Political Matters: 'An act of war against our people'


mordecai_specktor_some.jpg‘An act of war against our people’

I tried to call Cyril Scott, the

president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota Oyate), after

Thanksgiving. Nobody in his office was answering the phone; but I was

a little surprised that the on-hold music was “Foxy Lady” by Jimi

Hendrix. So, there’s that.

On another tangent, I recall visiting

Rosebud more than 30 years ago. I stopped on the way to one of the

Black Hills survival gatherings, in 1979 or 1980, and interviewed

Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota spiritual leader who came to prominence

during Wounded Knee II. And I later spent time at Crow Dog’s

Paradise to support a friend on a Vision Quest and at a Sun Dance.

On one of these trips, I traveled by

car from Minneapolis with friends and we stopped in Winner, on the

eastern border of the rez. The off-reservation towns in South Dakota

and Nebraska have a reputation for anti-Indian racism. As we were

about to enter a café in Winner, my friend, who was from Rosebud,

commented, “Mordecai, they don’t like Indians here; but after

Indians, they don’t like Jews.” I was a stranger in a strange


Anyway, Cyril Scott was in the news

after the U.S. House of Representatives voted Nov. 14 to approve

construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring dirty tar

sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

“The House has now signed our death

warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe will not allow this pipeline through our

lands,” Scott said, in a statement that was widely reported. “We

are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a

sovereign nation, and we are not being treated as such. We will close

our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an

act of war against our people.”

The Rosebud tribe’s statement noted

that the Keystone XL pipeline would traverse land that is part of the

1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties, and cross the border of Rosebud

and Cheyenne River reservations.

TransCanada, the company that proposed

KXL, in 2005, has its headquarters in Calgary, Alberta.

Environmentalists, rural farmers and American Indian nations –

among others – have been campaigning in opposition to the proposed

1,179-mile, 36-inch diameter, crude oil pipeline. A pipeline accident

would contaminate ground and surface waters. (In my column last

month, I mentioned the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, in Michigan,

which was one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.)

Further, scientists say that the

development of unconventional oil, such as the Alberta tar sands,

will worsen the global climate change situation.

On this critical point, James Hansen,

a NASA climatologist who was been sounding the alarm about climate

change since 1988, says, “To avoid passing tipping points, such as

initiation of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we need

to limit the climate forcing severely. It’s still possible to do

that, if we phase down carbon emissions rapidly, but that means

moving expeditiously to clean energies of the future.”

Regarding the oil from Alberta and the

big pipe that would send it south, Hansen warns, “Moving to tar

sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the

planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating

either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they

just don’t give a damn. People who care should draw the line.”

And people, including American Indians

across North America, are drawing the line against the assault

against people and the environment posed by oil development. In

Canada, environmental activists and numerous First Nations are

resisting Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would

carry bitumen (tar sands crude oil) from Alberta to the coast of

British Columbia, where the oil would be loaded into supertankers and

transported to Asian refineries.

The oil industry and mining firms have

vast resources; and these corporate interests are continually probing

communities for political weakness, in order to impose destructive

energy and extraction projects. Over many generations, Indian Country

has born the brunt of these industrial projects – the nuclear fuel

cycle, for example, has exploited Indian lands for uranium mining,

waste dumps and atom bomb tests.

Perhaps popular movements can still

turn the tide against environmental destruction and the catastrophe

of global climate change. This is the struggle of our times and we

should be paying attention and getting involved. Push is coming to

shove in many places.