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Local activists protest Keystone XL megaload

By Lailani Upham

Dr. George Price, UM Professor and Indian People’s Action member carries a sign to protest the megaload trucks flowing through Missoula on Friday, March 14 around midnight. (Courtesy photo)Dr. George Price, UM Professor and Indian People’s Action member carries a sign to protest the megaload trucks flowing through Missoula on Friday, March 14 around midnight. (Courtesy photo)

MISSOULA — The clock is ticking down for President Obama to make a decision on the TransCanada $5.4 billion pipeline project that will transport crude oil through the United States from the Canadian border to the gulf in Texas.

However, it has become a highly opposed project among many Native people and environmentalists who project oil spills could be a huge risk along the route and warning the project could hasten climate change.

Keystone XL is a proposed pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen and synthetic crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to pipelines serving Texas refineries. The giant evaporators in the current megaloads would be used in the process to extract bitumen for transport in the pipeline.

Megaloads are gigantic truckloads of equipment for processing bitumen, a tarry substance found in the tar sands. Megaloads are longer than football fields and take up two lanes of highway and weigh nearly 901,000 pounds.

Supporters of the project say it will create jobs and boost energy independence.

The Keystone XL pipeline project was designed in four phases, three of which have been built, and TransCanada began shipping Canadian crude oil to Texas in January.

Loads have been coming through during the wee hours in Montana since the beginning of the year.

At mid-month in March, local citizens and members of the Indian People’s Action, Northern Rockies Rising Tide and Blue Skies Campaign led a group of 80 people in a non-violent protest against a megaload that had passed through Missoula.

Protesters occupied the street in front of the megaload through round dance singing and signs, which brought the shipment to a stop for nearly 20 minutes.

Indian People’s Action reported that protestors were issued a final warning and four people then chose to sit down and refused to move.

Several joined in but were forced to move to the sidewalk.

Tribal Council member Shelly Fyant says the most memorable image she kept from the environmental event training, Moccasins on the Ground, was working alongside Winona LaDuke and the banner from the event that read, “Our Pipeline Will Always Fight Your Pipeline.” (Courtesy photo) Tribal Council member Shelly Fyant says the most memorable image she kept from the environmental event training, Moccasins on the Ground, was working alongside Winona LaDuke and the banner from the event that read, “Our Pipeline Will Always Fight Your Pipeline.” (Courtesy photo)

Three Missoula women, Carol Marsh, Debbie Florence and Gail Gilman were arrested with charges of disorderly conduct. They were eventually released.

Indian People’s Action released a statement saying, “We are standing in solidarity with our cousins of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla, and the cousins to the north whose lives are being drastically affected by the destructive nature of the needless extraction of tar sands. This is leaving the land uninhabitable and our people with no place to go.”

A documentary on the tar sands in Canada called, “To the Last Drop – Canada’s Dirty Secret,” was featured over a month ago at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council meeting by Dr. George Price, Indian People’s Action member and Professor at the University of Montana. He informed the council leaders on the inside story of what the tar sands are doing to a tribal community in Alberta, where several people have been losing family members to cancer by the dozens.

In the film, “To the Last Drop,” Dr. David Schindler, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, put together a research team to study pollution flowing through the waters in the tar sands. Their research found cancer-causing heavy metals in the entire ecosystem.

IPA media liaison Naomi Odermann reported that these particular megaloads have been heading through Oregon, Southern Idaho and Montana to Alberta, Canada to be used for extraction purposes.

“The hauler of the equipment, Omega Morgan, was trying a new overland route to the tar sands after the preferred route over Highway 12 was again shut down to megaload traffic, due in large part to an historic blockade by the Nez Perce nation in August, 2013. This shipment was the last of three controversial pieces of massive tar sands mining equipment, originating from the Port of Umatilla, Oregon, to make their way through Montana this year,” Odermann stated.

CSKT Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant was present at the protest on March 14 that happened around midnight.

“I choose to be involved in the mega loads protests in Montana to protect the water. Water is the lifeblood of our Mother Earth and we, as Native people, are caretakers of the land. Our culture is based on our relationship with the earth and all of God’s creation. It’s in our very DNA. If we don’t stand up and protect the Earth and speak for those things that don’t have a voice, who will?”

Fyant added, “The proposed Keystone XL pipeline can not happen.”

“People from all over the world are coming together in solidarity (“IDLE NO MORE”) to speak out against these measures, recognizing the unparalleled destruction caused by American corporate greed,” Fyant stated.

Last August Fyant attended a non-violent Direct Action training with her cousin, Arleen Adams, called Moccasins on the Ground in Whitehall.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott greets Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer at the Spirit Camp opening ceremony. (Courtesy photo) Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott greets Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer at the Spirit Camp opening ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

“This training is activist training for Sacred Water/Mother Earth Protectors. I met a very diverse group of people from all the sacred colors of man - red, yellow, black and white - dedicated to making a stand to protect our Mother. We had the pleasure of meeting Debra White Plume, a Lakota grandmother and founder and director of Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), a grassroots non-profit devoted to preserving and revitalizing the Lakota Way of Life. Debra is devoted to stopping “Fat Taker” hurting Mother Earth.”

Fyant said the training was inspiring and had the opportunity to share a tepee with Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation.

“Winona, another Native activist who works on a national level, as the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline native environmental groups. These women, and many more individuals, further inspired me to remain active in doing what I believe in, and taking the lead if/when necessary.”

Opposition to the shipment of megaloads has been gaining ground in Montana over the past six months, spurred on by similar campaigns in Idaho and uprisings by Indigenous communities all over the U.S. and Canada.

IPA reports that the last megaload rally in January drew about 70 participants from all over Western Montana and Idaho and resulted in three arrests. A common thread in the megaload protests in Montana, Oregon, and Idaho has been opposition to the use of Indigenous and First Nations territories, without consultation or consent, in order to serve the needs of the tar sands industry.

“We are at a critical point where there is no turning back. The land and water are being destroyed for a dwindling fuel source, we need to work now to transition into renewable energy sources that are already available to us and could create good jobs that can sustain and boost our economy, while also saving our agricultural land and diminishing water supplies,” Odermann stated.

The camp is a wall of 1,500 pounds of grass bales surrounding seven tipis representing the Seven Council Fires of the Sioux near Ideal, South Dakota. (Courtesy photo) The camp is a wall of 1,500 pounds of grass bales surrounding seven tipis representing the Seven Council Fires of the Sioux near Ideal, South Dakota. (Courtesy photo)

According to Odermann, for the protestors and organizers at the action, the megaload represents a critical piece of the tar sands industry, and they vowed to confront any future shipments. Drawing connections to the construction of Keystone XL, proposed tar sands development in the U.S. and a continued disregard for indigenous sovereignty, the message at the action was expansive, but very clear – that until the tar sands are shut down people will continue to put their bodies on the line.

Most recently in South Dakota, on Saturday, March 29, the Rosebud Sioux tribe held an opening ceremony for a Spirit Camp, “Iyuksan” — to demonstrate the spiritual will of the people as an alliance of tribes to “put a concrete action into effect.”

The location for the Spirit Camp was selected for its proximity to the planned route for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal Councilman Russell Eagle Bear explained, “We have several options for making more camps, and more importantly we’re able to make more camps.”

Eagle Bear stated the camp “is a spiritual action” and that it “would be up for the long haul - until President Obama denies the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.”

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s leadership pledged to support other tribes’ planned camps in appreciation for the displayed support at Rosebud’s Spirit Camp. There are plans for more camps being constructed all along the proposed pipeline route.

The “Iyuksan” Camp as it is known to the Lakota is a term, which translates into “the Turn,” and is indicative of the physical appearance of the pipe as it turns at the Spirit Camp location. “We aim to turn this pipe around and send it back to where it came from,” said Russell Eagle Bear, referring to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

For more information on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Spirit Camp also known as the Oyate Wahacanka Woecun project, and how other tribes’ can get involved or get a project launched contact Gary Dorr at (605) 747-4255, or email him at gfdorr@gmail.com.

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