INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Resistance to KXL Pipeline in Lakota country grows


28 August 2015

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Resistance to KXL Pipeline in Lakota country

Stephen Landis

This piece has been adapted for CPTnet. 
The original, including footnotes, is available on the Indigenous
Peoples Solidarity Team Tumblr page.

Pipeline’s Ltd. and the state of South Dakota have violated the treaty rights
of the Indigenous people of South Dakota in their push to run the Keystone XL
pipeline (KXL) pipeline through Lakota land. 
Thus, on 26-29 July 2015, CPT travelled to Pierre, South Dakota, at the
invitation of the Sicangu Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe). An alliance of local
landowners, NGOs, and tribal governments had organized a legal challenge to the
KXL during a nine-day series of hearings in which TransCanada Corporation
sought re-certification of its construction permit from the public utility
commission (PUC) of South Dakota.

The KXL pipeline aims to transport diluted bitumen to the Gulf Coast from the
tar sands formation in northern Alberta, a crude oil source so dirty that
scientists are predicting that its impact will amount to a “game
over” for the climate. Moreover, Indigenous people in the vicinity of the
tar sands and other proposed pipelines involved with it have experienced treaty
violations, massive pollution of homelands, and violence from temporary work

CPTer Charles Wright, reservist King Grossman, and I arrived in Pierre on
Sunday, 26 July, and attended a protest march co-organized by the Indigenous
Environmental Network and Dakota Rural Action. There were around 400 people
walking, including many from local reservations, and about twenty on horseback.
Lakota and Dakota people from Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Pine
Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, Sisseton, and Yankton were represented and led
the march across the Missouri River. A water ceremony and prayer time centered
the gathering around respect for unci maka (mother earth), honoring the
ancestors, and planning for the next seven generations who will inherit the
planet we leave behind.

The following day, the hearings began in the state capitol building. CPT
attended the first two of a nine-day series in which TransCanada asserted that
it could continue to comply with the conditions of a construction permit issued
in 2010.

CPT partner Paula Antoine, who is the director of the Sicangu Oyate Land Office
and a leading voice of the pipeline resistance in Rosebud told us that earlier
in the legal process TransCanada had successfully lobbied the Public Utility
Commission to exclude any evidence or testimony that has to do with climate
change or treaty rights. As the commissioners stated over and over again during
the hearings, this process was to be narrowly restricted to the series of
conditions set out in the permit issued in 2010. But as the Lakota and Dakota
see it, “Condition #1” of the permit, which states that TransCanada
must abide by all applicable federal laws, implies that the corporation must
comply with the standing treaties between the U.S. government and the Oceti
Sakowin (the Great Sioux Nation).

In 1868, the Oceti Sakowin and the US government signed the Treaty of Fort
Laramie, which congress ratified under federal law. According to the US
constitution, treaties made with sovereign nations (including Native peoples)
are the “supreme law of the land”, taking supremacy over all other
laws. According to article 11 of the 1868 treaty, any future land cessions must
be authorized by three-fourths of the enrolled members of the Oceti Sakowin, an
article which, though violated by an 1889 act of congress which established the
existing reservation boundaries, remains legally binding today. Since
TransCanada and the state of South Dakota failed to obtain this permission from
the tribes when taking land for the Keystone XL pipeline, the Lakota and Dakota
argue that the pipeline is in violation of the treaty and hence is an illegal

Unfortunately, the PUC claimed that treaty rights were outside of its
jurisdiction, despite fierce resistance from over a dozen attorneys and
individual interveners from across the state at the hearings. It will be about
two months before they issue their decision. 

In the
meantime, Indigenous people have erected three “spirit camps” along
the course of the proposed pipeline on adjacent tribal land. The spirit camps,
collectively known as “Oyate Wahacanka Woecun” (Shielding the People), are a
direct response to the “man camps” that are planned for the crews of
temporary workers who would build the proposed project. Horror stories of
sexual abuse, violence, and human trafficking have come out of similar man
camps in North Dakota. Because local law enforcement personnel are sparse,
often travelling over seventy miles for emergency response, and because of
complicated jurisdiction rules between state land and reservation territory,
many of these crimes will be difficult to prevent or report. The spirit camps
are located very close to the proposed man camps, offering safe haven and
vigilance especially for local women and children who could be at risk from an
influx of temporary workers.

Oyate Wahacanka Woecun is also a spiritual space to gather in prayer and center
the resistance. CPT spent the night at Rosebud’s camp near the town of Winner,
South Dakota. Consisting of a few tipis and a media tent, the camp is currently
housing three full-time spirit warriors, dedicated to nonviolent resistance to
the Keystone XL pipeline. The camps are funded and have official endorsement
from the tribal council. In November 2014, Cyril Scott, then president of the
Rosebud Sioux Tribe, announced that the Lakota were treating the KXL as an
“act of war”, threatening that there will be an “Indian
uprising” if the pipeline is built. Having already withstood two brutal
Great Plains winters, the occupants at the spirit camp are committed to
sticking it out as long as the pipeline is a possibility.

If TransCanada wins their permit in South Dakota, and if they obtain the
necessary presidential permit and construction proceeds, a lengthy and costly
legal process could ensue in which the tribes appeal to the U.S. government for
redress. If they do so, we can look at history to tell how they might fare. In
1980, the US Supreme Court deemed an 1877 act of congress that stripped the
Lakota of Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) to be an illegal seizure of lands under
the 1868 treaty. This victory took over 100 years to achieve. More recently, in
the 1960s, the so-called Pick-Sloan Plan directed the construction of six dams
along the Missouri river. The result was massive flooding and displacement of
Lakota and Dakota. Over fifty years passed before many of the affected families
received financial compensation, but the obliteration of traditional lands and
resources was irreparable.

Underneath the proposed route of the KXL lies the massive Ogallala aquifer, a
main source of drinking water for around one million people in the Great
Plains. The Ogallala aquifer was tapped for irrigation in the 1940s in order to
lift the region out of the Dust Bowl era, and since that time it has been
depleted up to 40% of its original depth. Locals assert that a spill, virtually
inevitable at some point in the lifeline of any pipeline, will poison this
essential water source with the dirty tar sands crude oil, a product containing
a cocktail of deadly toxins, including the carcinogen benzene.

Indigenous people from South Dakota are leading the movement against the
Keystone XL pipeline, though the project affects people all across Turtle
Island (North America). Siding with this resistance effort offers non-Natives
an opportunity for reconciliation by reversing the historical trend of illegal
land grabs and rights violations in Indian country.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Team does currently not have the resources or people to provide full-time accompaniment of the Oceti Sakowin resistance to the KXL pipeline at this time.:

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