Keystone XL and the Lakota

Over the last few years, there has been much controversy concerning the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Although I am generally very supportive of efforts to develop the means to extract and deliver North American petroleum resources, I am greatly dismayed by the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The United States needs to become less dependent on overseas petroleum. Developing the means to safely extract and transport the tar sands reserves would go a long way toward decreasing our overseas energy dependence. However, doing so at the expense indigenous peoples is immoral and unethical.

The proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline was chosen because it is the cheapest, and avoids most of the more highly populated areas. However, it crosses through lands that were given to the Lakota Sioux by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Lakota KeystoneThe 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie established the Great Sioux Reservation, which included all of the western half of South Dakota, as well as portions of Nebraska and North Dakota. The federal government never enforced their end of the treaty, and after gold was discovered in the Black Hill in the 1870s, all but abandoned the treaty. In the 1980s, the United States Supreme Court awarded millions of dollars in compensation for violation of the treaty, which the Lakota refused to accept, because by doing so, they would give up their claim to the lands. The Lakota have never agreed to give up any of their land, awarded in the 1868 treaty; the United States Government simply stole it.

The Lakota people have long been the victims of abuse by the United States government. In addition to having their lands stolen, the United States government forcibly removed their children and placed them in boarding schools, where they were forbidden to speak the Lakota language or practice Lakota customs and religion. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been filled with corruption, leading to extreme poverty on the reservations that still exists today. Men, women, and children were hunted down and massacred by the military. The list goes on and on.

Gathering the dead after the Wounded Knee massacre

Gathering the dead after the Wounded Knee massacre

The forcing of the Keystone XL pipeline onto the lands that should still legally belong to the Lakota, against the wishes of the Lakota, is but another disgraceful chapter of the federal government’s disregard for the rights of the Lakota people. The Lakota have suffered enough at the hands of our government. It is time to right the wrongs of the past, not to inflict additional abuse on the Lakota for the convenience of other Americans and the oil industry. The United States government should be working to find ways to give the land back to the Lakota, rather than further ignoring the rights of the Lakota by building the Keystone XL pipeline across their lands.

Should an additional Keystone pipeline be built? Probably, yes – but not across Lakota land claims. I do not understand why the additional pipeline cannot be routed around Lakota lands, possibly following the same route as the existing pipeline. There is no reason it should cross Lakota tribal lands – except for the fact that the oil companies want to save money, and the federal government doesn’t care about the rights of the Lakota. There are ways to build additional pipeline capacity without desecrating lands that the Lakota consider sacred.

Unfortunately, the United States government cares little about the rights of indigenous peoples, nor about the religious rights of any of its citizens, unless it is convenient to do so.

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