By: Sophia Sparksworthy, WEA Intern
“The [Cowboy Indian Alliance] asks President Obama a simple question: Is an export pipeline for dirty tar sands worth risking our sacred land and water for the next seven generations?”
— Reject and Protect, Call to Action
In an effort to tap into domestic oil supplies between the United States and Canada, the construction of a massive pipeline to transport the oil from the tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico has been underway since 2005. But brave opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline—led by Indigenous groups and leaders, environmental and social justice organizations, and community activists—has grown with increased public awareness about the environmental and social impacts it poses.
In recent weeks, and after years of organized resistance, prolonged reports, and court rulings, President Barack Obama’s administration announced that its final decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline has been delayed indefinitely by the State Department. This announcement came in the midst of the Reject and Protect rally in Washington DC, and signified a new opportunity for continued and amplified resistance to dirty oil.
The rally and accompanying encampment, which ran from Earth Day, April 22nd, through Sunday, April 27th, was the result of a fierce and historic partnership between tribal communities, ranchers, and farmers from Nebraska, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota living in the pipelines direct path who came together to form the Cowboy Indian Alliance. Their unified mission is to reject the pipeline and protect the sanctity and well-being of their health, livelihoods and traditional lands. Among the thousands of allies, supporters and demonstrators who stood in solidarity with the Cowboy Indian Alliance was their own Dallas Goldtooth, representatives from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Yankton Sioux Nation, Honor the Earth, Bold Nebraska, musician Niel Young and actress/activist Daryl Hannah, and many more.
Reject and Protect kicked off with the establishment of the encampment at the National Mall. Over 24 ranchers and tribal members from the Cowboy Indian Alliance rode on horseback from the Capitol to the encampment to signify the official start of the five-day event. Members of the alliance helped to construct a hand painted tipi as a gift to President Obama, which was presented to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on Saturday, April 26th. The tipi’s adornment of blue and green lines, trees, horses, stars and fingerprints were representations of the sacred connection between people and their environment, and the Cowboy Indian Alliance’s hopes for protected land and clean water.
Each day of the encampment was initiated with a Traditional Water Ceremony in the morning to highlight the threat the Keystone XL poses to our waters, and consisted of various forms of action against the pipeline. This included meetings with environmental leaders and the White House, where members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance were able to voice their concerns about the pipeline and the use of tar sands; a projection of comments against the pipeline across the Environmental Protection Agencies offices; a protest at the Lincoln Memorial meant to demonstrate the injustice tribal community members and ranchers face when speaking up for themselves and the earth, while corporations such as TransCanada are able to operate with little accountability for their environmentally destructive practices; and an interfaith prayer ceremony which was brought to Secretary of State John Kerry’s front yard.
The closing ceremony at the White House on the encampment’s final day allowed all of those involved with the resistance to the Keystone XL to be heard. The ceremony signified the end of one chapter of strong and unified resistance against the pipeline, as well as the opportunity to increase resistance and our alliances in the coming weeks and months.
Reject and Protect truly was a call to action and a chance to begin building even stronger partnerships to protect communities and the earth as we move forward toward a future that respects our communities and our joint responsibility to care for and safeguard our planet.
WEA is humbled and inspired by the work that was done in Washington DC, and offers our heartfelt thanks and support to those involved.