'Cowboy and Indian' Alliance Marches Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Large gathering of Native Americans and ranchers call on President Obama to reject the pipeline.

Neil Young and Daryl Hannah flank a Reject and Protect marcher.
Photo Credit: Jamie Henn

Thousands of environmental activists joined the farmers, ranchers and tribal leaders of the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' for to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline earlier this week. Organizers say that the ceremonial procession was the largest event of the five day “Reject and Protect” encampment in Washington, DC.

The Reject and Protect protest highlights the opposition to Keystone XL among those who live along the pipeline route.

“Today, boots and moccasins showed President Obama an unlikely alliance has his back to reject Keystone XL to protect our land and water,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, one of the organizers of the event.

Rocker Neil Young and actress Daryl Hannah joined the protest march, which organizers say included thousands of people. The march began at the National Mall and proceeded past the U.S.. Capitol. 

Protestors presented a hand-painted tipi to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as a gift to President Obama. The tipi represented the Cowboy and Indian Alliance’s hopes for protected land and clean water. The tipi was named “Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish” and “Oyate Wookiye,” two titles given to President Obama by the Lakota and the Crow Nations upon his visit to the region in 2008. The title translates from the Lakota and Crow languages, respectively, as “Man Who Helps the People” and “One Who Helps People throughout the Land.”

“Keystone XL is a death warrant for our people,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer, who helped lead the presentation of the tipi to the Smithsonian. “President Obama must reject this pipeline and protect our sacred land and water. The United States needs to respect our treaty rights and say no to Keystone XL.”

The five-day encampment began with an Earth Day march and ceremony. On Wednesday, members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance met with Obama administration officials to voice their concerns about Keystone XL and tar sands expansion.

One of the more notable protests happened at the Lincoln Memorial where a Sioux nation member and a rancher risked police arrest by walking into the reflecting pool with a sign that read, “Standing in the water could get me arrested, TransCanada pollutes drinking water and nothing happens.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project would extend an existing pipeline from Alberta, Canada to export crude oil extracted from tar sands under Canada's Boreal Forest to refineries along the U.S. Gulf coast in Texas and Louisiana for export.

Tar sands oil crude is dirtier and more corrosive than conventional oil, emitting more greenhouse gas emissions that add to climate change.

President Obama, faced with pressure from environmentalists and the progressive base, has said he would approve the Keystone XL only if it did not significantly impact the environment. The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the project since the pipeline would cross an international border, concluded just that--that the pipeline would have no "significant impact"--in an environmental impact statement.

Opponents of the project say the environmental impact statement is suspect because it was written in part by a consultant for TransCanada, the company that wants the XL built. An investigation by the State Department's inspector general found that there was no conflict of interest in a TransCanada consultant writing an impact statement for a project TransCanada wants. This despite a Mother Jones investigation that found that the State Department had redacted the biographies of the environmental impact statement's authors, concealing extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.