Tribal Leaders Tell Obama: No KXL!

President John Yellow Bird Steele of the Oglala Sioux Tribe speaks in opposition to KXL at a recent press conference in Washington, DC (photo: Peter LaFontaine/NWF)
Last week, Tribal leaders from across North America came together in Washington, DC to make their case against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to President Obama.

Right now Keystone has reached a bit of a stalemate: massive protests — including a 12,000-strong rally at the White House — prompted Obama to re-think a quick permitting process, and his Administration now expects to wrap up work in a year or so. But Big Oil and their allies in Congress are livid at the delay and are twisting arms to get the dirty project back on track. Good old fashioned corporate politics still has an honored place at the table.

Hopefully, so do the people who were here first. Keystone XL is a particularly galling issue for many Native Americans who see the pipeline as yet another threat to the health and safety of their communities. Tar sands mining operations leave leave the earth looking like a war zone and cause tremendous amounts of pollution, and the State Department has not attempted to engage Tribes in a meaningful way during the permitting process.

Aerial view of development in Alberta's Athabasca tar sands (photo: SkyTruth)
National Wildlife Federation, in partnership with the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, organized a press conference and meetings for Tribal leaders with federal agencies and members of Congress. The capstone to the week was a personal meeting with President Obama, part of the White House Tribal Nations summit. Their message? Keystone XL and tar sands are the wrong choice.

The delegates presented Obama with a copy of the “Mother Earth Accord,” a resolution against the pipeline signed by over twenty native Tribes and First Nations. According to Chairman Rodney Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Nation,

“I sat next to President Obama, and I asked him to not sign the Presidential Permit, and I feel that he listened to my concerns seriously. I stand with my brothers and sisters on both sides of the border in opposition to this proposed pipeline.”

The group included leaders from Oklahoma’s Sac and Fox tribe, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux tribe, and the Dené Nation of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Tantoo Cardinal, a Métis activist and actress who has starred in films like “Dances With Wolves,” described the terrible toll tar sands mining has taken on her people:

It’s felt like the continuation of the smallpox legacy or the destruction of the buffalo – “oh, well, it’s just a bunch of Indians”…the land is sick, the people are sick, and I’m really hoping that this is a time when our voices will be heard.


The White House delegation mirrors efforts by indigenous groups in Canada and at the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa, to protest against tar sands development.


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Read more about NWF’s work on Keystone XL here.