Keystone XL: A Native Success Story

Forgot in the cascade of commentary following Keystone XL’s dramatic delay last week, was Keystone-specific pipeline litigation launched by Manitoba natives back in 2008. That legal ruling commences with the 150 companies comprising the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers declaring themselves  ‘adverse in interest‘ to the position taken by Treaty One – which happens to be the smallest treaty region in Canada. CAPP’s opening move in what has become the battle for Keystone is highlighted in the first paragraph:

[1] On this motion, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) seeks to be joined in this proceeding as a respondent, contrary to the wishes of the Applicants (collectively, the Treaty One First Nations).  CAPP is an industry association representing 150 companies which explore for, develop and produce natural gas and crude oil in Canada and it asserts that it “is adverse in interest” to the position taken by the Treaty One First Nations in this proceeding. CAPP also asserts in argument that “any factors relevant to the regulatory processes connected with the transportation of Canadian produced crude oil and natural gas have a direct and material impact on [it’s] members”.

Then just six months later, Treaty One paid a public-relations visit to Washington where native leaders were warmly received by the new president-elect’s administration. The Winnipeg Free Press was quick to realize that this ‘cordial’ and ‘accommodating’ welcome portended trouble ahead for proposed pipeline routes into the mid-west reporting:

“The group included 20 aboriginal chiefs, including four Treaty One chiefs from Manitoba and several American chiefs …The aboriginal chiefs met for 20 minutes with two of Obama’s aboriginal advisers after they were permitted to stage a march up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capital Hill … “We did get in to see the president-elect’s office and we did meet with some of his aboriginal advisors,” (Peguis Chief Glenn) Hudson said. “We asked the U.S. Government  to respect our treaty rights in Canada and our indigenous rights. It was cordial. They were very accommodating.”
Thus commenced the undermining of the Keystone pipeline in David and Goliath fashion. Canadian and American native strategists joined forces and applied a steady drumbeat of project opposition – highlighted by the White House sit-ins. Three weeks ago, it all came to a head in Denver when an Oglala Lakota leader surprised Obama during a fundraising speech by shouting ‘stop the Keystone pipeline’ while unfurling an anti-Keystone banner. Obama’s responded saying: “a decision had not yet been made …I know your deep concern about it. We will address it.” Two weeks later, the U.S. State Department announced that there will be yet another environmental assessment – delaying the project indefinitely.

So did Treaty One show CAPP how the native empowerment game is played when it comes to thwarting the best-laid pipeline plans? It sure looks that way. And don’t expect to hear any credit-taking from the native side because they’re too smart for that.

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