The State Department issued a report two weeks ago that supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline have been waiting for. It says that the pipeline will not significantly increase carbon pollution, leaving President Obama an opening to approve the much-contested project.
If it is built, the pipeline would transport oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast, bisecting South Dakota just west of the Missouri River. It would cross land guaranteed for tribal use under the Fort Laramie Treaty.
To South Dakota's tribes, this pipeline isn't only a treaty violation, it is an environmental ticking time bomb. And Native American leaders say they will do whatever is necessary to stop it.
The State Department's report on the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is discouraging for South Dakota's tribal leaders.
Their major concern is not carbon emissions. It is the West River water supply.
"This pipeline is gonna cross under our pipelines three times," said Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Tom Poor Bear.
"We have to look 30 years down the road and what's our nation going to be if we don't have water? It's not only people who depend on it in western South Dakota. We have our cattle," said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer.
Recent accidents, like December's fiery derailment near Casselton, North Dakota highlight the dangers of moving oil by rail. But, Poor Bear says, pipelines bring their own dangers, "That first XL pipeline, it already spilled oil out 14 times."
Supporters of the project often point to the nearly two thousand jobs the pipeline's construction would create.
"You know, they talk jobs on this pipeline, but there's only going to be 22 permanent jobs," said Poor Bear.
"I know this is about economics and big corporations and everything else, but I do believe we have to look out for the best interest of our children and I believe this pipeline puts them all in danger," said Brewer.
Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is reviewing the 11-volume State Department report and is expected to give the president his recommendation in the coming months.
Brewer is not optimistic.
"I know deep down, the federal government is going to ram it down our throat. I know it's going to happen. We all know it's going to happen. So we have to be prepared for what we're going to do. What steps we're going to take," said Brewer.
An organization called Moccasins on the Ground is traveling to different reservations right now, educating people and training them for what will happen if this pipeline becomes a reality.
"It's something we're hoping wouldn't have to happen, but our backs are against the wall right now with the report that just came out," said Brewer, "We're getting our horses ready. Let's put it that way."
So we asked, if anything - what would tribal leaders say to sway John Kerry's opinion on the Keystone XL Pipeline?
Brewer says, "I would just ask him to look at the people. Our children. Our grandchildren that are still coming."
Poor Bear also asks that Kerry think about future generations, "Do you have children or grandchildren? And if you do, would you like them to drink good clean water?"
Tribal leaders, land owners, environmental groups and others who oppose the pipeline are holding a rural water conference Thursday, February 13 and Friday, February 14 in Rapid City.
The event starts at 9:00 Thursday morning at the Ramkota Inn in Rapid City.
For more information on Moccasins on the Ground, follow the links provided.
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