‘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.