Urging President Barack Obama to “respect Mother Earth,” Tom Poor Bear, vice-president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, held the Oglala flag aloft and urged him to disapprove a permit for the $7 billion Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf coast.
It was a low-key interruption of the president’s address October 26 to more than 1,000 University of Colorado-Denver students and faculty members who stood for hours in driving snow to hear Obama speak on economic issues in the second day of a two-day visit to Denver.
After hesitating a moment, Obama said he understood concerns about the pipeline and the environment. “I hear you,” he said. “No decision has been made.” The audience was largely silent during the interruption despite a few restrained cheers, and then the president resumed his address.
Secret Service officials told the delegation with Poor Bear to leave the area and, as they filed out, Robert Chanate, Kiowa, of the International Peoples Power Project (IP3), told them the Native group “just wanted to get their point of view heard in a respectful way” and an official thanked them for the way in which it was conducted.
The pipeline would transect Native lands, primarily across areas within original treaty boundaries, and has been the subject of tribal dissent, including an official objection by 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,” he said, explaining that the lands are as represented in the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868.
A related Mother Earth Accord insists on consultation under the principles of free, prior and informed consent from the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, and the pipeline is “not in the national interest of the United States,” a precondition for presidential approval.
“I want the voice of the Oglala Sioux to be heard,” Poor Bear said in a meeting with Native students and others. “I will put my body on the line, if necessary.”
“We view this (pipeline) as a priority; not just for us, but for future generations,” he said, noting that support was expected from the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council and others.
Pipeline ruptures are almost certain to occur, he said, and because the pipeline would cross the Mni Wiconi (Water of Life) domestic water system on Pine Ridge tribal lands and the vast Ogallala Aquifer, the pipeline permit should be rejected by the president, whose approval would be required because the pipeline would cross an international boundary on its route southward from Canada.
From Texas refineries oil would go to China, he said, and the U.S. and China “are going to benefit from this” even though unemployment on Pine Ridge is 80 percent, he said.
Pipeline adversaries could enlist the aid of affected non-Native farmers and ranchers who object to the project and could gain permission to intervene from tribes along the pipeline who could issue permits for dissenters to be on their original treaty lands, it was noted.
Chanate, who worked through IP3 with the Wetsuweten Nation on their unceded treaty lands in Canada, said proposed pipelines from the tar sands of Alberta aren’t just slated for the U.S.
“There are also routes proposed from Alberta to British Columbia,” he said. “In British Columbia, the Native nations have already mounted an opposition. Some of their efforts include regional direct action camps, public awareness campaigns, construction of traditional camps directly on the pipeline route and solidarity visits and collaborations with other Natives affected by the tar sands.”
The pipeline would consist of about 1,711 miles of 36-inch pipe, with 327 miles in Canada and 1,384 in the U.S.to transport 700 barrels per day of crude oil. If it receives a permit, it could begin operation in 2013, according to an extract from the environmental impact statement for the project.
The State Department estimated there could be from 1.18 to 1.83 spills greater than 2,100 gallons per year for the entire project, with the estimated frequency of spills ranging from 1.78 to 2.51 spills per year, the extract noted.