2017-11-29 / Top News

Tribes vow ‘people power will stop this pipeline’

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today Health & Environment Editor

Participants in the No KXL Dakota movement pose at the Lower Brule Wiconi Un Tipi Camp built to block the tar-sands crude-oil pipeline that received a Nebraska state permit Nov. 20. 
COURTESY/Wiconi Un Tipi Participants in the No KXL Dakota movement pose at the Lower Brule Wiconi Un Tipi Camp built to block the tar-sands crude-oil pipeline that received a Nebraska state permit Nov. 20. COURTESY/Wiconi Un Tipi LINCOLN, Neb. — Tribal leaders and allies opposing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline announced that Nebraska’s Nov. 20 decision to permit a route across Nebraska does not guarantee the project will proceed through unceded 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory.

“The Treaty Alliance of Tribes up and down the Keystone XL Pipeline route will be standing strong along with all our other allies to beat back this threat to our water, our people and our future,” said Larry Wright Jr., chair of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, an intervenor in the permit process.

“People power will still stop this pipeline,” said a media advisory released by Wright and representatives of 150 tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada that are signatories of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.

The alliance, founded in 2016, declared its members’ joint opposition to construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline across the Northern Great Plains and further exploitation of the tar sands that it would carry during treaty signing ceremonies initiated by the Blackfoot Confederacy in Calgary, Alberta on May 17, 2017, and joined in Rapid City on July 4, 2017.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, representing 16 tribal governments, has had a resolution in place since September 2011 to stand “in solidarity with the First Nations of Canada and with tribal nations in the United States in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

That year the Keystone I Pipeline, which carries Canadian tar sands across the Great Plains for the same parent company, TransCanada Corp., leaked 35 times, according to the treaty declaration.

Also that year, the Nebraska State Legislature mandated the Public Service Commission to permit oil pipeline routes. Lawmakers specifically prohibited the commission from addressing safety concerns in considering permit applications and limited commissioners’ power to ruling on the best route available.

The commission denied the Canadian company’s Preferred Route and opted to approve a so-called Mainline Alternative route instead.

Two of the commissioners on the five-person panel dissented, stating that none of the three proposed routes was in Nebraskans’ interest. A third commissioner wrote a concurring opinion warning Trans- Canada Corp. that Nebraskans are counting on its promise “that the Keystone XL Pipeline will be the safest in history.”

During public comment, tribes argued against the permit.

Jason Cooke, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe Business and Claims Committee, the executive body of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, testified that construction on the proposed route of the pipeline in Nebraska would cause irreparable harm to cultural resources in ancestral territory.

He asserted that cultural resources are disturbed by digging under a site, whether or not they are physically damaged in the process. Harm to or loss of the resources would create psychological distress for tribal members, he said.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Shannon Wright testified that construction on either the Preferred Route or the Mainline Alternative Route would cross and damage the Ponca Removal Trail and other cultural resources.

Nine members of the Ponca Tribe died along the Trail of Tears during forced relocation from Nebraska to Oklahoma, and construction could disturb the remains of five of them, whose bodies have not been found, according to Wright.

He expressed concerns that TransCanada Corp. had not completed necessary cultural surveys along many miles of the routes and that the U.S. State Department has not consulted with the tribe.

The State Department is in charge of the environmental impact statement for the pipeline. Under the previous Administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the department denied the Presidential Permit for the nearly 1,200- mile route across unceded 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory.

However, acting on a campaign promise, President Donald Trump obtained State’s approval of the federal permit, which in turn, allowed TransCanada Corp. to apply to Nebraska for state approval.

The federal permit also curbed two lawsuits the company filed against the United States for blocking its business maneuvers.

The Nebraska ruling sends TransCanada Corp. back to the drawing board. “We will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chair Harold Frazier urged people to react to the permit decision by organizing to protect the tribes’ treaty rights to prevent the pipeline from going through Lakota Territory.

“When the pipeline crosses the Yellowstone River, it will snake through more than 500 miles of the Great Sioux Nation treaty territory and pass within feet of my reservation upstream on the Cheyenne River,” he said.

“This decision will allow yet another treaty transgression. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will fight this treaty violation with any means necessary. We have not asked for this danger to our way of life, yet today it is being forced upon us again,” he said in a written statement.

His tribe, along with Yankton and Standing Rock, is suing the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing of the Missouri River, in violation of treaty and water protections.

“I encourage anyone that understands this to accept the challenge and defend that to which we all belong with a promise to protect Mother Nature,” Frazier said. “The time for action is now.”

He said the tribe is not asking supporters to go to the reservation at this time. “There are many ways you can help. You can support organizations that are currently fighting to protect the land. You can organize you and your friends into new organizations to protect the land and work to turn back the damaging laws and decisions,” he advocated.

The Treaty Alliance of Tribes noted that the permit decision took place while TransCanada Corp. was working around the clock with emergency government and volunteer first-responders to clean up the largest leak ever on its Keystone I Pipeline.

On Nov. 24, the company reported it had upped its response personnel to 170 in the Amherst, South Dakota spill near the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe on the Lake Traverse Reservation.

“To date, 44,400 gallons of oil have been recovered,” it said. Preliminary work “to expose and subsequently extract the damaged section of pipe” began Nov. 23 and was expected to be complete by Nov. 26, it said.

Additional excavation will be conducted for an unknown period for soil remediation purposes, it said. Its previous spill near Freeman, South Dakota, took 10 weeks to clean up.

“The Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma has been on the receiving end of the ‘pipelines are safe’ myth for generations and has suffered greatly from the environmental genocide enacted by the extractive industry,” Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma Councilor Casey Camp-Horinek responded.

“Now our point has been proven again by last week’s Keystone I megaspill,” she said. “The fight is now on. Keystone XL will never be allowed to cross Ponca territory. We stand in solidarity with our Northern Ponca relatives in this unified defense of Mother Earth.”

Like the Keystone I, the Keystone XL would pump tar sands, or bitumen, mixed with toxic diluents, from Alberta to Nebraska, where the rest of the line would take the product on to Oklahoma and the Texas Gulf Coast for refining and export.

Michael O’Hara, a College of Business Administration professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, testified in permit hearings that the pipeline would be fully depreciated for tax purposes within 15 years, ending any tax income counties might expect from the pipeline.

Landowners retained O-Hara to do a socio-economic report because of his expertise in estimating damages in a litigation context, a field of specialization known as forensic economics.

O’Hara testified that the mere presence of a pipeline would decrease the value of property by approximately 15 percent.

Stanley C. Grier, chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy noted the pipeline would provide only 35 permanent jobs in the United States, meanwhile becoming “not only the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet, but also a devastating attack on our traditional cultural values that we continue to fight to retain.”

He explained that the tar-sands minefields are just above the northern boundary of traditional Blackfoot territory.

“I have seen it with my own eyes,” he said in a written statement. “It can only be described as an environmental holocaust. I remember thinking as I flew over it: ‘At what price a job? At what price corporate profits?’”

He decried increased incidences of cancer among neighboring First Nations communities, as well as “cultural and social anguish from man camps, the temporary villages set up for transient construction workers.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Chair Brandon Sazue joined in the statement, adding, “This isn’t a native or non-native issue. It isn’t a left or right issue. It’s potentially a life or death issue, not only for those in the path of Keystone XL, but the masses who rely upon America’s ‘breadbasket’,” he said.

Some 20 percent of the irrigated farmland in the United States is sustained by the Ogallala Aquifer, which is close to the pipeline route. The populations of eight states rely on that aquifer for water.

New power lines for pumping stations on the pipeline would constitute a threat to whooping cranes, an important attraction for the tourist industry in Nebraska, according to Paul Johnsgard, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor emeritus of biological sciences, who testified during public comment sessions.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest of birds, with only about 400 remaining in the wild, according to Johnsgard. The proposed pipeline route is within their primary migration corridors. Because they fly 30-40 feet off the ground and collide with the high wires, transmission lines kill them, Johnsgard said.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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