Fort Berthold members locked out

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Community space off-limits for promoting clean energy alternatives on reservation

NEW TOWN, N.D. - April 1 marked a particularly nasty turn in the growing controversy over the proposed oil refinery on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Tribal leadership locked up the Northern Lights Tribal Community Building when members tried to organize a community presentation there on solar installations and other positive alternatives to dirty energy.

The event was planned in conjunction with Nationwide Fossil Fools Day, which was organized to call attention to the adverse health affects associated with the use of fossil fuels (www.fossilfools08.org).

On the morning of April 1, Kandi Mossett, the tribal Campus Climate Challenge coordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network, received a call informing her that all the signs for the event that day had been torn down and that the doors were being locked.

As a result, she had to move the clean energy forum to the New Town High School cafeteria. Additionally, Mossett was contacted by the Stanley County Sheriff;s Department, who were assured that there would be no rioting, but who showed up at the school anyway asking questions of the school administration who had no idea what was going on.

Mossett later found that the North Dakota Division of Homeland Security had been contacted because of the planned event, putting law enforcement in the area on high alert.

In total, more than 40 people were in attendance at the presentation, which included information about community health, environmental justice, alternatives to dirty energy, a solar installation presentation and a drawing for a solar panel. The winner of the solar panel drawing, Mariah Acosta, is a member of the Boys & Girls Club group that has been working with Mossett on the Tribal Campus Climate Challenge Program. The panel was successfully installed by Henry Red Cloud, head of Lakota Solar Enterprises (www.treeswaterpeople.org/tribal/tribal_solar.htm), at Acosta's grandmother's home in the Fort Berthold community of White Shield.

''It's unfortunate and disheartening that tribal community members like myself that want to present clean energy alternatives are prohibited from doing so by our own leaders. Small-scale solar and wind energy projects are feasible alternatives for our people that don't have the adverse health, community and environmental impacts of dirty energy like oil,'' Mossett said. ''They shut us out of our own tribal community building and they continue to shut us out of a process to challenge the development of a dirty, dangerous oil refinery on our community's land and I just can't understand why. It makes me feel so disempowered and extremely sad. We're supposed to have the right to freedom of speech. A long time ago, all people had a say in decisions like this.

''When our current tribal chairman was running for office in 2006, he said of the proposed refinery, 'Let it go to a referendum. Let the people decide.' Whatever happened to that? I don't want to cause trouble. I am doing this for the good of all our people, for the good of all future generations. This is coming from a good place in my heart. I truly feel that what I am doing is right.''

The proposed oil refinery faces growing community opposition despite the tribal council's approval and pressure on dissenters. The final environmental impact statement of the proposed oil refinery is due for release some time in the next few months.

If built, this would be the first new oil refinery built in the United States in decades and will have devastating impacts on the health of the community. The oil would come from the Canadian tar sands, one of the most environmentally and socially destructive oil exploration projects ever undertaken. Tar sands development is happening on Native land in Canada and is widely opposed by First Nations groups and supporters.