XL Pipeline Opposition: National Congress of American Indians

tribal procession at 2011 national congress of american indians convention
Tribal procession at 2011 NCAI convention, which passed resolution on the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: NCAI at Flickr CC


The news that US President Barack Obama has vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline project has not ended the debates over the building of TransCanada’s 1,179-mile (1,897 km) pipeline.  Beginning in Hardisty, Alberta, and extending south to Steele City, Nebraska, the pipeline will cross many aboriginal group’s traditional areas. As mentioned in previous Eden Keeper articles, many of these groups actively oppose the building of the pipeline. Representing many of these groups in the US is the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). While the NCAI has not commented yet on President Obama’s veto, they have a history of opposing the pipeline based on environmental concerns and the treat to sacred sites.

The National Congress of American Indians History

The NCAI was founded in 1944, and is the oldest, largest representative of American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the US.  As a non-profit organization, its purpose is to advocate for Indian rights for federally recognized and state recognized American Indian tribes. While their work has primarily focused on legal issues and rights, health care, education, and preserve Indian culture, they have responded to the call for environmental protection and cultural advocacy from their membership.

NCAI members 1944
National Congress of American Indians charter Members at the Constitutional Convention Cosmopolitan Hotel, Denver, Colorado, November 15-18, 194. Photo – NCAI

Opposition Based on Cultural, Environmental Factors

The position of the NCAI to the Keystone XL pipeline project, and the tar sands development in general, is clearly stated in their 2011 Resolution. They offer the First Nations of Canada their ongoing support and solidarity as well:

WHEREAS, the First Nations of Canada, representing the vast majority of First Nations impacted by “tar sands” development, have unanimously passed resolutions supporting a moratorium on new “tar sands” development and expansion until a “cumulative effects management system” is in place, and are also in opposition to the pipeline; and WHEREAS, many U.S. Tribal Nations are also in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline because it would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed…

The NCAI directly addressed the federal government in 2013 with their comments in response to the U.S. Department of State Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the project applicant for Presidential Permit. Their opposition to the pipeline is based on many factors, but mostly on concerns over the destruction of tribal water sources and culturally significant areas for tribal nations within those states. The NCAI provides multiple examples of the impact of the pipeline on local waters, and concerns over possible pipeline spills.

They also argue that because the pipeline will also pass through or near burial grounds and other sacred places that are not held in trust by the federal government, but exist in traditional and historic tribal territories that have clear and ongoing tribal interests. Sacred areas in Montana, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska as recognized in the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851 may be impacted, but there has been little study into the issue. The NCAI call for the identification, evaluation, and assessment of how the proposed project would affect any historic property.

The final outcome of the NCAI and other opponents of the pipeline actions remains to be seen. So far, Republican party members are denouncing the veto, saying Mr. Obama gave in to the his environmental supporters. What the reaction and next actions of the Indians of America, it’s clear that they will have the National Congress of American Indian’s support.

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.