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Lakota Country Times: Activists gear up for Keystone XL hearings

Correction: The following article was written and reported by Lakota Country Times correspondent Vi Waln. A prior version incorrectly attributed the story to LCT Editor Brandon Ecoffey.

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The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota set up a camp known as Oyate Wahacanka Woecun, or Shield the People, to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo from Facebook

SD Public Utilities Commission Ignores Tribal Rights
By Vi Waln
LCT Correspondent

PIERRE, SD – According to tribal advocates who oppose tar sands development, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not consider aboriginal title in their June 11 Keystone XL pipeline permit certification hearing.

The PUC granted TransCanada’s motion to preclude consideration of aboriginal title or usufructuary rights from an evidentiary hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline permit certification process which is scheduled to begin on July 27.

According to a press release, tribal nations, traditional treaty council members and grassroots leaders are outraged over the decision to exclude aboriginal rights and off-reservation rights from the discussion on the whether the KXL pipeline permit should be granted re-certification. The nine tribal nations of South Dakota all stand in resistance to the proposed tar sands pipeline. Four tribes and a number of organizations and individuals are interveners in the certification case.

“The PUC displays a horrifying historical disregard and disrespect of Oceti Sakowin lands and water,” stated Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktonwan Treaty Council Representative. “It is a blatant example of settler colonialism. This is colonialism which is intended to displace, take over and destroy the natural occupants of Turtle Island and their right to live in a safe manner.”

“We truly live in a state that still lives by 1800’s mentality of conquering in an inhumane way,” continued Spotted Eagle. “Canada and the United States are repeating predatory methods in the guise of committees and flawed environmental reviews. We have to name it and it is unacceptable in this day and age. We will not relent in protecting our human rights.”

A major contention of the KXL pipeline by several interveners is based upon legitimate treaty and aboriginal usufructuary rights, rights acknowledged by international law, federal and state policy and Supreme Court decisions. These rights will now be excluded from the July hearing.

The PUC has made decisions to preclude testimony on climate change and KXL pipeline easements of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Mni Wiconi water pipeline. The KXL pipeline, if constructed, will drive expansion of the energy carbon-intensive extraction and processing of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Mni Wiconi water system, over which the KXL pipeline would have to cross in three locations, provides drinking water to thousands of Native and non-native people in western South Dakota.

“The PUC’s decision amounts to a complete disregard for the inherent treaty rights of Oceti Sakowin peoples to address their concerns on how this dirty tar sands pipeline will affect our territories, water, air, and relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth,” stated Dallas Goldtooth, KXL Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“Treaties are the supreme law of the land, and not to be broken,” continued Goldtooth. “This is yet another unjust action by South Dakota ignoring its obligations to recognize the Treaty rights of the Oceti Sakowin and to continue to silence the voices of those on the frontline of this issue.”

These recent decisions justify concerns by Tribal Nations, traditional treaty councils, and grassroots leaders that the public permitting process of South Dakota is biased to the wants and will of the oil industry and only serves the interest of TransCanada, a multi-billion dollar Canadian company.

For TransCanada’s Keystone XL permit to be granted re-certification it must show that it can still meet the conditions upon which the permit was granted in 2010. The Department of State has not completed its review of the project.

Tribal concerns include:
• TransCanada’s admission that it has no Emergency Spill Response plan for when the Keystone XL pipeline leaks in South Dakota.
• The proposed pipeline route places it through 200 miles of high risk landslide areas in South Dakota and crosses significant waterways, including the Missouri River, a major source of drinking water.
• Lack of impact assessment on man-camps and the increased risks of crime, sex trafficking, and sexual violence on vulnerable South Dakota and Native communities.
• Incomplete or flawed cultural resources impact assessments and inventory of sacred sites and significant cultural areas along the proposed route.

“We consider ourselves the stewards of the land. Despite the SD PUC’s inability to recognize tribal rights, our unified efforts will continue,” said Paula Antoine, who serves as Chairperson of Oyate Wahacanka Woecun (Shield the People – Rosebud Spirit Camp).

“The detrimental effects of the project to South Dakota’s land, water and people will devastate our small towns, our agriculture and tourism industries. Our concern for the health and welfare of all residents of our state must be shared by the SD Public Utilities Commission,” stated Antoine.

Community organizers are planning a large march and rally immediately preceding the evidentiary hearing on the Keystone XL permit certification, which will begin on July 27th.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at editor@lakotacountrytimes.com)

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