Council report, tar sands oil is 3.6 times more likely to spill than regular oil. It is also highly corrosive and nearly impossible to clean up. Residents who live near the path of Keystone 1 — a smaller, already existing tar sands pipeline operated by TransCanada — know this story already. They saw 14 spills — along its route from Canada to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois — during the pipeline’s first year of operation.
The southern portion of the Keystone XL has already been built through Texas, in spite of grassroots resistance; now, the last northern section remains. Allpress fears that a tar sands spill would contaminate his land and water, rendering it unusable for years to come.
TransCanada used what Allpress calls “the old slap and tickle” when it notified him that the pipeline would go through his land: a nice offer of some compensation up front, but a warning that under the law of eminent domain, the pipeline would go through no matter what.
“TransCanada’s been nothing but deceitful and a bully the entire time,” he said. And in the words of his wife, Nancy, “We felt like we were the sacrifice.”
But cowboys don’t like to be pushed around. So they told TransCanada to shove it, and joined Bold Nebraska, a four-year-old organization led by Jane Kleeb that has emerged as one of TransCanada’s most formidable obstacles. When Bold Nebraska began partnering with tribes in South Dakota, the Allpresses were on board. They’ve since attended their first tribal council meetings, gone to rallies and public hearings, and written op-eds to Nebraska papers, refuting what Allpress calls TransCanada’s massive public relations campaign.
Environmental activism isn’t exactly what the Allpresses had in mind when they returned to Nebraska to retire from careers in government and the military, and investing what they had in their land.
“I’m a redneck Republican,” Allpress joked. He and his wife are both ex-military. “Standing there in cowboy boots and a hat next to people in peace necklaces and hemp shirts” is a little outside his comfort zone. “It’s been — an experience. A good experience. We’ve enjoyed the hell out of it.”
As the sun set on the first evening of the Washington, D.C. gathering, folks sat under a white tent, eating dinner on paper plates and taking refuge from the tourists who swarm the camp, saying, “Look! Real Indians!”
In one corner, the Allpresses were getting advice from fellow rancher Julia Trigg Crawford from Texas. She’s been fighting Transcanada for years — despite having to concede temporary defeat when the pipeline was installed and began pumping oil through her family’s property. Crawford filed suit and is now waiting for the Supreme Court of Texas to take up her case.
“I’m going down swinging,” she said.
The pipeline fight may be these people’s worst nightmare, but it has fostered a sense of kinship. All along its path, communities are uniting under a shared narrative of fossil fuel exploitation and resistance. Similar patterns are coalescing along the paths of the other tar sands pipelines around the continent, from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Maine.
Like the Cowboy Indian Alliance, partnerships between natives and non-natives have emerged to fight tar sands — and it’s part of a larger trend right now across regions and environmental issues. Zoltán Grossman, a professor of Geography and Native Studies at Evergreen State College, has written extensively about such alliances, pointing to examples of tribes and fishermen who prevented dams and logging in the Northwest, as well as Western Shoshone and ranchers who fought bomb testing in Nevada. In recent years members of the Unist’ot’en clan in British Columbia have invited busloads of non-natives from all over Canada to help prevent a slew of tar sands and gas pipelines from crossing their land. The Cowboy Indian Alliance isn’t alone.
Fossil fuel fights are also bringing together tribes within the indigenous community, some of whom have never had a formal relationship. The tar sands cover parts of Alberta which various First Nations call home, and Crystal Lameman’s Beaver Lake Cree First Nation is among them. Lameman spent much of the week in Washington flanked by Faith Spotted Eagle and Casey Camp-Horinek, two of the leaders who are mobilizing their tribes along the length of the pipeline.
Camp-Horinek is a member of the Ponca tribe, which was forcibly relocated from Nebraska to Oklahoma in 1877. The pipeline, which originates near Lameman’s reserve, will carry tar sands along the very same path as the Ponca Trail of Tears. Camp-Horinek sees this as a direct affront to her people’s memory. And each of the women consider the tar sands a threat to their sacred land.
Camp-Horinek wears her graying braids down over her shoulders, a black shawl, and earrings, round like suns. Lameman is perhaps 30 years younger, with lipstick, outrageously long eyelashes and hair down to her waist. Despite the age difference, they’re both emblematic of the indigenous women leaders who are serving as mentors, organizers and spiritual leaders to their communities. They speak deliberately, as if their words matter. They do not say “um” or “like.” They sit up straight and laugh often.
Both women’s tribes — along with the Cowboy Indian Alliance — are some of the signatories to the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands and Keystone XL. In a show of defiance and unity, several tribal councils in the United States have also passed individual resolutions condemning the Keystone XL. And Idle No More, a grassroots indigenous rights movement that sprang up suddenly in Canada during the winter of 2012, now has 700 chapters in eight countries. Thanks in part to the rise of digital networks, indigenous peoples today are reaching out to each other in ways that were unthinkable even 15 years ago.
Creating a spiritually integrated environmental movement
Each morning, the Reject and Protect encampment opened with a ceremony around the sacred fire, which was kept burning throughout the week. As smoke drifted up into the morning sun, the circle of participants — indigenous, white, young and old — would stay quiet as an elder offered a prayer.
What most don’t realize is that this would have been impossible until fairly recently. Native ceremonies were illegal for most of the 20th century as part of the U.S. government’s effort to hasten assimilation by suppressing native culture. American Indian spiritual practices were only protected by federal legislation in 1978.
The tribal elders have brought ritual to the Cowboy Indian Alliance, rooting every gathering in native ceremony. Faith often makes progressives uncomfortable; the environmental movement, to be sure, has remained stubbornly secular in the interest of inclusivity and scientific rationality. But here, people don’t seem to mind. They’re solemn; it gives each day a rhythm, a ritual, a reminder that they’re all connected to ancestors, earth and each other.
Since many of history’s most powerful social movements — from civil rights to anti-apartheid — have gained strength from a firm grounding in faith, it begs the question of whether something has been lost by remaining steadfastly irreligious. And in a country where 80 percent of the population claims some spiritual affiliation, there’s a preexisting organizational network that’s largely untapped by the environmental movement. It’s possible that the Cowboy Indian Alliance offers a glimpse into what a spiritually integrated environmental movement might look like, honoring diversity while resisting cooptation.
Part of embracing ceremony is slowing down to a more human pace of organizing — one where priority is given to relationships. Naturally, the alliance organizes on conference calls and on smart phones, but they make time for in-person gatherings, some of which last for several days, where time is given to sitting around and just talking. Telling stories, introducing their grandkids, spending time out on the land. They know that an alliance like this, tenuous and young, lives or dies by the strength of its relationships.
Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska’s fearless leader, says that these relationships are a part of the strategy. The early alliance meetings were about “sharing stories and building trust, so that whatever TransCanada tries to do, we were a stronger alliance that they couldn’t break.” Since the alliance lacks TransCanada’s bottomless bank account, she laughed, “The only thing I can do is build those relationships.”
By supporting native rights, the Cowboy Indian Alliance is beginning the dialogue not just about broken treaties, but about the long history of colonization, the effects of which are ongoing among some of the United States’ poorest populations. Clayton Thomas-Muller, an indigenous organizer from Canada, said that the alliance “represents an important step towards reconciling America’s bloody colonial history.”
This is perhaps why the scene on that first sunny morning of Reject and Protect was so symbolic. In accordance with custom, the alliance leaders gathered before the Chief of the Piscataway Tribe, Billy Red Wing Tayac, and formally requested permission to enter Washington, D.C. — what was originally considered Piscataway territory.
And so it was that Bob Allpress, a fourth-generation rancher, born and raised on what was once Lakota land, found himself presenting an offering to Chief Tayac, encircled by a throng of photographers. The weight of history bore down on them all — the forced removals, the outlawing of native traditions and ceremony, the theft of land guaranteed by treaties the U.S. government never really intended to keep. With the Capitol dome looming pale behind him, Chief Tayac accepted the handmade blue-jean blanket and said, “We welcome you, and we welcome all cowboys in the fight against the pipeline.”
Standing on the shoulders of earlier alliances
“Unprecedented” is a word that’s heard often in the Cowboy Indian Alliance. What most don’t realize, however, is that there is a long history of successful alliances between natives and non-natives, particularly around industrial projects that residents see as a threat to land and water.
This is actually a later incarnation of an alliance that was first formed in 1987 to prevent a Honeywell weapons testing range in the Black Hills, one of the most sacred sites in Lakota cosmology – where, in the 1970s, alliances successfully fended off coal and uranium mining. In 1980, a rancher, Marvin Kamerer, hosted 11,000 visitors at a Black Hills Survival Gathering to learn about native rights, sustainable living and clean energy. According to Native Studies scholar Zoltán Grossman, similar alliances prevented a toxic waste dump on Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in 1990, a hog farm and coal trains in the early 2000s, and Kevin Costner’s resort complex in 2002 — to name a few.
Although the alliances have generally dissolved after each campaign, each one set a precedent for future collaboration. And while they haven’t been easy, they’ve been remarkably effective.
Alliances like this go unreported, Grossman believes, because “they’re more dangerous to the status quo” than stories of conflict — that is, because they might inspire people to work together.
“The Keystone pipeline effort is standing on the shoulders of earlier successful efforts at alliance-building,” he said. “So I’m not surprised that it’s been as powerful as it has been.”
In August of 2011, 1,253 people were arrested at the White House protesting Keystone. Indigenous activists came from all over North America, going to jail side by side with non-native activists. Thomas-Muller, who also organizes with Idle No More, said that 350.org — one of the major facilitators of the action — made the move to reach out to the indigenous community and that “resulted in the biggest civil disobedience since the Vietnam War.”
The choice to focus on the pipeline came after a spectacular failure of a political strategy in which BigGreenthrew all of its weight behind the climate bill — officially known as the American Clean Energy and Securities Act. After the bill failed in the Senate, there was widespread disenchantment with the political process, a sense that the one chance for federal legislation had been lost, that the influence of the fossil fuel industry in Congress was too great. What resulted was a shift in focus away from Washington and toward local fights over coal, oil and natural gas — and a recognition that a movement isn’t really a movement unless it’s led by its grassroots base.
Enter Keystone. This was everything the climate bill was not: concrete, and easy to understand and get behind.
“You’re either for it or against it,” said Jason Kowalski, Political Director of 350.org, which helped support Reject and Protect. “The oil either flows, or it doesn’t.”
And by physically connecting impacted communities in America’s red state heartland from Alberta to Texas, it also offered a way to connect them through shared opposition — and, ultimately, shared values.
Since then, some mainstream environmental organizations have begun to step back and allow environmental justice organizations to come to the fore, something that Kowalski says hasn’t always happened.
“The indigenous people who are here have been doing this longer, and in a more heartfelt way, than any of us can imagine, on the frontlines of this fight,” Kowalski said.
Ultimately, though, there’s only one person who will make a decision on Keystone: President Obama. And so on Wednesday, April 23, nine leaders from both the cowboy and tribal contingents met with three staffers from the Obama administration to ask the president to reject the pipeline.
There was a buzz in the air at the encampment when they returned— Camp-Horinek, Faith Spotted Eagle and their compatriots were still charged from the encounter.
Each had taken a turn in the meeting telling their stories to the three staffers, in an effort to demonstrate that, in Camp-Horinek’s words, “We’re part of a devastating pipeline story that is as clear and as connected as they want Keystone XL to be.”
But the representatives of the administration, she said, remained “100 percent stone-faced.”
These were the presidents of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux nations — sovereign nations whose treaties entitle them to meet with similarly ranked heads of state, she noted, before asking, “Where was the President of this nation to meet with us?”
So they walked out.
Tribal relationships with the United States government have, for obvious reasons, been fraught with bad feelings. Centuries of land theft, racism, genocide and forced assimilation cannot be erased overnight.
The cowboy contingent stayed, wanting to take advantage of this chance to tell their stories – hoping that some part would make its way up the ladder. But they left feeling equally discouraged. The distance between Washington and Nebraska seemed great indeed.
The White House couldn’t be reached for comment. But, according to the meeting attendees, there was something good that came out of it: assurance that the Obama administration had taken note of the coalitions, the “very different people that are coming together” around the pipeline, said Camp-Horinek. “They’re paying attention.”
The elephant in the room — or, in this case, the tipi — is the problem of land ownership. What happens when a rancher speaks of “my land” or “my private property” to a room full of people who believe that the land was stolen, and never really belonged to them in the first place? How to begin to address the competing claims to land that is central to the identity and culture of both groups?
The Cowboy Indian Alliance doesn’t seem ready to address this in public just yet. There are speeches, expressions of gratitude, fortitude, even love. The wounds of history are alluded to, but obliquely. For now, at least, these questions are secondary to the urgency of fighting the pipeline. “The land doesn’t belong to us — we’re just caretakers” is a sentiment that’s frequently heard.
Behind closed doors, however, at the first meeting of the alliance, the tribal elders laid it all out.
“We pulled no punches with them,” Camp-Horinek said. “About how the land that they live on now became land that they could buy and sell. It was our blood.”
She also insisted that “It’s part of their history as well as ours. And it has to be brought out and spoken of, or else there isn’t an alliance.”
As much as the alliance represents a step towards healing old wounds, it remains just that — a step. As a movement, said Thomas-Muller, “we need to develop an organizing framework that effectively addresses racism, oppression, misogyny and colonialism.” That work is beginning, he believes, but there’s a long way to go.
While any real dialogue about colonialism has been set aside for the moment, it has by no means disappeared. Grossman, in his study of history’s successful alliances, writes that this may not be a bad thing; that the “conventional wisdom” which tells coalitions to emphasize sameness, to downplay the native rights issue in favor of unity, is ultimately self-defeating.
“I’ve concluded that the conventional wisdom is largely bullshit,” he writes. “Emphasizing unity over diversity can actually be harmful to building deep, lasting alliances between native and non-native communities. History shows the opposite to be true: the stronger that native peoples assert their nationhood, the stronger their alliances with non-Indian neighbors.”
Grossman has a warning. “There’s always going to be an effort either to prevent alliances from coming together,” he said, by exploiting racial or class conflicts between groups. Often, that means corporations will make concessions benefiting only the privileged group in the hope that they’ll take what they can and leave. According to Grossman, alliances need to plan in advance for the inevitable divide and conquer tactics that are “as old as colonialism.”
“And the response should be: we’re not going to go home until everyone has their demands met,” he said.
Maybe their next meeting at the White House will be with Obama himself. And maybe then, if they decide to walk out, they’ll walk out together.
It’s more than property rights
In 1882, Bob Allpress’ great-grandfather built his homestead on a patch of land south of the Keya Paha River on what was then Lakota land. The land rolls under a wide sky, the hills curving like muscles of the earth.
In 1886, the Lakota signed a treaty with the U.S. government, and were relocated to reservations on the other side of the river. According to family lore, though, Allpress’ family maintained good relations with their Lakota neighbors. His great-uncle and grandfather both spoke fluent Lakota.
One hundred and thirty years later, the Allpresses invited members of the budding Cowboy Indian Alliance, including Faith Spotted Eagle, to their farm. Allpress thought there might be sacred sites somewhere on it; he’d found beads and arrowheads. Spotted Eagle, gazing over the rolling landscape, pointed to the highest ridge and told the others what she knew: that this was a burial site, sacred ground.
The pipeline, Allpress said, would “cut right down the middle of that ridge.”
He looked down at his hands for a moment before continuing. “I keep trying to tell them, but they don’t seem to care. That’s what pissed me off. They don’t care.”
This, of course, is what brings these cowboys and these Indians together: land. For some landowners it’s merely a problem of property rights. For most, though, it goes far deeper, down below the grass and soil to the very roots of their identities as either cowboys or Indians, to a sense that they are irrevocably tied to this land, that if you poison it, that they will be poisoned too.
This is why a concurrent event — to Reject and Protect in Washington — took place in Red Shirt, S.D.: a three-day nonviolent direct action training, preparing participants to physically block TransCanada’s bulldozers. It was part of a series of trainings in Lakota territory called Moccasins on the Ground that have been happening for over a year in anticipation of Obama’s pipeline decision.
“We cannot sit and wait for his decision,” the website says. “We must act now and be ready to protect our sacred water, our lands, our families.” Keystone XL — and industrial projects like it — have truly engendered a unity among indigenous peoples across North America that is unprecedented in any era.
Meanwhile, when the tipis were rolled back up and the week-long event came to a close, landowners like Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, weren’t thinking about a vacation. They’ve got plans too.
On June 20, TransCanada’s pipeline permit will expire in South Dakota – which means that, along with Nebraska, it will be the second state where regulatory holdups are delaying the pipeline. She’s got a long list of rallies, political campaigns and court cases to organize around. For the moment, Obama’s decision has been delayed until after the November elections. For Kleeb, this is more time to grow the movement. But mostly, she wants to build.
“It takes out a lot of you to be fighting all the time — to be in the ‘warrior stance,’” she said from her car, on her way to a meeting with reporters. According to Kleeb, the focus, post-Keystone — no matter the decision — will be on constructing small clean energy projects, like the Build Our Energy Barn, constructed by volunteers in the path of the pipeline and powered by wind and solar. “Farmers and ranchers and tribes are very self-reliant,” she said, and will want to generate their own energy that doesn’t rely on imported fossil fuels.
There is an old Lakota prophecy of a black snake, a creature that would rise from the deep, bringing with it great sorrow and great destruction. For many years, the Lakota people have wondered what the prophecy meant and when it would come to pass.
When they heard news of this pipeline – this tube, immeasurably long, that would pump black oil through the heart of this country — some Lakota people began to wonder if the snake appeared at last.
These cowboys and Indians believe they will win. But what then? Will this alliance fall apart, as others have in the past? If they defeat this black snake, what happens to the other black snakes, in other back yards, to the network of pipelines that are spreading across the land like veins? Will the relationships last?
“No doubt,” said Kleeb. She’s received messages from landowners saying that the week in Washington “touched them to their very core. One of the landowners said that it gave them a deep, emotional respect for their fellow landowners and ranchers but also for the tribes, which they didn’t have before.”
Casey Camp-Horinek said that she’s not privy to the future. “But the people that we are aligning ourselves with,” she said, “I really believe they’re going to help us uphold those treaty rights.”
There is another prophecy that is also spoken of by tribal elders from different nations: the prophecy of the Seventh Generation, which, loosely put, foretells a time when young people would lead an uprising, joining with other peoples to defend land and allow humans to continue living on the earth.
Far from her homeland, in the middle of the National Mall, flanked by monuments to a colonizing nation, Camp-Horinek spoke of the work before her, and for her sons and their children, who are also here. Joining with cowboys, she said, “fulfills not only the prophecy, but it fulfills a sacred duty that we were born with.”
You ask me to plow the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest.
You ask me to dig for stones! Shall I dig under her skin for bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again…
Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.
The Earth will be fine.
Humans are such an arrogant bunch—“We’re killing the Earth. We’re destroying the Earth.” No you’re not. Shut up. We can’t do that.
Some folks have a God complex.
The Earth is our Mother—she ain’t going no place. In fact, Earth is an Indian mom; powerful, resilient, beautiful and will survive the very worst that the universe can give. Sure, she had it rough early on, but she’s got that elasticity in her skin. “Ancient Native Secret”—those damn brown skinned Natives, they age so well. But like many Indian moms, Mother Earth hasn’t always been appreciated right; she’s been knocked around a little bit. Quite a bit. Domestic violence is prevalent within our communities. And like a lot of Native moms, folks won’t understand her TRUE beauty, until it’s too late, until that moment when they realize that they won’t get a chance to see her anymore.
But it won’t be because she’s gone. She’ll be fine—she ain’t going no place. It’s us human beings that are in trouble. Our children. Our grandchildren. We’re effing up THEIR prospects.
I’m thankful for all of the people—Native AND non-Native—who have been diligently working to stifle and defeat the Keystone XL pipeline. I’m proud to see Natives who understand that our biggest battles aren’t in blogs and classrooms, but in our homelands—those homelands are the very ESSENCE of being Indigenous (as opposed to simply being legally “Indian”). We must protect those homelands at all costs—thank you, warriors, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles—for fighting for all of us. Thank you for being there and taking a stand.
‘Winona LaDuke &Faith Spotted Eagle Make a Stand’ by John Isaiah Pepion, 2014, pepionledgerart.com
Thank you beautiful and brilliant Aunties Faith Spotted Eagle and Winona LaDuke for CONTINUING to be the voices of reason within Indian Country. It’s sad and ironic—these brilliant sisters who are calling for the most reasonable solution to the current crisis in our homelands—are called “radicals.”
You are powerful women. Our lifegivers. Our life sustainers.
There are many more. Thank you to the artists who are taking a stand and giving support to the folks on the ground. For example, John Isaiah Pepion, Blackfeet Ledger Artist, was compelled to action on these fracking and drilling issues when the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council passed a resolution approving the drilling of one of the Blackfeet Holy Sites—Chief Mountain. Pepion said, “It broke my heart—we as a Blackfeet nation—have had oil development for over 100 years and it’s never benefited us. We just get ripped off and it causes a lot of damage to our waters. Illegal dumping from these fracking sites…”
Thank you. Let’s keep up the pressure. Keep supporting our warriors.
Our artists have also joined us. This resistance isn’t new—many Native people have been fighting it for many, many years. In fact, these many brothers and sisters who have taken on this fight on behalf of Mother Earth are fighting the EXACT SAME fight for our precious homelands that we’ve been fighting since Europeans first landed on these shores. We are simply small cogs in this multi-century fight; now, it has ZERO to do with skin color or race. We now have some white allies—the descendants of those who fought against our Native ancestors. We also have some Native adversaries—many of our people are just as prone to scorch the Earth for filthy lucre. There are many Natives who are bought and paid for and whose homelands are suffering from this damage to Mother Earth.
‘Holding On (Oil On Chief Mountain)’ by John Isaiah Pepion, 2014, pepionledgerart.com
This is a call to action. Right now, the State Department has THANKFULLY delayed approval or rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline again. That’s positive—that means that all of the actions of Dallas and Faith and Winona and the Niimiipu Tribe and Cheyenne River, Oglala Lakota, Honor the Earth, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred and John Pepion and MANY MANY others are paying off. There are literally tipis on the National Mall right now full of Native people taking a stand against the Keystone XL. Thank you. You’re making a mark. We have to make a mark—this is about the very essence of Indigenous life—our mother. Our land.
It’s not enough. We have to continue to work, sign petitions, put pressure on, make coalitions. Small steps—John Isaiah Pepion is committing a percentage of all earnings from his ledger art prints above to help this fight by directing it to Honor the Earth and Stronghold Society. Buy a print. They’re beautiful and powerful.
Small steps. Put one foot in front of the other. This is Native power. This is a fight worth fighting and worth winning. For our kids’ sakes.
Get involved. Call your legislator. Encourage NIGA, NCAI and every other Native organization to take a strong stand on this IMMEDIATELY—economic development is cool and important, and it’s good that we’ve worked on those fights. We also, however, have to make sure that we’re protecting our traditional ways of life and being. Our nations absolutely gotta have money, true, but these kinda fights are the very things that make us Indigenous and what we gotta have money FOR! Show these grassroots warriors your support. This fight ain’t over and we really REALLY could win this. The Earth will be fine, but our kids need this. Happy Earth Day.