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Trying to protect our water

Water is life to the Kickapoo people. Since aboriginal times in the Great Lakes region, the Kickapoo have managed water to sustain life. The Kickapoo Tribe has many historical, social and religious ties to water. The selection by the tribe of the lands, which became its present-day reservation in Kansas, was made in part due to the proximity to and the abundance of water sources. Water is vital to make the tribe's reservation homeland in Brown County, Kan., a livable and economically viable place for the tribe and its members, as well as other nontribal members who live on the reservation and depend on the same water supply.

For more than 30 years, the tribe has been seeking a way to secure a long-term, dependable source of water for its homeland and tribal members. Our water issues are compounded by drought and by low water flow of the Delaware River. The tribe's water quality treatment plant is presently under federal EPA notice of violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and has been continuously since January of 2004. According to the EPA, the water quality on the reservation is so poor it is harmful to human health, unsuitable for human consumption. As a result, the Kickapoo people are unable to safely drink, bathe or cook with tap water.

The Kickapoo people are on the eve of yet another detriment to our water: the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project, which will cross the Nemaha-Brown Watershed District, in which our sole source of water, the Delaware River, is located. It is also the location of the Plum Creek Reservoir Project. The Kickapoo Tribe has made a formal request of avoidance of the watershed district to protect our water supply and to avoid any potential adverse effects by any leakage of the pipeline.

We have attempted to continue government-to-government consultation with the Department of State on our concerns, but we have had little cooperation by the DoS. We did receive an analysis of the threat to our water supply by TransCanada, which they stated there is a possible threat to our water if a leak occurred.

I have requested a meeting with TransCanada, Entrix Inc., the DoS and ConocoPhillips, and with various other federal agencies involved to come and meet with the tribal council, our environmental director, tribal attorney and myself to listen and hear our concerns. I have not as yet heard back from these agencies on their willingness to have ''good faith'' consultations and to find a solution to our needs. I have made calls to our state representative, Nancy Boyda, and to state Sen. Sam Brownback on our issues with the pipeline project.

The Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas urges these people to sit down and find a compromise because water is life and is crucial to the very existence of the Kickapoo people.

- Joe Williams

NAGPRA directorKickapoo TribeHorton, Kan.