Native resistance to North American pipeline plans

On Nov. 13, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota brought representatives TransCanada to the reservation to make the case for the Keystone XL Pipeline—where they met an angry response from many in attendance. Debra White Plume of the Owe Aku International Justice Project told them: "Run home and tell your corporate headquarters in Canada that the Lakota are going to make a stand. Tell them, you're going to have to run over them or throw them in jail.  That's the message you have to take home… So I think you need to leave our land!  We're ready to go to jail to get you out of here NOW, so you can leave on your own or be escorted out now…" A YouTube clip of the meeting shows speaker after speaker echo this sentiment—followed by the TransCanada reps heading for the door, visibly shaken. (, Nov. 16)

This is but the latest in a series of recent small acts of resistance by Native peoples to ambitious corporate plans to grid North America with new arteries to deliver the resources of the continental interior to international markets. In May, elders and chiefs of at least 10 Indian nations walked out of a meeting with US State Department officials in Rapid City, SD, where the government was attempting to engage in tribal consultation over the Keystone XL project. Declaring the meeting "invalid," leaders of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association said they would meet only with President Barack Obama to discuss the pipeline. (ICTMN, May 17)

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of that state's section of the Keystone XL line in January united not only indigenous peoples from the US and Canada but also non-Native ranchers and farmers who oppose the pipeline. Days after his official approval, participants from some 25 US tribes and Canadian First Nations gathered at Pickstown, SD, on Yankton Sioux (Ihanktonwan) lands for three days to craft and sign a mutual-support treaty. The meeting, called the Gathering to Protect the Sacred from the Tar Sands and Keystone XL, and culminating International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Projects, marked the 150-year anniversary of the January 1863 Pawnee Nation and Ihanktonwan Dakota/Nakota Peace Treaty.

Participants expressed skepticism about TransCanada’s assurances that it will safeguard against spills. "They keep telling us it won’t spill, but all pipelines spill," said Gordon Adams, Pawnee Nation historic preservation officer, adding that the route through Nebraska run through the historical homelands of the Pawnee. (ICTMN, Jan. 31)

The July spill of ore than 1.5 million liters of bitumen at Cold Lake, Alberta, near the Primrose oilsands project, is still being cleaned up—with methods which may themselves be causing further damage. Leaders of the Cold Lake First Nations (Chipewyan) are angry that oilsands company Canadian Natural Resources Ltd is draining the lake, which lies close to their home, without consulting them. Cecil Janvier, a member of the Cold Lake First Nations, called the spill an inevitable result of oilsands production. "It shouldn't have gotten this far," he said. "It's just common sense that something was bound to happen." (CBC, Sept. 28)

But CNRL president Steve Laut dismissed concerns, saying the leak was a result of faulty wellbores. "This is a technical, operational challenge that is totally solvable," he said. Provincial authorities have ordered CNRL to determine the full impact to subsurface groundwater from the spill, and develop measures to minimize the environmental impact of the drilling activities. Keystone XL would carry up to 800,000 barrels a day of the viscous crude known as bitumen from the Alberta oilsands down to the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas. (Canadian Press, Nov. 7; HuffPost, Oct. 23)

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation has meanwhile persevered in its attempt to sue both the Alberta and Canadian governments for damages stemming from 15 years of oilsands development that it was never consulted on. The Court of the Queen's Bench in April upheld the small Nation's 2008 lawsuit despite the provincial and federal governments' efforts to have it thrown out on grounds that it is frivolous. Winning the case would not mean revoking the 19,000 development permits that have been issued on the Beaver Lake nation's traditional lands, but would call for all parties to "sit down and negotiate the application of the duty to consult and how ongoing aboriginal and treaty rights will be protected and managed," the decision said. The 900-member Beaver Lake nation claims in its suit that it has lost its treaty-guaranteed rights to hunt, trap and fish on its traditional lands as a result of the oilsands development. The nation is a signatory of Treaty 6 (1876). (ICTMN, April 12)

Clearly concerned about the pressure building against Keystone XL, TransCanada is portraying alternatives as holding greater environmental threat—even while pursuing them. "While we view rail as a complementary short-term solution until more pipeline capacity is brought online, more rail terminals will be built to fill the capacity gap if Keystone XL is not approved," Alex Pourbaix, the company's president for energy and oil pipelines, told an investor conference. "And I think it's a real tragedy if this situation continues indefinitely, as pipelines are obviously much more cost-effective. They are statistically safer and more environmentally friendly to transport oil." (CTV, Nov. 19)

Pourbaix also says TransCanada has learned lessons from the opposition to Keystone XL—which it is applying in its approach to the newly proposed project that would move more than one million barrels of crude per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Quebec and New Brunswick. Pourbaix said the company would go about building support for this Energy East Pipeline project in a "very humble" manner. (Beacon News, Nov, 19)

We have noted that TransCanada is ostensibly in a race with promoters of the Northern Gateway pipeline to get Keystone XL on line before this route to the Canadian Pacific coast opens. With Energy East, a route to the Maritimes has now entered the race. 

Another planned artery meeting with opposition is the Gateway Pacific Terminal—this one to deliver coal from the Rocky Mountains to global markets via the US Northwest. The Lummi Nation of Washington state says it has informed the US Army Corps of Engineers of its opposition to the terminal project that is planned  for Cherry Point. Known to the Lummi as Xwe’chi’eXen, Cherry Point is a sacred site for the nation, associated with their creation myth and traditional salmon catch. (Sightline Daily, Aug. 12; Bellingham Herald, Aug. 8; Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Sept. 25, 2012)

The Gateway Pacific project appeared to take another blow in the November elections, when Washington's Whatcom County voted in a slate of four council candidates backed by environmental groups and the Democratic Party, defeating Republican-aligned opponents who favor the project. (Seattle PI, Nov. 5) Northwest and Rocky Mountain states are meanwhile being lobbied for approval of another such project, dubbed the Millennium Bulk Terminals, slated for  Longview, Wash.  (The Columbian, Nov. 22)

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  1. Southern leg of Keystone XL opens

    The southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast at Nederland, Tex., which the Obama administration has supported, began pumping oil this week, ostensibly to help ease a backup of crude at the Oklahoma terminal. News that the southern leg would open on time gave a boost to oil futures. But there is actually a glut of oil at the Gulf Coast refineries, driving home that the real purpose of the pipeline is as a mere conduit between Canada and global markets. (Globe & Mail, Dec. 9; Reuters, Oct. 2)

    The State Department is preparing its final review of the northern segment, which spurred environmentalists to action. Representatives from the Natural Resources Defense CouncilSierra ClubLeague of Conservation Voters and other groups outlined their concerns in a meeting in Washington Dec. 9 with Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Environmentalists in the closed-door meeting asked the State Department to revise its conclusion that carbon emissions related to oil sands development in Canada would not change much, with or without Keystone XL. (Houston Chronicle, Dec. 9)

    Public Citizen meanwhile released a report (PDF), based on accounts from landowners and other locals along the route as well as TransCanda workers, that the line's pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling in places—to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands. (ThinkProgress, Nov. 12)

  2. Oglala Sioux vow to stop Keystone XL

    In response to the US State Department's new environmental report that says the new Keystone pipeline wouldn't increase the country’s carbon emissions Oglala Sioux president Bryan Brewer, along with organizations Honour the Earth, Owe Aku and Protect the Sacred, released a statement declaring they will stand with the Lakota people to block the pipeline. Debra White Plum of the organization Moccasins on the Ground said her group has been working toward this moment, giving Native nations the skills they need to defend their lands should the pipeline go ahead. (Vancouver Observer, Feb. 6)

  3. Lakota leader: Keystone approval is ‘act of war’

    The House of Representatives committed an “act of war” against Native Americans when it approved the controversial Keystone pipeline Nov. 14, charged Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota. Scott has threatened to close Rosebud's borders if any attempt to build the pipeline is made. “Act of war means that we’re going to have to take legal maneuvers now,” Scott told the Daily News over the phone. “We’re going to protect our land and our way of life.”

  4. Nebraska judge rules for landowners on Keystone eminent domain

    A Nebraska district court judge has temporarily halted the ability of a Canadian company to acquire right-of-way for the Keystone XL pipeline. Holt County District Judge Mark Kozisek granted a temporary injunction Feb. 12 to landowners who challenged the ability of TransCanada to use eminent domain to acquire land for the controversial pipeline.

    The judge made the ruling after landowners filed new lawsuits challenging the state’s pipeline routing law, which was narrowly upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court in a decision last month. (Omaha World-Herald via No Fracking Way)

  5. Obama vetoes Keystone pipeline bill

    President Barack Obama on Feb. 24 vetoed a Republican bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the measure bypassed established State Department process. "Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama wrote in his veto message. (Reuters)

  6. Defeat for Gateway Pacific

    The US Army Corps of Engineers preemptively denied a permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal outside of Bellingham, determining that the project would violate the treaty fishing rights of Lummi Nation. (Sightline, May 9)