WASHINGTON – Indigenous leaders in the United States and Canada have taken their latest steps in a string of well-choreographed actions against potentially-destructive oil pipeline developments in both countries that pose harm to Native culture and land.
The latest day of action for Indians in the U.S. opposed to the development of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline through Indian country came December 1 when a group of Natives gathered at the National Press Club to reiterate their concerns. There, they presented their support for a “Mother Earth Accord,” which includes signatories from American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations.
They vowed to present the document to the White House and Obama administration agency heads later in the week, saying that it is important for the administration to truly understand the unique Native American issues involving the project.
The document highlights indigenous trepidations over the pipeline, including a lack of meaningful federal consultation with tribes – required under the U.S.-supported U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – the threat to tribal water supplies, including the Ogallala Aquifer, and cultural resources and treaty rights violations, especially the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The Mother Earth Accord was developed in September during a Rosebud Sioux tribal summit.
“It's a strong document, full of details about the impacts of tar sands mining and pipeline leaks and carbon emissions – but it also speaks with the real power of the people who've lived longest and best on this continent,” wrote Bill McKibben, a well-known environmentalist who has led the charge against the pipeline, in an editorial published by the Huffington Post.
McKibbon has said that it is indigenous leaders who should be credited with sparking the successful fight against the pipeline to date, noting: “When I think back on the year's campaign – which has at least temporarily halted construction of the pipeline – many of the faces I see in my mind's eye come from Native communities: Melina Laboucan-Massimo in tears describing the death of family and friends from the strange cancers now common across the tarsands territory, or Gitz Crazyboy showing pictures of the wrecked landscape where he grew up. The Indigenous Environmental Network, small and underfunded, was just as key in this ?ght as the biggest of the Washington green groups.”
The Indian group was moderated by Jackie Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians—which has voiced its concern about the development. Also in attendance were President John Steele of the Oglala Sioux Nation; Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief of the Regional Assembly of First Nations; Pat Spears, President of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy; and Tantoo Cardinal, Native activist and actor.
The Mother Earth Accord, read during the conference, begins by af?rming that “the earth is our true mother, our grandmother who gives birth to us and maintains all life.”
“We insist on full consultation under the principles of; free, prior and informed consent,’ from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples both in the United States and Canada,” reads one part of the accord.
The Keystone XL Pipeline, already a partial reality in Canada, would have extended a project through areas of the U.S. that could cause health concerns for tribal populations in Nebraska and other places in Indian country.
Although Indians took credit for victory last month when President Barack Obama added his stamp of approval to a State Department delay until 2013 to study a new route for the pipeline, some fear that a re-routed pipeline will likely cause just as much damage. Some say that Obama should have stopped the project altogether, rather than waiting until after the next presidential election.
The Indian activists at the National Press Club made clear that tribal water quality, public health, and cultural preservation in both the United States and Canada would likely be harmed no matter where the pipeline is routed, since the area being considered is largely composed of Indian country and water sources that could be polluted.
The press conference was held as a precursor to the White House Tribal Nations Conference, planned for December 2 at the Department of the Interior in Washington, which tribal leaders from across Indian country are scheduled to attend.
Also on December 1, First Nations leaders in Canada from the north coast, south coast and interior regions of British Columbia, reportedly joined together to make an announcement against a proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and other provincial pipeline and tanker proposals.
The Canadian indigenous leaders highlighted a report released November 29 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which noted dangers associated with transporting tar sands oil by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project, both along the pipeline pathway and on the British Columbia Coast.
Natives in Canada have long argued that pipeline developments there are harming their communities, and causing their tribal citizens to become ill.