Rally Against Pipeline Expansion
Tuesday, July 21 2015
Written by Jim Lenfestey,
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rally against pipeline expansion.jpgOn June 6, more than 5,000 colorful, committed marchers snaked through the streets of downtown St. Paul from the banks of the Mississippi River to the State Capital, the first shrouded in morning mist, the second shrouded in construction scaffolding. Marchers were rallying to say no to expansion of the matrix of pipelines that cuts through northern Minnesota carrying Alberta tar sands oil and fracked Bakken crude, potentially endangering the freshwater heart of Minnesota’s native land.

Aztec drums and conch musicians led the march. At the capital, Greg Grey Cloud offered a welcome song and later there was a performance by Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota hip hop artist, among other musicians.

Many native speakers led the rally in front of the capital building, as Native communities are directly faced with the impacts of pipeline expansion and are leading the charge against them. Winona LaDuke (White Earth Anishinabe), founder of Honor the Earth, and Tom Goldtooth (Dine/Dakota), executive director of Indigenous Environmental Network, have organized for decades to call attention to better ways to manage our planet than tearing out its natural resources and are leaders in the effort opposing pipeline expansion.

LaDuke asked the crowd to support, “us and tribal governments tribal leadership” who are in saying “no” to pipelines crossing reservation and treaty lands. “[They] cannot poison us,” she declared, telling the audience, “you have a choice between water and oil. Make the right choice.” She told a story that, at a protest in in Washington, D.C. a year ago, she walked from her tipi to a ride in an all-electric car. “That’s what the future looks like,” she said,” from a tipi to a Tesla.”

Melissa Daniels (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation) spoke on behalf of the estimated 23,000 Aboriginal people who live in the devastated area of Alberta’s oil sands development – 18 First Nations and six Métis Settlements located in the region. She testified to the dramatic local impacts of tar sands development and the robust resistance of native communities and allies across Canada to pipeline expansion.

How bad is tar sands oil extraction in Alberta? A google search for photos of Alberta tar sands turned up this from an article in Business Insider: “These Pictures May Give you Nightmares about The Canada Oil Sands.” And this: “We're not saying the project is good or bad. We're just saying the scale and severity of what's happening in Alberta will make your spine tingle.” And this from Wikipedia: Or read this selection from Wikipedia: “The Athabasca River is the largest freshwater delta in the world but with Suncor and Syncrude leaking tail ponds the amount of polluted water will exceed 1 billion cubic meters by 2020.”

According to information from the Indigenous Environmental Network, “In 2006, unexpectedly high rate of rare cancers were reported in the community of Fort Chipewyan. In 2008, Alberta Health confirmed a 30% rise in the number of cancers between 1995-2006. However, the study lacks appropriate data and is considered a conservative estimate by many residents. 

Caribou populations have been severely impacted by tar sands extraction. The Beaver Lake Cree First Nation has experienced a 74% decline of the Cold Lake herd since 1998 and a 71% decline of the Athabasca River herd since 1996. Today, just 175 – 275 caribou remain. By 2025, the total population is expected to be less than 50 and locally extinct by 2040.”rally against pipeline expansion-2.jpg

With signs and activism, the marchers in St. Paul said, “this IS bad!”

Participants also heard from Bill McKibben, a pioneering climate journalist and distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont. McKibben wrote the first book on the climate crisis 26 years ago, “The End of Nature,” and founded 350.org in 2008 as a grass roots climate advocacy organization. The number 350 refers to parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide, the number many scientists believe is the maximum carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere before climate tips significantly away from historic norms.

The current concentration, according to NOAA data, is 402 ppm, rising about 2ppm a year. McKibben told the crowd that Minnesota is “ground zero” for stopping oil pipeline expansion and climate change, and complemented the marchers for their organized energy and activism.

A surprise powerhouse speaker was Alilah Sanders-Reed, a student at Macalaster College in St. Paul, who roused the crowd with a plea for her generation who faces the brunt of the climate crisis.

The rally peacefully dispersed under cloudy St. Paul skies. But the battle against destructive fossil fuel development continues at the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature, across northern Minnesota, in Alberta and around the earth. On June 14, more than 100 scientists delivered a statement to the Canadian government, saying “expanding tar sands will be catastrophic for the climate and environment.”

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