Keystone XL And Native Americans: South Dakota Tribes Fight The 'Black Snake'
Marie Brush Breaker Randall speaks to truck drivers en route to the Albertan tar sands.
Debra White Plume and Marie Brush Breaker Randall stood in
the middle of Highway 44, alongside more than 70 other members of the Oglala Lakota Nation
. For hours, they didn't budge
-- much to the chagrin of some tractor-trailer drivers bound for the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada.
"This is our land," said Randall, during the blockade in March 2012.
"We have to protect" our grandchildren. Randall, then 92, appealed to
the truckers attempting to pass through the sovereign territory in
Wablee, S.D.: "Please stay out of our nation."
Randall's plea went beyond halting the truck caravan. She and other
Native American activists share strong and broad opposition to the
development of tar sands, including TransCanada's plan to send Canadian
tar sands oil through the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast
. The White House final decision on the controversial conduit is expected this summer.
Marie Randall is a well-respected elder, known as "Grandma Marie" by many Oglala Lakota. (Andrew Iron Shell)
Along the project's path, critics say, lie sacred and sensitive lands
and waters that Native tribes rely on -- physically, culturally and
spiritually. A growing number of tribes such as the Oglala Lakota are
now pledging to stand their ground, fighting Keystone XL in defense of
Mother Earth and future generations.
"When this black snake comes through here, there isn't another island
for people to go live on," said White Plume, who was arrested for
disorderly conduct during the human barricade.
Tribal government officials will deliver two resolutions to the
State Department hearing on Thursday in Grand Island, Neb. The Yankton
resolution attempts to prove ties to the land that would be affected by
the pipeline, but that aren't necessarily in the modern boundaries of
their reservation. They also renounce a "flawed" process of consultation
by the Department of State in its review of the proposed project
The State Department, in an email to The Huffington Post, said it
"has taken the concerns of the tribal nations and other stakeholders
into consideration" in preparing its draft environmental impact
statement. The department noted that "tribal nations will have
additional opportunities to provide input" through the public comment period
, ending on April 22, and the department will "take any additional feedback from concerned tribes into consideration."
Jennifer Baker, a Denver-based attorney who practices Indian law,
said that consultation is "not happening" to the extent that it should
According to its draft review, the State Department consulted hundreds of times with tribes in person and via letter, email and phone
But Baker, who has been working with tribes and communities in South
Dakota, said the government-to-government consultations, as required by
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act
, have been too large, too short and often inaccessible for too many.
"There's no way for them to fully express all of their concerns in the time allotted for a meeting," Baker said.
The "one and only public hearing" for the pipeline is another case in
point, Baker told HuffPost while en route to Nebraska for the event.
She said she knew many members of tribes who "desperately wanted to
attend," but are unable to because of bad weather
"And these are older folks, elders, who really should be heard," said Baker.
Even Native Americans who attended meetings are "disheartened," Baker
added. "They know going in no matter how strongly they feel and how
right their position, in the end it has a very small likelihood of
having an impact on what's happening."
The pipeline path skirts federal tribal land boundaries in South
Dakota, Baker said, yet will still cut "almost through the heart" of a
large protion of the land set aside for exclusive use by tribal nations,
as recognized by the 1851 and 1868 Laramie Treaties
The pipe would cross native spiritual sites, burial grounds, hunting
lands and sources of drinking water, including the Mni Wiconi pipeline,
which transports water to the Oglala Lakota from the Missouri River.
Baker emphasized the at-risk locations: "The pipeline goes through a
lot of indigenous, minority and low-income communities. They are the
least equipped to handle something like that, yet ones most at risk."
What's more, Baker said, a spill would "destroy access to crucial
components of their spirituality. That's not something that can be
cleaned up and given back."
TransCanada spokesman, Shawn Howard said in a statement to HuffPost
that the company has "made a reasonable and good-faith effort to
identify tribes that may attach religious and cultural significance to
historic properties that may be affected by the undertaking, even if
those tribes are located a great distance away from the project."
Howard said that TransCanada has also been "actively working with
tribes in exploring employment and business opportunities for both the
construction and operations phases of the project."
White Plume said her people also have a name for corporations like
TransCanada that are set to get rich off tar sands: "fat takers."
"The threat to our drinking water is so enormous that any number of
jobs, any kind of economic development, would be irrelevant when our
water is contaminated without the possibility of being cleaned up," said
Debra White Plume is leading the Oglala Lakota in opposition to Keystone XL.
Despite assertions from TransCanada and the State Department, White
Plume said that the "points of consideration" for her people have "not
The Oglala Lakota recently passed its own legislation opposing the pipeline
, which brought out the activists -- including another elder in a wheelchair -- to Highway 44 that sunny day last year.
Near a child holding a "Stop the Pipeline" sign stood White Plume wrapped in a banner that read, "Sacred Red Earth."
"The Mother Earth Accord
has a moratorium on tar sands development. These are connected with tar
sands development," she told the drivers, referencing their trucks.
"You can't violate our laws to please a corporation or to please the
state of South Dakota. Our laws are important."
White Plume has been helping to train her people for future peaceful protests through a program called Mocassins on the Ground
Should President Barack Obama ultimately decide to approve Keystone
XL, White Plume said the tribes will be ready: "The communities will be
able to stand their ground and say 'no' even though he has said 'yes.'"
"Obama has to realize he has 94-year-old grandmas and 10-year-old
boys willing to risk arrest, do whatever has to be done to stop
TransCanada from coming on our land," White Plume added. "Who is he
standing for -- people or corporations?"
"Indians say no," said Randall. "This Indian momma says no."