Tom Poor Bear raising a defiant fist at a rally outside the building where Obama was speaking. The president was addressing economic issues on his two-day visit to Denver, Colorado in 2011. (Carol Berry)

Tom Poor Bear raising a defiant fist at a rally outside the building where Obama was speaking. The president was addressing economic issues on his two-day visit to Denver, Colorado in 2011. (Carol Berry)

Keystone XL Pipeline Faces Tribal Opposition Ahead of First Presidential Debate

The $7 billion Keystone XL Pipeline raised its controversial head on the eve of the first presidential debate, signaling that contenders President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be challenged to abandon the project that Tom Poor Bear, Oglala Lakota vice president, terms a “snake that is spitting black venom into our water.”

Poor Bear spoke October 2 at Colorado’s capitol, where pre-debate rally organizer, Jennifer Baker, an attorney with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said that “all signs point to a green light, even for Obama” whose initial opposition to the pipeline appears to have stemmed from a Congress-imposed deadline that didn’t allow time for a full study of fragile sand hills land and aquifer depletion.

Obama has “already given his approval to the 485-mile southern pipeline” from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf coast of Texas, she said. Romney has committed to starting the full XL project immediately if he is elected, as has been widely reported.

Poor Bear told rally participants that he had been a long-time supporter of the American Indian Movement, starting with the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties that took over the BIA building in Washington, D.C. to the Wounded Knee, South Dakota conflict in 1973 “when we told white America that Indian people are very much alive today.”

The pipeline “has to be stopped at our treaty lands” and American Indians are the “true landlords of this country,” Poor Bear said.

The pipeline would transect Native lands, primarily areas within original treaty boundaries, and it has been the subject of tribal dissent, including opposition from some Great Plains tribes and from the National Congress of American Indians.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a resolution opposing the pipeline because it “involves accessing a 300-foot-wide corridor through unceded treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation” as represented in the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. Others have called it a violation of prior and informed consent provisions of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Today we’ve got to carry the spirit of our ancestors,” including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gall, Poor Bear said. “I carry their spirit in my heart.”  He recalled an ancestor, Kicking Horse, who told the people at one point they must “stop living and start surviving” but today, he said, “we’ve survived and have to start living again.”

Poor Bear’s speech was introduced by Tom Weis, president of Climate Crisis Solutions, Boulder, Colorado, who recently completed a 2,156-mile bicycle trip from the U.S./Canada border to Port Arthur, Texas to support opposition to the pipeline.

Weis will be carrying a letter signed by more than 100 farmers, ranchers, tribal members, and others urging the presidential contenders to withdraw support “for this project in light of the overwhelming evidence, available to both of you, that Keystone XL threatens America’s economy, public health and national security.”

He urged the candidates to reject the pipeline and to “seize this historic moment to leave a legacy that will be honored by our children and generations to come.” The letter notes that TransCanada’s Keystone I tar sands pipeline, built two years ago, “leaked corrosive tar sands slurry 12 times in its first 12 months” and the current pipeline would allow for leaks of up to 1.7 million gallons daily without triggering a real-time leak detection system.

The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the vast tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, would primarily export oil to China. It can transport 700 barrels per day of crude oil and, if it receives a permit, could begin operation in 2013.


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