Broken Treaties, Broken Lives – Part 1: Promises to Keep

When I started this blog, I had no intention of getting into current affairs or social commentary. Really. But recently, a couple of issues have changed my mind. What is a writer if she doesn’t write about what’s most important to her?

As you all probably know, the US has a very long-standing tradition of making pacts and treaties with Native Americans, and then ignoring those agreements when some new, “better” idea comes along. What you may not have heard is that the US Government is currently in the process of doing it again.

Not once, but twice.

The first of the new, “better” ideas to come along is the Keystone Pipeline (KXL). KXL is the brainchild of TransCanada Corporation, a Canadian fuel company that is currently in the process of extracting tar sands oil in Alberta, with the intent of transporting it via pipeline to Houston, Texas, to be refined. The US House of Representatives has voted several times to pass the project.

Proponents of KXL have assured us that many (up to a million) high-paying permanent jobs will be created in the US; that the pipeline will do no harm to the environment; and that KXL will lower American dependence on “foreign energy sources”.

However, TransCanada has already let it slip that most of the jobs created will be temporary construction jobs, and makes no secret of the fact that the refined oil will be exported.

And while the pipeline itself may be ecologically sound (I for one find that very hard to believe), tar sands oil is the dirtiest fuel known at this point in time, and I can find no public records of any plan for clean-up.

But that’s not enough to stop KXL’s proponents, and the fact that the pipeline, as currently planned, will cut diagonally through the Sioux Nation’s land doesn’t stand in their way, either.

The Yankton, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and other Sioux tribes stand in opposition to KXL. As reported by Indian Country Today Media Network, the Sioux Nation is working in conjunction with NOKXL Dakota, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and many other groups and individuals, who promise “continued opposition … (we) will not concede lands to a foreign entity or compromise the climate for generations to come.”

The basis for their opposition is the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Article 2 grants lands to the Sioux (about half of what the Treaty of 1851 promised them), and states it shall be for the “…absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians named herein.”

The Treaty of 1868 is irrevocable, and cannot be changed by the President, Congress, or Supreme Court unless it violates the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, if the Sioux do not want the pipeline on their land it, quite simply, should not be built.

Which brings us to the second problem, concerning the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Slipped into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act at the very last minute, was a provision to give 2400 acres of the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper Mining (commonly referred to as Rio Tinto), an Australian-English company. Rio Tinto plans to mine these lands for copper. This plan had been struck down several times in the past, which is why a certain Republican Senator (who didn’t get to be president) and his cronies attached it to the must-pass Defense budget.

The bill actually “swaps” those 2400 copper-rich acres for 5300 acres of sub-standard land. But those 2400 acres are considered sacred ancestral lands by the San Carlos tribe. Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler made this statement to Huffington-Post:

Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever — sunrise dancers — and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the Acorn Grounds, and the medicinal plants … and our prayer areas.”

The land swap includes Oak Flat, Devil’s Canyon and Apache Leap, where 75 Apaches were massacred in 1870. Popular history says that 50 of the warriors were killed in battle, while the remaining 25 ran their horses over the cliff to prevent being captured. However, the recently-discovered diary of one of the settlers of the area records that the 25 warriors not killed in battle were actually thrown over the cliff by local ranchers while the Army stood by.

But the facts of the massacre don’t matter. The wrangling around KXL is not important. What matters is the notion that Native Americans are somehow unworthy of being considered when their land and religious rights are being violated. That they are somehow lesser citizens, whose land should be forfeit in a way NOT ONE of those instigating these plans would accept if the land were theirs.

Have we learned nothing from history?

Have we not progressed beyond the “only good Indian” philosophy*?

How can people who huff and puff about religious freedom be so willing to ignore the religious beliefs of its first citizens?

KXL is a mockery wrapped in a lie, wrapped in the flag.

The RioTinto swap is a no-holds-barred land grab that I’m betting Congress thought no one would notice.

There’s little we can do but raise our voices and pens, sign petitions and write editorials. And hope that greed doesn’t triumph once again.


*The only good Indian is a dead Indian — Popular 19th century adage

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