On the morning of March 5, a Wanblee resident was forced off the road as huge semi-tractor-trailers made their way through the Oglala Sioux Nation’s Pine Ridge Reservation. The woman made a few phone calls to other residents and within a short time a parade of cars came to stop in Wanblee, just inside Pine Ridge. Tribal residents set up an impromptu blockade and did not allow two trucks bearing the logos TOTRAN Transportation Services, Inc. to progress any further.
After a six-hour standoff, several tribal members were arrested and tribal police escorted the trucks on their route.
Whether or not the trucks equipment were part of the Keystone XL Pipeline project is unclear, although the drivers of the semi-trucks said they were heading to Canadian mines. According to the paperwork of the drivers, their two oversized vehicles were hauling equipment called "treater vessels" (equipment that uses intense heat to separate gas and oil and other elements) from Houston, Texas to Alberta, Canada. The vehicles weighed 229,155 pounds each and the value of each vessel was listed at $1,259,593.00.
In a March 6 article in the Rapid City Journal, a Keystone XL Pipeline spokesman says the trucks were not part of his company, TransCanada, However statements from Oglala Nation Vice President Tom Poor Bear conflict with the Keystone XL Pipeline spokesman regarding a phone conversation he had with representatives with the state of South Dakota.
Poor Bear says that while in transit to join tribal members at the blockade he spoke with JR LaPlante, the Secretary of Tribal Relations for the Governor of South Dakota Dennis Daugaard and that LaPlante admitted to the arrangement.
“He said, ‘Mr. Poor Bear, I want to apologize. The South Dakota Department of Transportation and… ’—and then he named a couple senators and himself—‘had a meeting a couple weeks ago to reroute these trucks that are holding these pipes and water tanks that are going to Canada for the Keystone pipeline,” said Poor Bear.
“He said, ‘We had to reroute them through your reservation.’”
“I said, ‘Mr. LaPlante; I took a lead in opposing the Keystone pipeline, as well as our neighbors the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and said that we oppose the pipeline and you allowed them to come through our reservation without asking permission?’
Poor Bear told Indian Country Today Media Network that the truck drivers have been instructed to travel through the Pine Ridge Reservation as part of a behind-the-scenes arrangement between the state of South Dakota and the Canadian Corporation in order to save the $50,000 per vehicle permit charge the state of South Dakota would have charged the Canadian corporation to utilize state highways.
Poor Bear was not happy about the deal struck behind the scenes. “I said, ‘That is not building a relationship between the state of South Dakota and us as the Oglala sovereign nation. Why did you not have the courtesy or respect to contact our chief of police, our tribal chairman, myself, or our tribal Council and let us know that you were going to reroute this through our reservation?’”
When Poor Bear arrived at the blockade, he was met by about 40 tribal members who had used their cars to stop the trucks from going any further and spoke with tribal police at the scene. “I told law enforcement that these people have the right to stop these trucks and they are legally here.”
Poor Bear says he and tribal police tried to find a safe turnaround for the trucks, but could not. “Myself and an officer went up and down the road to see where they could turn around and it was impossible,” he recalls. “The only way they could have turned around was at the Crazy Horse School Road but they would've tore up the road, and then it would've taken out some high lines which would have caused the people in Wanblee to go without electricity for 6 to 8 hours.”
Despite the lack of an alternate route for the truckers, tribal members did not want to allow them to pass. Approaching the six-hour mark of the standoff, Tribal Police Chief Richard Greenwald thanked Poor Bear for keeping things calm, but warned they would have to let the trucks through. Greenwald said that if tribal members did not comply, tribal police would have to arrest them.
According to Poor Bear, Greenwald wasn’t happy that the huge trucks had to pass through the reservation, but asking tribal members to move was a matter of public safety. Poor Bear agreed with Greenwald about tribal safety, but the crowd refused to move and instead, sat down in front of the trucks.
Tribal police arrested several tribal members and charged them with disorderly conduct.
Pine Ridge resident Debra White Plume, among those arrested, said, “When the tribal police gave a warning to move off the highway or be arrested, five of us refused to give an inch. All five of us were arrested.”
They were all released later that day on their own recognizance; they were issued a self-bond and did not have to pay bail to be released. “I’ll guess we’ll have to go to court, I don’t know what is going to happen now,” said White Plume.
White Plume says the truck drivers informed the people in the blockade that they did not know they were crossing an Indian reservation, and would tell their corporate office in Canada that the route should be avoided in the future.
A. Gay Kingman, the executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association in Rapid City, South Dakota says, “Something is very wrong—years ago, all our Sioux Tribes in [South Dakota] fought State jurisdiction. Consequently, all our reservations in [South Dakota] are non-[PL] 280, which means the state is not supposed to have jurisdiction on our reservations. This should not be allowed to escalate and we cannot have any people hurt. The people will continue to prevent the XL trucks from entering the Pine Ridge Reservation.”
Poor Bear says the tribe is setting up a meeting with Daugaard and LaPlante and the Department of Transportation, scheduled for either March 13 or 14. At that meeting Poor Bears says he plans to inform the state that the trucking company owes the Nation $100,000 for using Nation roads, since the Canadian Corporation was going to pay a $50,000 permit fee for each of the two trucks to pass through the state of South Dakota.
ICTMN attempted to contact LaPlante for comments, but he has not returned the call.
Watch a video from the blockade: