United States: Indigenous peoples join pipeline protests

September 2, 2011
Protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. Washington, August 25. Photo: Ben Powless/Flickr.

National environmental justice and indigenous rights organisation the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) that took part in the largest act of civil disobedience in decades at the White House in Washington DC from August 20 to September 3.

The purpose of these actions was to send a direct message to President Barack Obama to deny approval of the 2739 kilometre Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline would transport pollution from the tar sands (also known as oil sands) of Canada to the United States by carrying 900,000 barrels a day of thick, corrosive, toxic, synthetic crude oil for refining in Texas and the Gulf States.

If approved, the Keystone XL would lock the US into a dependency of energy intensive, hard-to-extract dirty oil.

It would create a huge expansion of the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil development now taking place in northern Alberta Canada.

These operations already produce 1.5 million barrels a day and have horrendous environmental and human rights impacts on the way of life and health of the local Native communities of Cree, Dene and Metis.

The proposed pipeline threatens to pollute freshwater supplies in the US’s agricultural heartland and grasslands with increased emissions in already-polluted communities of the Gulf Coast.

The Keystone XL would cross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas encompassing Native American-US treaty territories and crossing water aquifers and rivers, grasslands, cultural sites and ecologically sensitive areas.

Leaks and spills are common occurrences from such pipelines, which could result in disproportionate impacts to Native Nations and thousands of tribal members.

A spill from the Keystone XL poses an even greater threat. The pipeline would run directly through the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies one-third of the US’s ground water used for irrigation and drinking water for 2 million citizens.

The IEN is bringing tribal governmental and grassroots leaders from the US and Canada, directly affected by the proposed pipeline and the tar sands oil operations, to say “No Keystone XL pipeline” to Obama.

An Indigenous Day of Action on September 2 at the gates of the White House, expressed the solidarity of Native Nations. They stood with concerned citizens, workers, farmers, ranchers, unions, youth and a coalition of environmental groups from across the continent, in peaceful protest to protect Mother Earth and demand Obama respect the treaty rights and survival of Native Nations of the US and Canada.

Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the IEN, said: “Nature is speaking, but Obama is not listening. The Keystone XL pipeline is a 1700 mile fuse of the world’s largest carbon bomb.

“The Canadian tar sands, the proposed Keystone XL and all the other current and proposed pipelines are weapons of mass destruction leading the path to triggering the final overheating of Mother Earth.

“President Obama made promises to Native Nations and here is an opportunity for him to honour those promises and be a man of conscious by standing up to corporate power and say NO to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

A barrel of tar sands oil emits up to three times as much climate-disrupting gas as conventional oil.

Building Keystone XL would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of adding roughly 6.5 million passenger vehicles to the road, or building 12 new coal-fired power plants.

Goldtooth said: “IEN is putting out a national call for ACTION and Solidarity on September 2. Even if your homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, we are raising the consciousness of America to re-evaluate its relationship to Mother Earth that would be ruined by the intensity of environmental devastation and of greenhouse gases created by the enormous tar sands oil infrastructure crossing North America. It’s like a giant spider web crossing our Turtle Island.”

National Native organisations such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest organisation representing Native Nations, are calling for a moratorium and better management practices on expanded tar sands development, and opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

NCAI requests the US government take aggressive measures to work towards sustainable energy solutions that include clean alternative energy and improving energy efficiency.

[Reprinted from Itsgettinghotinhere.org. For more information on the campaign, visit www.tarsandsaction.org.]

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