First Nations Sign Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands and Keystone XL
Representatives from indigenous nations across the United States and Canada recently met to reaffirm a centuries-old collective-security treaty in defense of their homelands and reassert its authority in the face of a modern-day threat.
These representatives, participants in the January 23-25 event “Gathering to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands and Keystone XL,” formally agreed to “mutually and collectively oppose tar sands projects which would impact [their] territory, including but not limited to the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, the Enbridge Northern Gateway, Enbridge lines 9 and sixty-seven, or the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline and tanker projects.”
Culminating in the midst of the widespread Idle No More Movement, this treaty builds upon the tradition of numerous previous indigenous declarations such as the Save the Fraser River Declaration, the Rights of Mother Earth Accord, the Indigenous Leaders Spiritual Declaration, the Earth Charter, and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The conference and subsequent declaration occurred on the 150th anniversary of the Pawnee Nation and Ihanktonwan Dakota/Nakota Peace Treaty. Signed on January 23, 1863, this was the first known written peace treaty between Indian Nations in history.
The new treaty serves to reinforce the legal authority of the 1863 treaty and bring new attention to the problem of tar sands drilling in the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada.
Tar sands are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen. Bitumen is a heavy, black, viscous substance that is extracted from the tar sands and refined into oil. Most of the world’s oil reserves are in the form of tar sands, but due to difficult extrication processes and environmental dangers, currently Canada is the only nation with a large-scale commercial tar sands industry. Energy company TransCanada plans to build a 1,179 mile pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta in Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, USA. The Keystone XL pipeline is projected to provide five percent of current US oil demand. Supporters of the pipeline argue that this project is the safest and most environmentally responsible way to provide a stable energy supply to the United States.
However, indigenous representatives at the recent conference argue that the project poses “unacceptable risks” to their environment and way of life, including the destruction of rivers, lakes, forests, and ecosystems, the threat of oil spills into major river systems, negative impacts on community health, greenhouses gasses, and “irreparable harm to irreplaceable cultural resources, burial grounds, sacred and historic places, natural resources, and environmental resources of the central plains region.”
As Jacob Devany, founder of Culture Collective and contributing blogger to the Huffington Post said in support of the indigenous treaty, “Since the trees, the waterways, and the air we breathe have an eternal quality, any agreements to protect them should not expire over time or be assimilated into the passing ideologies of ages. First Nations People have known this since the original settlers arrived from the east. Though the current passing ideology that allows for the exploitation of nature for mineral, oil, and gas is more powerful than most institutions on the planet, it is unable to bend truths that are self-evident and of an eternal quality. The Idle No More Movement is here to remind us.”
TransCanada requires a presidential permit in order to construct the Keystone Pipeline across the US/Canada border. President Barack Obama was directly invited to send a representative to the conference. Approval of the pipeline would be considered a “grave abrogation” of the 1863 treaty and subsequently invite “regrettable consequences.”