Political Matters: 'An act of war against our people'
Friday, January 09 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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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 land.

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.

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