Published May 18, 2017
CALGARY, ALBERTA — “I’m amazed and thrilled that this day has come,” said Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation, as she began her address at the signing of the “Declaration Opposing Oil Sands Expansion and the Construction of the Keystone-XL Pipeline” in Calgary. TransCanada, the multinational headquartered in the same city, did not express the same sentiment. The Trump administration recently granted TransCanada a permit for the $8-billion Keystone-XL Pipeline project. “We have literally brought our voices for the defense of the sacred into the belly of the beast,” commented Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Hunkpati Dakota Oyate, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, after industry-supporting right-wing talk radio in the province took swipes at the Native coalition assembled to sign the Declaration.
Piikani Nation elder and ceremonial leader, Jim Swag, opened the gathering with prayer in the Blackfoot language, and was joined by Piikani councilman, Barnaby Provost, in traditional song. Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation, gave the opening address, and first spoke to the historic reunion of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Great Sioux Nation that is at the heart of the Declaration. “Without each other, we would not have become what we were and remain – two great alliances and peoples,” Grier stated, explaining how honor was passed between the two, and recounting the historic relationship with references to 1862 “when the Yankton and Santee Dakota sought refuge after struggling for cultural survival in Minnesota” and 1877 when Sitting Bull “and the people of the Great Sioux Nation looked to Blackfoot Confederacy lands to offer them sanctuary” after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Chief Grier spoke of how the worlds of both the Blackfoot Confederacy and Great Sioux Nation “had grown smaller with each passing year and rising tide” of colonization, but how leaders such as Chief Sitting Besides an Eagle’s Tail Feathers and Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, with Sitting Bull, Rain in the Face and other chiefs and headsmen of the Lakota-Dakota, “all understood that in times of great crisis no matter how small the world, the heart must be at its biggest.” Much of Grier’s speech focused on treaty rights and oft-violated consultation mandates, and emphasized “the need for free, prior and informed consent” when it comes to federal, state or provincial projects “that impact Indian country.” Councilman Eldon Weasel Child of the Siksika Nation articulated solidarity with Grier’s positions on protecting Blackfoot culture and sovereignty. “Talk to us,” was his invitation to the government, “we are not hard to work with. We are asking for you to respect us.” Weasel Child and Grier emphasized that the Keystone-XL Pipeline would cross and threaten Blackfoot country.
In a passionate and moving oration, Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation related the march of the Trump administration to fulfill Keystone-XL with the Ponca Nation’s forcible removal from their traditional homelands. “Now it is our turn to use the voices that the colonizers understand to say that our Mother, the Earth, has withstood all that she should ever withstand on our behalf.” Keystone-XL’s planned route through Nebraska scythes through Ponca territory, and threatens the Ogallala Aquifer, the key formation in the High Plains Aquifer system that underlies 174,000-square miles of 8 states and provides for 20% of the irrigated farmland in the US. “Water is sacred. Water is essential to every one of our ceremonies,” Councilwoman Camp-Horinek reminded the assembled media mass. The State of Nebraska has yet to decide whether to approve Keystone-XL’s route, which in places will only be separated from the Ogallala Aquifer by ten feet.
“Our People have long carried an undue burden of environmental degradation. We also carry the blessing and responsibility to speak on behalf of our Mother Earth and all our silent relations. No longer can we allow the environmental genocide being perpetrated on our People by the extractive industry. We will rise and teach how to live in harmony with all living things, as our prophecies have instructed. We will stand together with our First Nations Peoples, the Oceti Sakowin and all of our allies in defense of the Sacred,” the councilwoman committed.
Councilwoman Camp-Horinek concluded by reiterating the importance of “the historic Remaking of the Sacred Hoop” and Chief Judy Wilson, Chief of the Neskonlith Band of the Secwépemc Nation representing the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Executive, presented insights into ancient prophesy “that spoke of this day” when “the council fires of our indigenous nations would once more be ignited in solidarity.” Chief Wilson urged thought and compassion and waking from “the dominant society’s short-term profit driven ideology.” Essential, Chief Wilson said, “is lessening our footprint on the land, and restoration of our lands,” which she stressed goes beyond stewardship. “It includes the inherent title and rights to territorial lands, the animals, plants, eco-systems, people, and a spiritual connection with all living things.”
Visibly moved, Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe completed the speakers who brought words from the four directions. Sazue expressed reverence and awe for the historic nature of the event, the “Remaking of the Sacred Hoop between the Great Sioux Nation and the Blackfoot Confederacy.” Chairman Sazue’s appeal was for balance, harmony, and rationality to be brought to the chaos of the bottom-line dominated culture that is overwhelming not only tribal peoples, but the masses. “You can’t drink oil,” he repeated, as he recounted how both he and Councilwoman Camp-Horinek had been arrested at Standing Rock with other water protectors on 1851 treaty lands, “and held in dog cages” in restraints for hours. “They didn’t tell you these stories in the media,” he said. “This was 2016. What our people have suffered now for more than two centuries continues. But we won’t surrender,” he vowed. As the Declaration was being signed, news broke of another leak in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
TransCanada’s response was to repeat claims about possible job creation from Keystone-XL, talking points that have been consistently debunked. In its final analysis, the US State Department has concluded that the Keystone-XL Pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs, with 15 temporary contractors also being retained from the 3,900 temporary jobs that would exist during the pipeline’s construction.