Tribes Begin Defense Against Keystone XL


Spiritual Encampments Planned Along

Proposed Route

With the release

of a U.S. State Department environmental impact study of the

controversial Keystone XL pipeline that reported no significant

impact, tribes and environmental groups across the Northern Plains

rallied against the project’s advancement.

Over the next 90 days, during which,

the federal government begins its final review process for approval

of the pipeline, an alliance of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes in

South Dakota and Nebraska – known as the Oceti Sakowin (Seven

Council Fires), analogous to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe – have

gone on a defensive campaign against TransCanada, the company

responsible for the proposed pipeline.

Of those tribal nations dissenting,

the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has taken the lead in opposing the pipeline

approval process. It launched an initiative called Oyate Wahacanka

Woecun (“Shield the People”) through its Tribal Historic

Preservation Office, that is calling for action from all corners of

the political world beginning with environmental activists all the

way up to the White House. One of the project’s direct actions in

opposing the pipeline will be to set up a series of tipi encampments

along the proposed route in South Dakota and Nebraska, beginning at

the end of March and going throughout the summer.

According to a video produced by the

project, and featuring tribal officials and spiritual leaders,

including Leonard Crow Dog, Sr., a set of tipi sites will be erected

to, “provide awareness on the need for cultural preservation based

on the existing treaties with the United States government and to

shine a light on the root cause of the XL Pipeline … greed.”

Project public relations coordinator

Aldo Seoane highlighted consultation by the State Department as the

impetus for the tribes’ resistance to the Keystone XL project. “We’re

oposing the pipeline for several reasons. The main is the

programmatic agreement, we weren’t approached to be a part of [it].

And even the land survey and site survey they did wasn’t done


He continued by detailing what the

tribes believes were missteps in the company’s research

methodologies. “The Tribal Historic Preservation Office was not

contacted – [TransCanada] actually went with the Yankton Sioux

Tribe … [it] did not do an on-the-ground survey. We don’t think

[Yankton] was aware that that was what they were going to use the

information for. But when you look at the EIS report, it doesn’t show

any culturally-significant areas. When we went and did our study of

just one section of the pipeline route, we found cultural marking.

THPO found a turtle effigy on the pipeline route, right where the

pipe is going through, south of Colome.”

While the tribes have been largely

silent to media on the issues, Seoane explained they saw it as an

internal political matter to be handled at the top federal levels.

“They’ve been fighting since Keystone 1 was put in the ground, six

years ago. A lot of the tribes initially took the stance of silence,

like we’re not going to acknowledge it because it fell under treaty

responsibilities: it’s the Department of Interior’s treaty

responsibility and trust responsibility to look after our resources.”

However, with the federal government’s

most recent EIS report, the tribes have taken a new approach to

making their case against the pipeline. “When we saw that those

responsibilities weren’t being held by them, that’s when we began to

act. We saw this work that’s being done by TransCanada and this

report that’s being generated, we knew we had to take a stand. So we

created [Shield the People] through THPO.”

The fight against the pipeline began

in earnest in October when Rosebud started utilizing its tribal

officials to lobby the Obama administration at every level. Included

in that strategy were multiple partnerships with activist

organizations such as the Sierra Club, and Bold Nebraska. The

latter organization, an alliance of landowners in Nebraska, had been

primarily focused on fighting the use of eminent domain by

TransCanada to clear the pipeline’s path.

On Feb. 19, Lancaster County Judge

Stephanie Stacy ruled that a 2012 state law that allowed Nebraska

Gov. Dave Heineman to employ eminent domain against landowners

overreached his authority. The ruling allowed the process to be

handled by the state’s Public Service Commission. TransCanada said it

disagreed with the decision but remained silent on whether or not it

would appeal the decision at the state level.

In addition to legal avenues by

allies, the tribes have started their own political pressure on the

Obama administration. A small delegation from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

traveled to Washington, D.C. in late February to confront officials

in the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection

Agency. According to the tribe, the errors in the programmatic

agreement and the EIS were glaring and required correction. Tribal

President Cyril Scott, Council Representatives Russell Eagle Bear,

Gabriel Medicine Eagle and Ben Rhodd, a tribal archaeologist, met

with administration officials but received no immediate word on

whether or not their objections would be weighed in the final

decision. “We haven’t gotten anything back from them and it’s

really disheartening. We’re really disappointed that they take their

responsibilities so lightly. We hope that we have the opportunity to

meet with the president and that he would weigh the concerns of the

people along with his own guidelines on consultation,” Seoane said.

The effort to fight the Obama

administration on the pipeline was made even more poignant when

tribal activists on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” called on the president

to honor treaty obligations, by invoking his adopted Apsaalooke

(Crow) family name. In 2008, Obama was adopted into the tribe by

Hartford and Mary Black Eagle and given the name, “One Who Helps

People Throughout the Land.” Gary Dorr, Nez Perce, said, “I would

ask him to look at his own initiative on consultation and these

tribes that are all along from Montana all the way down to Texas. We

deserve that consultation, we enjoy a special relationship with the

United States as a nation-to-nation government.”

Another point at issue for tribes in

the Oceti Sakowin is the mixed messages sent by the administration.

In 2011, the Interior Department launched its Tribal Consultation

Policy, which advocates say was left largely ignored throughout the

Keystone XL approval process.

“The major concern we have is

obviously the effect that it could have on the natural resources, on

the people, on the sacred sites. And the fact that the tribe has not

been consulted, multiple tribes have not been consulted, as part of

this process, which is required under Section 106 of the National

Historic Preservation Act and it’s also required by the Presidential

Initiative on Tribal Consultation,” Dorr said. According to a press

release, the tribes were invited to sign the programmatic agreement

as a concurring party and not as a signatory party, a distinction

that allows for the tribes to execute, amend or terminate any

memorandum of agreement on any tribal issue.

But for all the political posturing

and legal wrangling, the most alarming account of the interactions

between the company and tribes was, according to Seoane, when tribal

representatives sought out an interaction with a company

representative, known only as Mr. Anderson. “We met with them –

it wasn’t because they asked us – we actually heard they were going

to be in a neighboring community of Winner. So we went out there to

give them a copy of our resolution against TransCanada and we had

previous resolutions drafted and various talking points. But this one

is very specific to us not acknowledging the pipeline and our intent

to stop them,” Seoane said.

An overwhelming issue for tribes in

the path of the Keystone XL pipeline is the potential for sexual

violence, stemming from the work camps which could be made up of up

to 600 men. Given reports of sexual violence in North Dakota’s Bakken

oil fields, the tribes are not eager to expose their citizens to more

potential for sexual violence. “We asked their representatives

various questions they couldn’t answer. Our biggest concern – along

with the water and treaty violations – was what happens to our

women and children because of the jurisdictional issues that are

associated with having non-Native men so close to Native women? And

that was something they hadn’t considered and they couldn’t give us a

response,” Seoane said.

With the statistical realities that

one in three Native women have been exposed to violence and of those,

86 percent of those crimes reported are perpetrated by non-Natives,

the tribes are mindful of the potential risks in exposing their

communities to situations like those in North Dakota.

“There was a situation that occurred

in North Dakota where a young boy was passed around for three months,

between trailers before people found out. And like, how are you going

stop that? How are you going to stop women from being taken,

abducted, or how are you going to stop all the violence that occurs?

And we even asked them, ‘what are your background check requirements?

Do you have pedophiles in your organization, working for you?’ And

[Anderson] couldn’t respond – he said, ‘well that’s the

responsibility of the subcontractor but we stress upon them … ‘”

Although education and advocacy remain

the first weapons for the tribes in fighting the pipeline, they

remain realistic about expectations. “The tribes would continue to

object to it because there’s no way TransCanada can meet any or all

of those terms. We’re talking about the fact that the pipeline is the

entire length of the state, it falls under the 1868 [Ft. Laramie]

Treaty, so they have to consult with all of the bands and all of the

bands have to agree that they can go through that land,” Seoane


“We’re going to stand our ground. A

lot of the pipeline route – we don’t acknowledge the act after the

Ft. Laramie Treaties – a lot of the route is going through treaty

land and it’s right next to allotted land. Even with their easement,

maybe their easement isn’t on directly on property land but they have

to have 150-foot easement on either side to bring the machinery in –

their easements are on our property, too. So we will take a stand, we

will have our spiritual camps on the route. We will try to come from

a peaceful place in the hope that the government will not turn their

back on their responsibilities.”