On March 22, President Obama visited Cushing, Oklahoma, where he announced that construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline would now be a “priority.” Cushing, which calls itself the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” is surrounded by tank farms that store crude oil; Obama described the situation in Cushing as a “bottleneck” and the southern leg of Keystone XL as a measure to remedy the problem that “we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough.”
Obama’s statements have drawn fire from conservatives, liberals, and Indian tribes. Those on the right have criticized Obama’s remarks as empty grandstanding, maintaining that his administration has no authority to either impede or (to use the media’s favorite term) “fast-track” a pipeline that doesn’t cross international borders. The left, heartened months ago by the President’s decision not to approve the Keystone XL project, tended to see his endorsement of its southern leg as a betrayal. As Bill McKibben, founder of 350.0rg, wrote in a piece published at the Huffington Post, “the sense grows that Obama may be setting us up for a bitter disappointment — that his real allegiance is to the carbon barons.”
American Indians have generally sided with liberals on the issue, maintaining that the continued use of fossil fuels is an attack on nature, and also voicing concern over the potential for catastrophies such as the one in Michigan that leaked over 800,000 gallons of oil into a creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River.
The artist, actor and activist Richard Ray Whitman, Yuchi Creek, observed that “A lot of tribal councils and Indian businesses struggle to find a balance between economic resources and our inherited responsibilites for the Earth,” according to peoplesworld.org. He added that the important question is, “How will the decisions we make now affect coming generations?”
Additionally, some tribes are now worried about sacred sites in the path of the seemingly imminent pipeline. According to an Associated Press report, Chief George Thurman of the Sac and Fox Tribe has expressed concern that the pipeline will disturb unmarked graves. A spokesperson for Transcanada, the company building the pipeline, said that its route had been selected to avoid as many registered sacred sites as possible, and that there are procedures in place to deal with unexpected archaeological finds. But for many Natives, it’s not just about what’s in the ground—it’s also about the ground itself. As Sandra Massey, the Sac and Fox Nation’s historic preservation officer, said, according to the AP, “Even if nothing is left, it’s still a sacred site.”