Tribes React to Judge Halting Trump’s Keystone XL Pipeline “Invasion”

GIC Chief councilor Brandon Sazue

Published November 9, 2018

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – “Make no mistake, this would have been an invasion of our country,” said Chief Councilor of the Global Indigenous Council (GIC), Brandon Sazue, in response to U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris’s decision to halt the $8-billion Keystone XL Pipeline until a valid environmental analysis is completed. Judge Morris’s 54-page order overturns the Trump Administration’s approval of the Keystone-XL Pipeline, and issues an injunction preventing construction of the project. One of Trump’s first actions in office was to sign an Executive Memo advancing Keystone XL.

“They were about to run 875-miles of pipeline through tribal lands in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska,” continued Sazue. “’Man camps’ for the construction workers were being prepared. These ‘man camps’ were to be 1,000-strong, dotted along the pipeline. That’s what you call an invasion,” the GIC leader said. Several “man camps” were slated to be raised bordering reservations. In previous instances, sexual violence against Native women and children has spiked with the establishment of extractive industry “man camps,” which is identified as being among the key factors in the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.

The historic Declaration opposing Keystone XL pipeline signed by 80 Tribal Nations.

The Indigenous Environmental Network, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, NRDC and Sierra Club were among the plaintiffs that filed the lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s drive to greenlight TransCanada Corporation’s KXL pipeline. In May 2017, the Blackfoot Confederacy, led by the Piikani Nation, and the Great Sioux Nation, united to sign the “Declaration Opposing Oil Sands Expansion and the Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline” on TransCanada’s doorstep in Calgary, Alberta. “We literally brought our voices for the defense of the sacred into the belly of the beast,” recalled Sazue.

The “Declaration” was subsequently described as “the most comprehensive proclamation of its kind,” and subsequently signed by over 80-tribal nations from both sides of the border. Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and Chairman Larry Wright, Jr. of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska carried the Declaration to Omaha, Nebraska in August 2017 where an alliance of Keystone KXL pipeline (KXL) opponents gathered before a Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing on the pipeline.

“The Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and our sister tribe, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, passed resolutions long ago opposing K-XL. Our message remains: We will not serve as sacrifice zones for extractive industry to use and leave behind the environmental devastation for us to die in. We are determined to protect the sacred air, water, earth and all life for the generations to come,” asserted Councilwoman Camp-Horinek.

Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek and Chief Stan Grier signing the Declaration opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

“TransCanada claims this pipeline is 100% safe. But unless it’s 150% safe, it’s not enough,” insisted Chairman Wright, Jr. TransCanada’s existing 2,150-mile Keystone Pipeline was responsible for 35 leaks in the first year, including a 21,000-gallon spill in North Dakota. In one 2016 spill, the pipeline disgorged approximately 18,000 gallons of bitumen-rich tar sands crude on Great Sioux Nation territory in South Dakota. KXL would transport some 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude from Alberta and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana to Steele City, Nebraska. The oil would then be carried to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast via existing pipelines.

“The (State) Department must supplement new and relevant information regarding the risk of spills,” Judge Morris found.

“This now ten-year battle is still far from over. We’ll continue to stand together against this tar sands export pipeline that threatens property rights, water and climate at every opportunity, at every public hearing. People on the route deserve due process and the Ponca Trail of Tears must be protected,” said Mark Hefflinger, communications director for Bold Alliance, founded in Nebraska.

Chairman Harold Frazier (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) signs the historic declaration opposing Keystone XL pipeline.

Judge Morris’s decision reflects much of the tribes’ findings in the “Declaration Opposing Oil Sands Expansion and the Construction of the Keystone-XL Pipeline.” However, a sizable portion of the tribal declaration “followed the money” and exposed financial ties between Trump Administration cabinet members and supporters in Congress. As a Congressman, Trump’s scandal-ridden Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, received substantial campaign funds from Oasis Petroleum, a principal operator in the Bakken. Senator John Barrasso, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), has been one K-XL’s most vocal boosters. Of the 535 members of Congress, Barrasso ranks seventh among those who benefit from campaign contributions from fracking interests, and the oil and gas sectors remain Barrasso’s second highest contributor. Among Barrasso’s donors, Chevron owns 20% of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, and Marathon is heavily invested in the oil sands.

The founders of the Global Indigenous Council previously exposed links between the Trump family and key Putin-backer, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. EVRAZ, an Abramovich operation, manufactured the pipeline “that would carry this toxic crude from the oil sands into our sacred lands,” recounted Chief Councilor Sazue. Former Suncor Energy CEO, Rick George, known as ‘Mr. Oil Sands,’ is now a director of Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, one of Senator Barrasso’s major campaign donors that vocally supports his efforts to dismantle the Endangered Species Act to make it easier for extractive industry to exploit public lands.

“There is no separation between these issues. As I have said before, they are acts of cultural genocide,” reiterated Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation and President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs. “The decimation of our sacred beings like the grizzly, the rape and pillage of our Mother Earth by industry, the attacks on our women and children, this devastation cannot be compartmentalized,” he said. Chief Grier has been instrumental in the tribal struggle to stop Keystone-XL, and to date is the only Alberta-based sitting chief to stand against TransCanada’s project. “We ignore the warnings on continued Oil Sands development and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at our collective peril. Not without reason did NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen call Keystone-XL the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” he cautioned.

Judge Morris cited four principal areas of concern in paralyzing what Chief Grier called “Trump’s Black Snake”: The effects of the current oil prices on the viability of the pipeline; the full effects of greenhouse gas emissions and the Trump Administration’s failure to account for climate change; the necessity for the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to be followed in respect to surveys of potential tribal sacred and historic sites; and revised modes to mitigate possible oil spills. In recent testimony to the Barrasso-chaired Senate EPW Committee, tribes raised the fact that federal agencies continue to violate NHPA and cited the Yellowstone grizzly delisting process as a recent example. The joint testimony defined the region “as a virtual matrix of sacred sites.”

Judge Morris informed the Trump Administration that it “cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations” that the government made in the past, “any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate.”

“We keep killing it, and it keeps coming back from the dead,” warned Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who called the ruling “huge news.”

“Canadians should hope that this thing is vigorously litigated and reversed,” said Dennis McConaghy, a former TransCanada executive.

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