Skip to main content

The Black Snake Hears a Song: Declaring War on the Keystone Pipeline

After the narrow defeat of the Keystone Pipeline at Congress, Sicangu Lakota Greg Grey Cloud broke into a traditional Lakota song. I am reminded of prophecies of the Black Snake, coming to our territories. Earlier this week, the Sicangu Lakota Tribal council at Rosebud, stated that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be a declaration of war upon the Lakota nation. After all, the 1868 treaty between the US and the Lakota protected the region entirely under the gun by the Keystone proposal. Grey Cloud rendered a traditional Lakota song at Congress, and was taken away by security guards, but all across the country, may people were grateful to Congress for defeating the pipeline proposal. I hope Senators Heidi Heidkamp, Hoeven, Franken, and Klobuchar heard the song.

“No Keystone XL Black Snake Pipeline will cross Lakota Lands. We will protect our lands and waters and we have our horses ready…” Brian Brewer, Oglala Sioux Tribe

The hydra of pipeline proposals across North America should give us cause to pause- and say... what are we doing? Spending $l00 billion on oil infrastructure in the face of climate change, and in the face of crumbling American infrastructure shows a hemorrhaging in a North American economy that is at a crossroads. The question is where we will go, and if politicians will buckle to oil interests, and not protect long term American energy security.

Here’s what the Lakota are saying. The tar sands oil is the most environmentally destructive oil on the face of the earth, and the industry retooled their North American energy industry to extract extreme oil- from the tar sands utilizing fracking, rather than buy conventional oil from Venezuela, with the largest oil reserves in the world. That decision is destabilizing North American infrastructure. Spending money on what will be “ stranded assets” of pipelines for no good reason, will destabilize our economy over the long haul as oil spills, climate change, and a lost opportunity to become energy efficient and self-sufficient with renewables and post petroleum choices throws us into a long term economic downward spiral.

Think about this: It’s anticipated that we will spend 20 percent of world GDP on climate related disasters by 2020. We might want to avert that by not pillaging the tar sands (with 240 gigatons of carbon under some pristine ecosystems). Instead we might want to concentrate on infrastructure for people and future generations. North Dakota, for instance could be the largest exporter of wind and hemp oil in North America, it would just take Senators Hoeven and Heidkamp to have some vision and long term commitment to the state. Let’s think about what $7 billion in investments could buy if we thought about the economy and energy of this country. A recent study analyzed employment from the Keystone XL proposal, versus needs and employment for other options. The study found that spending money on unmet water and gas infrastructure needs in the five relevant states along the KXL pipeline route will create more than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors, or five times more jobs than the KXL, with ninety five times more long term jobs.

Think of it this way: the American Society of Civil Engineers , in its latest infrastructure report card gave the country a D on drinking water and waste water infrastructure and a D+ on energy infrastructure. Infrastructure failure is causing gas explosions and water main ruptures around the country. Infrastructure failure is when your I 35 Bridge collapses in Minneapolis, and infrastructure failure is when an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptures in Mayflower Arkansas, spilling 7,000 barrels of oil into a suburb.. Some folks would say we should fix old pipelines before we make new ones, particularly pipelines that don’t serve our towns, cities, or homes.

And then there is tribal infrastructure, like the community that Greg Grey Cloud is from. About 14% of reservation households are without electricity, 10 times the national rate. Energy distribution systems on rural reservations are extremely vulnerable to extended power outages during winter storms, threatening the lives of reservation residents. Reservation communities are at a statistically greater risk from extreme weather related mortality nationwide, especially from cold, heat and drought associated with a rapidly changing climate. For instance, Debbie Dogskin from Standing Rock reservation froze to death in February, when she couldn’t pay her skyrocketing propane bills. In the meantime just upwind from Debbie Dogskin in the Bakken oil fields, Kandy Mossett from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara reservation explains, “Every day more than l00 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared away. That’s enough to heat half a million homes.”

In Lakota territory, no one believes in the white man’s pipeline. They call it the fat takers pipeline, the pipeline of the Wasichu. The Anishinaabe call it the Black Snake. Percy White Plume, asks, “If our children and grandchildren have no water and have to drink bottled water because of the contamination of the pipeline, or a leak, what will our horses be able to drink. What will the wildlife drink?”

That’s a question for American politicians, in fact for all of us. I want to thank Minnesota Senators Franken and Klobachur for voting against the pipeline... the Black Snake. I hope North Dakota senators and others find some long term vision. It might be time to love water more than oil.

Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe, is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist and writer.