Tribal members were among the thousands who rallied in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline project in Washington D.C. on February 17, 2013.

Jenna Pope

Tribal members were among the thousands who rallied in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline project in Washington D.C. on February 17, 2013.

Exaggerated Consultation Claims, Factual Errors in State Department’s Keystone XL Environment Report Rankle Natives

Consultation? Depends on your definition. Cultural preservation survey? The Yankton Sioux Tribe, the alleged conductor of said survey, says it didn’t happen.

These are just two of the erroneous claims in the U.S. State Department’s draft report on the potential environmental impacts of the hotly contested Keystone XL pipeline project regarding Natives, according to American Indian citizens who are perturbed by its representation of tribal acquiescence.

The report, released on March 1, indicates that there will be little overall impact on the environment if the Keystone XL project goes forward, even as it potentially crosses Indian country homelands. It says that of the 80 tribes being consulted, 27 are still consulting, 13 are currently not consulting, and 40 are still undecided.

But some of the tribal references are of major concern to American Indian citizens who say that contrary to assertions in the report, consultation has been lacking. Moreover, they say, some of the points in the report don’t make sense, or are even incorrect. They are urging tribal members to speak up during the 45-day public comments period.

“The environmental report contains a lot of false statements, and their idea of consultation is different than the tribes’ ideas,” lamented Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake Ojibwe organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, of the March 1 report. “They say that an e-mail to a tribe counts as consultation, or a phone call [does], but that isn’t meaningful consultation. They need to talk to the tribal councils as a whole.”

If federal officials were to do that, Cobenais said, they would find widespread opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline expansion plans of Canadian developer TransCanada. If approved by President Barack Obama, the pipeline would carry oil sands crude from Canada through a swath of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Many tribes along the proposed route have already passed resolutions opposing the pipeline.

“The Natives are growing restless,” Cobenais said. “It’s time for President Obama to open his eyes and look at Native nations and realize there is a problem here. We are tired of getting stepped on.”

“We believe that President Obama’s legacy and our legacy are tied together,” added Casey Camp, a Ponca Nation citizen from Oklahoma who says the federal government “has been negligent in their consultation and government-to-government relationship” with her tribe.

“The [Ponca] government remains in the dark about the deadly issues that our people encountered in relationship to the Conoco Phillips refinery and other extractive industry poisons; and now Keystone and KXL are passing through our territory with further reasons and/or excuses to not provide adequate cultural resource surveys in all areas,” Camp said. “The KXL is going to parallel directly our Trail of Tears from our ancestral homelands and bring death and destruction to not only where we are now but also where we came from.”

Cobenais appreciates the part of the report that predicts the project will create few jobs, while importing much oil overseas and not really enhancing American interests. He envisions the president making a final decision sometime in late summer. Until then, he suggests, there should be many more federal public hearings on the proposed expansion.

Indian activists have also found parts of the report that appear to be misleading, such as its listing of a cultural preservation survey being performed by the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Tribal officials there have told State that no such survey was done, and the department has backtracked on that claim.

“In the opinion of the Treaty Council here at Ihanktonwan, consultation is not concluded. In fact, it is has not even started with General Council,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, a tribal elder. She called the report’s assertion that the state department had consulted more than 150 times with the Yankton Sioux “a bit ridiculous,” adding, “They have counted e-mails, notices, phone calls, meetings with [Tribal Historic Preservation Officers] who are regulatory, not nation-to-nation bodies.”

Moreover, the State Department had “decided where Natives could survey arbitrarily and did an excellent job of dividing the tribe by dangling small amounts of fragmented survey funds to poverty-stricken communities,” Spotted Eagle said.

“This document…shows considerable risk and impact upon First Nation, tribal and indigenous community cultural resources along the route, and [the report] is also incomplete,” said Kandi Mossett, also an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “This is cause for serious concern.”

Mossett noted that anti-pipeline organizations have listed multiple concerns of tribes and communities, which include worry over potential impacts to groundwater resources from spills, pollution, wetlands and wildlife destruction, and safety and sacred site issues.

Mossett said that now is the time for American Indians to make their voices heard if they want to prevent the development.

“The State Department is currently putting the pressure on the general public to comment and hold them accountable to make the right decision,” Mossett said, adding that people should read the document and participate in the 45-day commenting period.

“Many of our sacred sites, our water and our generations will be affected by this immensely oppressive act by two governments who never healed from their ‘post conflict’ experience when they were oppressed in Europe,” Spotted Eagle said. “This pipeline will not happen in the Oceti Sakowin lands!”

For a look at what oil sands development is doing to the environment, see the slide show Athabasca Oil Sands in All Their Terrible Glory.

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Exaggerated Consultation Claims, Factual Errors in State Department's Keystone XL Environment Report Rankle Natives

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