Will Candidates Stand Up for Tribal Rights in Keystone Scheme?

On the day before the first 2012 Presidential debate to be held in Denver, Colorado, tribal members traveled to Denver to hold a press conference to bring attention to Native Voices who oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which will transport dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas.  The proposed northern segment of the pipeline route threatens tribal burial and cultural sites as well as the Mni Wicone watershed, an important water source for many of the Plains tribes as well as the Oglala Aquifer, the source of one-third of America’s irrigation water, including water used by farmers and drinking water for eight states.

The latest projection for tar-sands pipelines. Via U.S. Department of State.
The press conference was held on the steps of the State Capitol and included Tom Poor Bear, Oglala Sioux Vice President; Debra White Plume, director of Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way); and Percy Deal, Navajo elder.

Debra White Plume previously said “I think our Native Nations are going to stay opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline and stay opposed to any other oil pipelines that come through here because we understand that water is a precious resource. It is a gift from our grandfather, and it’s a gift for life, a gift of life.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Tom Weis, president of Climate Crisis Solutions, delivered an open letter signed by prominent individuals, including Bill McKibben, Darryl Hannah and tribal leaders, to both Obama and Romney campaign offices calling on them to withdraw support for Keystone XL.

Late last year, President Obama rejected TransCanada’s bid to build a $7 billion oil pipeline linking the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico so that the State Department could further study the environmental impacts of the pipeline on its 1,179 mile route from Alberta to Nebraska. The Department of State has recently started the process for issuing a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The previous EIS failed to include the required government-to-government consultation with Indian Tribes and did not adhere to the laws regarding tribes, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has stated that on the first day of his presidency he will sign an executive order to build the Keystone Pipeline. It certainly doesn’t appear that he cares whether the pipeline will negatively impact tribal communities. While Obama delayed the project for further study, his current stance is unclear.

The federal government has a duty to consider tribal impacts when considering whether to approve the pipeline. Given the lack of attention to tribal concerns about keystone during the campaign, one has to be left wondering: will either of the candidate stand up for tribal rights and protect their cultural and environmental resources that Keystone threatens?


The National Wildlife Federation has a long history of partnering with Native American Tribes to conserve and protect wildlife for our children’s future and currently partners with tribes to oppose the Keystone Pipeline and ensure their concerns regarding the pipeline are addressed.