WASHINGTON -- An association representing 16 American Indian tribes in three states along the Keystone XL pipeline route sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week urging him to reject the pipeline permit application.
The association represents tribes in South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska, and is also seeking a meeting with Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to discuss their concerns about the pipeline.
John Steele, chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association and the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, notes in the letter that TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, is still awaiting recertification from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The company received certification for the pipeline from the PUC in June 2010, but because construction did not begin within four years of obtaining that permit, TransCanada had to file for recertification.
Steele writes that four tribes have signed on as interveners in the South Dakota proceedings: the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Yankton Sioux Tribe. "The pipeline is planned to traverse through our homelands that still possess substantial treaty obligations, cultural and natural resources and water rights for all the Great Plains tribes," wrote Steele.
The Obama administration had delayed a decision on the pipeline until a Nebraska court could reach a decision about the legality of the proposed route through the state, which was issued last week. The tribes say that the South Dakota process, too, needs to be resolved before an executive decision is issued.
But Steele writes that even without the South Dakota recertification, he believes the Obama administration already has enough information to reject the pipeline.
The association of tribes believes the administration has "incontrovertible evidence that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be a detriment to the American public and the national interest." And if the administration doesn't reject it, he wrote, "please grant South Dakota the same respect you accorded Nebraska and refrain from making your decision until after the legal processes regarding the South Dakota permit have been resolved."
The tribes also assert that the pipeline construction would violate several treaties with sovereign tribes. "We are known to many as the Great Sioux Nation and are the keepers of the sacred, cultural and natural resources located in the KXL corridor," he wrote. "Literally, thousands of sacred and cultural resources that are important to our life-ways and for our future generations will potentially be destroyed or compromised by the pipeline construction."
The association also worries about the pollution threats to waterways in the region in the event of a spill, and the climate change impact of developing the Canadian tar sands. "We believe it is our Human Right to live safely on our homelands with clean water and lands," he wrote.