Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition: Rosebud Sioux

redbud sioux members protest kxl in dc c vince schilling ictmn

While part of  TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline project has lately been given the green light by the US Congress, this means nothing to the many groups that oppose the project.

Congress has just passed legislation granting permission to build the 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline. Running from Canadian oil fields down to Steele City, Nebraska, petroleum would then be transferred to other pipelines transporting it to the Gulf Coast for shipment throughout the world.

President Obama Promises to Veto

A final bill will be reviewed by President Obama in the next two weeks. Obama, however, has said that he will veto any approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Obama’s promise instills new life for many opponents to the pipeline, including various Native tribes in Canada and the US. Their interest is a result of a confluence of issues, including deep-seated environmentalism in their spiritual practices and culture. With the addition of contested aboriginal land rights, and lack of appropriate consultation with these tribes, opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline was bound to arise.

The South Dakota Rosebud Sioux

One South Dakota tribe that will never agree to the pipeline is the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, or Sicangu Lakota Oyate. They are part of the larger Lakota Nation, also called the Seven Bands of the People of the Plains, or Titunwan, one of the Seven Council Fires, or Oceti Sakowin of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nation.

The Rosebud Indian Reservation was established in 1889 from the division of the Great Sioux Reservation. Currently, the total land area of the reservation and its trust lands is 1,970.362 sq mi (5,103.214 km²) with a population of about 21,000 enrolled members

The Sioux believe in having respect for “Mother Earth,” or Mitakuye Oyasin, and that all things are related as they are alive in spirit. Therefore, the land is part of the Sioux people. In their view, all things have life and humans do not have command over the animals and plants.  This attitude is evident in their stories and fables, where animals and humans interact as equals, and animals have their own spirits and personalities.

image (Image note and source: The Black Hills, Needles formation. wikicommons)

The Issue of Disputed Aboriginal Land Rights

The planned Keystone XL pipeline will be running through the Black Hills area, which according to the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties, were owned by the Greater Sioux Nation. Shortly after the Fort Laramie treaties were signed, gold was found on the land and the federal government immediately appropriated most of the land.

The area is sacred to the Sioux and they have attempted to regain the appropriated land by purchase and in the courts. Currently there is no resolution as the government will not return the land, and the Sioux are themselves divided on the issue. The added pressure of a pipeline being built on contested land adds more tension to negotiations and impacts discussions among all parties.

Keystone XL Pipeline is a “Risky Fossil Fuel Project”

In a November 2014 interview with Summit County Citizen’s Voice, Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott sums up the band’s stance:

“The Lakota people have always been stewards of this land…We feel it is imperative that we provide safe and responsible alternative energy resources not only to tribal members but to non-tribal members as well. We need to stop focusing and investing in risky fossil fuel projects like TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. We need to start remembering that the earth is our mother and stop polluting her and start taking steps to preserve the land, water, and our grandchildren’s future.”


Spiritual Values Are at Stake

Scott also states that as the band is a sovereign nation, ignoring their wishes could be interpreted as an act of war. While this rhetoric is inflammatory, it clearly indicates that, for the Rosebud Sioux, there is no bigger issue.

The outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline for these people is tied directly to their spiritual life and their respect for Mother Earth. It remains to be seen if the American government also holds these same values as they deliberate this critical issue in the next few months.

image (Image note and source: Keystone XL route map screencapture from kxl website)

(Top image note and source: Rosebud Sioux tribe joins Keystone XL protest in Washington, DC. Copyright Vince Schilling, from
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About the Author

Tereasa Maillie is a writer and researcher. She also has a very un-secret life as a producer and playwright. Her work has appeared in various poetry and short story anthologies. Her previous work includes the history of oil and gas in Alberta, Chinese medicine, First Nations and Métis history. You can find her on Twitter+, Google +, and her blog HistoryMinion.