Happily, its been a pretty piss poor month for TransCanada. Last Friday, the State Department announced it would delay a final decision on Keystone XL because of the lack of an approved route for the pipeline through Nebraska. Then on Tuesday, pipeline protesters – including nearly a hundred of those same Bold Nebraskans successfully pressuring the gov’t to protect the Ogallala Aquifer and millions of acres of prime farmland – descended on Washington D.C., just in time for Earth Day.
But this wasn’t just another batch of rowdy young idealists and eco-hipsters. It was the epitome of the American Midwest: the salt of the earth farmer, the iconic cowboy, the noble Native American. On the 44th Earth Day, wearing matching black armbands inscribed with Pipeline Fighter, 24 riders on horseback led members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance onto the National Mall.
It marked the start of “Reject and Protect”, a week long rally, complete with a tipi encampment, that initially expected to attract some 5,000 protesters to Saturday’s main event; a water ceremony and procession by the Capitol to demonstrate opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
But that original estimate is sure to swell for the April 26th demonstration given the amount of media coverage the Alliance has garnered this week. Bloomberg. The Wall Street Journal. Time. The New York Post. The Huffington Post. NBC News. ABC News. The Hill. The Nation. The Chicago Sun-Times. The Los Angeles Times. The list goes on and on.
“Historically, cowboys and Indians have been at odds—but no more. The Cowboy and Indian Alliance shows our cooperation and our working together in mutual respect,” said Ben Gotschall (pictured above), a fourth generation rancher who grew up in Nebraska’s Sand Hills. “That shared bond proves that we pipeline fighters are not just a few angry landowners holding out or environmentalists pushing a narrow agenda. We are people from all walks of life and include the people who have been here the longest and know the land best. They, sadly, know what it’s like to lose their land, to lose the ground that gives a nation its identity. We’re proud that they have joined us in this fight. Together this time, we cannot lose.”
If built, the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline would cross some of the most fertile farms and ranches in Nebraska and put critical freshwater sources like the Ogallala Aquifer and family wells at risk of dangerous tarsands spills. The first Keystone pipeline leaked 13 times in its first year of operation. Families in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas are still recovering from tarsands spills in their communities in 2010 and 2013, while First Nations in the Canadian tarsands zone are facing devastating health and environmental impacts.
“Our elders remind us that we cannot drink oil and we cannot eat money,” said Crystal Lameman, of the Beaver Lake Creek Nation, located in the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada. “We’re here in solidarity with all the First Nations in Canada — the Dene, Cree and Metis Peoples — who are directly impacted by tar sands expansion. This is about more than a single pipeline: we need to stop the destructive expansion of the tar sands at its source.”
Photo credit: Mark Hefflinger