As this column hits the press, thousands are gathering in Washington, DC to take a stand against the Keystone XL Pipeline. During a week that a decision was expected out of the Obama Administration on this issue, the Reject and Protect call to action will set up camp near the White House and tell the President to reject the pipeline. As it turns out, an announcement just came from the White House that the Administration has decided to kick the can on this decision for what seems like the tenth time.
Whether this decision was made to take the wind out of the sails of this demonstration or somehow is part of some other political strategy, or if it is just more DC dysfunction, is always hard to say and harder to get anyone to admit to. But, regardless of the decision not to make a decision, it’s important that a message about this is made loud and clear.
One of the crazy things about this whole discussion is the lack of media coverage the actual tar sands oil extraction gets. Americans and Republicans, in particular, love to keep this conversation just about a pipeline; and you can be absolutely sure that FOX News and the Tea Party right will not be rushing to the aid of any ranchers, cowboy hats or not, that stand in the way of big oil profits. When Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy stakes his claim against the U.S. government – even at gunpoint under the clear threat of violence – cries of government oppression and praise to him as a patriot ring all over the political right.
But as this movement rages on – the movement that started on the Native lands in Alberta that are being raped by interests from China to Texas and, of course, a whole lot of Canada – the debate on the U.S. side continues to stay relegated to just a conversation about a pipeline. For most of us opposing this new “junkie’s vein” for oil, the absence of the pipeline is simply a bottleneck to slow the environmental travesty that is tar sands oil extraction. Of course, the pipeline absolutely presents a significant environmental risk on its own and, worse yet, the entire justification sold to the American public is a lie. It’s not about jobs; the pipeline will ultimately only produce about 40 permanent jobs. It’s not about energy independence; it is still foreign oil. It’s certainly not about securing a more politically correct supply for the good deserving people of this hemisphere; none of this “oil” is intended for American or Canadian consumption. It is all going to China.
Now don’t get me wrong. Alberta, Canada, the Koch brothers and a whole lot of “Big Oil” and all those others invested in tar sands oil stand to make billions. But the American and Canadian public? Nope! Just seized land for a dangerous easement from Montana to Texas and a wasteland the size of Florida will be left in Alberta.
The pipeline will endanger the Oglala aquifer, one of the largest on the continent, and join the ranks of all the other leaking pipelines that make a train wreck of tanker cars look like a soupy puddle from a dropped ice cream cone compared to what a busted or cracked pipe can do. And make no mistake, they all do or will leak. And all those who clamor about how a new pipeline will be safer? Well, Newsflash! This isn’t replacing old pipes or rail or truck or even a tanker – it is adding to them.
That is really the point for many of us. Beyond the lies and propaganda associated with the Keystone XL Pipeline is the plain and simple truth that this pipeline validates and facilitates the environmental travesty that is tar sands oil extraction. You can put all the lipstick you want on this pig, but it’s still a pig. As are all those that are unconscionably destroying what was only recently pristine land that supported a beautiful people dependent on it.”
The fact that no American would ever let the destruction occurring on Native lands in Alberta to happen in their back yards is really just hypocrisy. And the fact that an American President can keep sidestepping exactly just what and where from the proposed “oil” is coming is just dishonest.
Now why do I keep quotation marks around the word “oil”? I do it because technically it’s not oil. It’s bitumen. It’s worse than crude oil from an environmental standpoint and to add insult to the inevitable injury it’s because it’s not even technically crude oil. There is an exemption from paying into a clean-up superfund that would normally come from crude oil passing through a pipeline in the US.
It’s easy to draw a line connecting Native people to environmentalism. But for us this isn’t about a preference or a social or even a philosophical stance. It is about our identity and how our land defines us. I know many identify with us and share this view. But as more and more of us come together on these and other environmental issues, don’t forget our place in this debate. It has now been said by many that the fight for environmental justice starts with Native people. I would suggest that it is sustained with Native people and will end with us, too. With international calls for our “free, prior and informed consent” on all issues with implications for our future, Indigenous peoples globally are gaining confidence and recognition in these and other fights. But none of us will wait for the international community to catch up. Our resistance is today and we will do it without FOX news, armed resistance or the Tea Party darlings.
Regardless of approval of this pipeline, our battle is against the destruction at the source of this issue. We will fight tar sands oil extraction however it is transported. Ultimately, our position on the issue will be more and more validated by others but until then many will label us not as Bundy patriots but as terrorists – and worse.