Keystone XL: Washington Post Studies Effect on Tribes Along the Route

The Keystone debate is on hold during the Presidential election season but will be back with a vengeance once the next president is inaugurated.

As the Presidential campaign wears on, one issue that will be prominent for the person who ends up taking office is that of the contested Keystone XL oil pipeline proposed by TransCanada.

The Washington Post has published a substantial analysis of the specific issues the pipeline raises for tribes—the divided loyalties, lack of meaningful consultation and potential desecration of sacred sites—against the backdrop of the Sack and Fox Tribe’s annual pow wow.

“The question is whether gaining tribal support is a courtesy, as the company puts it, or a legal obligation,” the Washington Post intones.

For tribes, of course, this is the rub. Treaties and the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples notwithstanding, TransCanada does not believe it is complying with existing law when consulting with tribes; it is doing so out of respect.

“There is no legal obligation to work with the tribes,” Lou Thompson, who serves as TransCanada’s liaison with Native Americans, told the Washington Post. “We do it because we have a policy. We believe it’s a good, neighborly thing to do” and that the pipeline “is not passing through any tribal lands.”

This makes sense if one does not regard the treaties as law. TransCanada is consulting with tribes to an extent, the Washington Post story points out, but on its terms.

“The consultation process is really broken,” said Jennifer Baker, an attorney in Colorado who has worked with South Dakota tribes, to the Washington Post. “Tribal interests are rarely able to be brought forward properly, and when they are they are rarely listened to.”

Although the company has held meetings with tribal members and flown tribal leaders to visit company operations in Calgary, some feel that TransCanada is not taking the time necessary to really study the land, figure out which land belongs to which tribe, and other nuances of the terrain.

"There are mass graves where people were buried after dying of smallpox," said George Thurman, chairman of the Sac and Fox Nation, to the Washington Post. "There could be another buried out there."

Read Keystone XL Pipeline Raises Tribal Concerns, and don’t miss the accompanying slide show of scenes from the annual Sac and Fox Powwow.