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Native Sun News: Tribal leaders blast Keystone XL at hearing

Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: keystone xl pipeline, native sun news, nebraska, oglala sioux, south dakota

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Oglala Lakota Tom Poor Bear and family farmer Randy Thompson were among 85 opponents testifying this month against the tars-sands crude-oil pipeline reroute proposed by the state of Nebraska. PHOTO COURTESY/JENNIFER BAKER

Sacred water reason to block Keystone XL
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

ALBION, Neb. — Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice President Tom Poor Bear and other tribal leaders joined Nebraska non-Native Americans in speaking out against TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline during a statewide hearing Dec. 4, about the route to carry tar-sands crude-oil from Alberta across the Great Plains for refining in Texas and shipment overseas.

“Like many indigenous people, to the Oglala, water is sacred,” Poor Bear testified, adding, “It is without doubt that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will spill.

“Due to the number of water body crossings, there is a very good chance that this pipeline will contaminate and desecrate the water we hold sacred,” he said. “I therefore implore you to recommend the rejection of the proposed Nebraska reroute and of any future route that trespasses through Lakota treaty territory.”

Poor Bear addressed the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) immediately following TransCanada Corp. Vice President Corey Goulet, who told Nebraska Central News television, “We think the project should be approved; we think we’ve listened to Nebraskans and we’ve listened to the DEQ, and we’ve made the changes necessary.”

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had called for a change of routing in August 2011 to keep the pipeline from crossing the sensitive Sandhills area, where the Ogallala Aquifer, serving eight states, is so close to the surface that a spill will immediately pollute it. Now Heineman must decide within 30 days of receiving the DEQ’s evaluation and report on the hearing whether to support the latest plan.

Indigenous Environmental Network pipeline organizer Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake Ojibwe, criticized the Nebraska state process for failing to consult tribal governments in drawing up the new route.

“DEQ did not contact tribes, has no historical preservation work and no legal work on this,” he said. “That whole region was used by several different tribes: Ponca, Pawnee, Omaha, Lakota and Santee were all living in there in harmony, and according to all the tribes, that entire region is sacred to them,” he added.

Cobenais said he was the 95th person to testify among about 100 speakers at the hearing, which ran from 6 p.m. until well past midnight. He said 22 people testified in favor of the pipeline and 85 spoke in opposition.

With the exception of Goulet, who spoke longer, each speaker was allowed no more than five minutes’ time, according to those attending the meeting. More people would have spoken but could not stay that late, Cobenais told Native Sun News in a phone interview during his travel for the hearing.

Among those in favor were members of Americans for Progress, and four busloads of union workers, whose arguments emphasized the construction jobs the pipeline would provide during the first couple years of the project.

Cobenais explained to DEQ that U.S. tribes and Canadian First Nations submitted the Mother Earth Accord to U.S. President Barack Obama last year, opposing tar sands mining and pipelines. He said Indigenous Environmental Network “stands in solidarity” with people in Texas who are blockading the pipeline construction with civil disobedience actions, which he said he expects will occur in Nebraska and South Dakota if the northern segment of the pipeline gets federal approval, as the southern part has.

“I consider them brothers and sisters because their land is being taken away by a foreign company, and it sounds like they are Indians to me,” he said, adding, “They hold us in the same regard; they absolutely feel it and understand that what we went through historically is what’s going on now.”

For his part, Poor Bear stated: “Our tribal council has passed resolutions opposing this dangerous proposed project not only because of the risks it entails, but because of the certain violations of natural and federal law that would accompany it.” Citing the territorial protections afforded by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, he noted, “TransCanada did not even have the respect to approach the Oglala Sioux Tribe and other treaty tribes directly about their activities that will affect sacred ground and treaty lands. Sadly, even the state of Nebraska failed to show this basic degree of respect,” he added.

Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb said at a news conference following the DEQ hearing that the new proposed route still goes through the Sandhills. “The so-called reroute is nothing but a PR move. The wishes of over 75 percent of Nebraskans, Gov. (Dave) Heineman and Sen. (Mike) Johanns have not been met. Those people asked that the pipeline avoid the aquifer and the Sandhills. Those requests have not been met,” she said.

The hearing testimony and Nebraska’s DEQ Pipeline Evaluation will be used in State Department’s supplemental environmental impact statement for the project’s approval or rejection. The department is the lead agency in getting Environmental Protection Agency permitting because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border into the United States. The agency must determine whether the project is in the national interest in order to rule on the application.

Bold Nebraska conducted a “Citizens’ Review” of the evaluation, in which one recommendation is to terminate the state’s lead contractor on the report because the company, Henningson, Durham & Richardson Inc.,“has a clear conflict of interest since they are a contractor on a joint Exxon Mobil Corp.and TransCanada gas pipeline project. HDR also gives significant money to candidates that support the Keystone XL pipeline,” the review notes.

Citizens Review participant Ben Gotschall added that “the proposed pipeline route is in the path of the Ponca’s Trail of Tears. Tribal communities have not been properly engaged in the NDEQ process, and we are standing with our sisters and brothers of tribal communities to ensure their voices and their ancestors’ rights are protected.”

Under pressure from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the U.S. Congress to expedite the presidential permit necessary for the cross-border private pipeline enterprise, the Obama administration has twice denied the company’s application to build the entire proposed 1,700-mile pipeline. The administration determined that the $7 billion investment is not in the national interest until afforded further consideration. Since Obama’s re-election, he has come under intense pressure from his supporters to continue denying the permit.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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