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An Open Letter From George Poitras on the Keystone XL Pipeline

With debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline continuing to heat up, George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, makes a personal appeal to President Barack Obama.
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With debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline continuing to heat up, more politicians, celebrities, and Native leaders are weighing in. Here is a letter from a former chief with a very personal interest in the issue.

Mr. President Obama:

I live in the tar sands. I, and generations before me, have seen the devastation of our lands, water, air, animals, fish, and more recently our people's health; and in the in worst cases the loss of young lives to rare and aggressive cancers. Prominent scientists have said our cancers are potentially linked to petroleum products. We have never said that with certainty.

We live in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world. We are a UNESCO designated world heritage site. We live on the boundary of the Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada's largest national park.

We know now through the science of Dr. David Schindler that this is all at risk because of the tar sands production in the past 40 years. The Albertan and Canadian governments have done virtually nothing to protect our waters, land, air, its citizens, etc. And to think that over these 40 years, in which our environment and our people's health have been so negatively impacted, just 3% of the total deposit has been mined is scary to say the least. What is even sadder, President Obama, is the fact that my generation, which is also your generation, will not be able to hand down to our children and children's children, and future generations, what our ancestors were able to hand down to us. That is sad, President Obama. All our leaders have ever said was that we want the ability to hand to our future generations a healthy environment for a healthy living.

Your approval, President Obama, of the Keystone XL Pipeline, will only compound an already dismal situation for our people, who have the most at stake from this out-of-control development. Your approval will mean with certainty that we will continue to see our waters poisoned, our lands contaminated, our skies polluted, our fish deformed, and our people die unnecessarily. Your approval will guarantee the continued daily repeated infringements on our Constitutionally protected Treaty Rights to hunt, fish, and trap. Or, President Obama, your non-approval will mean a chance for my people to survive but more important a non-approval will mean that perhaps the governments of Alberta and Canada and the oil companies will take notice and begin to clean up the way they have been mining the tar sands.

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I watched your election with hope. I wore your t-shirt that said "yes we can" on your election day while I was at my job in Canada. You stood for hope not only for Americans but for citizens all over Mother Earth. Your decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline could define your record of what you stand for in terms of climate change. The choice is yours alone, and I know that you know, from one marginalized person to another who have seen our lands and peoples annihilated, that the choice to approve this pipeline is not in anyone's best interest.

Two days ago, we buried Mr. Jack Layton, my hope for a Canadian solution to tackling environmental issues in Canada. Not only are we missing an incredible man in himself, but we are missing out on a leader who could one day have been our Prime Minister. You are still among us, and many of us still hold onto that hope we had during your elections, on your election day, your inauguration and now in your term as President.

On behalf of my community of Fort Chipewyan, of the Cree, Dene, and Metis, we appeal to you. It's a sad day when we who live in the tar sands have little to no say in these decisions, that you have a greater say than I do on a decision that will have impacts on my people and our lands for generations to come.

We appeal to you to make the right decision!

Thank you.

George Poitras,
Former Chief, Mikisew Cree First Nation
Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada