A couple of months ago, TC Energy, the developer of the pipeline, announced that it would terminate the Keystone XL pipeline project after President Biden revoked its permits on January 20, 2021. Oil pipelines are often overlooked as an incredibly important social justice issue, meaning that we might not grasp the significance of this victory, especially to Indigenous activists who have been fighting to abolish this pipeline for decades, as well as their great harm. Despite this victory, the fight is far from over. The Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3 pipeline are a few examples of existing oil pipelines that encroach on Indigenous land and perpetuate the United States' long history of settler colonialism. The Pipeline Podcast, with the great help of Indigenous activists and scholars, discusses the impact of oil pipelines, specifically the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, on Indigenous communities in the United States as well as the environment. The first episode provides the necessary historical background and context, connecting these pipelines to the United States’ larger settler colonial history. This podcast will not only inform but also help you take action. We encourage you to listen using the link in the bio until the podcast makes it to Apple Podcasts. We would also like to express our deepest gratitude to Ms. Wainya Locke, Ms. Angeline Cheek, and Dr. Andrew Curley for allowing me to interview them and share their stories.
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Episode 1 (Settler Colonialism): This episode provides necessary historical background and context, connecting oil pipelines to the United States’ larger settler colonial history to effectively grasp the significant harm of Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines and why they should be abolished.
Episode 2 (Clash of Narratives): This episode connects the setter colonial framework we defined in the previous episode to the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. In discussing their impact and history more specifically, we hear from the first-hand accounts of Indigenous activists fighting the pipelines and finally find out what is happening with the pipelines in 2021.
More Episodes COMING SOON!
On March 2, 2014, about 1,200 people from all over the United States gathered together in Washington D.C., forming a formidable mass of environmental justice and Indigenous rights activists. With large cardboard signs reading “stop the pipeline” and “people over pipelines,” the activists marched from Georgetown University to the White House in a loud and proud manner. When they arrived at the White House, hundreds of protesters dressed in white jumpsuits covered in black ink shackled themselves to a White House fence and lay on an obsidian-colored tarp next to the fence. This powerful scene of bodies submerged or drowning in oil symbolized the activists’ fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.
You may be wondering what is the Keystone XL pipeline, and why was it important enough to rally thousands of people against it? Well, continue listening to find out more. (Music)
My name is Ishikaa Kothari, and I am the host of the Pipeline Podcast. Through this series, I will be discussing the impact of oil pipelines, specifically the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, on Indigenous communities in the United States as well as the environment. Even though this issue may often be overlooked, the harm that these pipelines cause requires our immediate action. I will explain why, but to do so, it is crucial to start at the beginning. So during this episode, I will provide the necessary historical background and context, connecting these pipelines to the United States’ larger settler colonial history. (Music)
Keystone XL is a transcontinental oil pipeline that rapidly transports tar sands oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois and Texas. The current pipeline also passes through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. TC Energy Corporation, the energy infrastructure company in charge of developing keystone, began the pipeline’s construction around 2008, which is when protests against it started too. In 2010, Keystone became operational even though construction continued to extend it to Texas. Since 2016, with the completion of phase 3 of construction, the Keystone pipeline has delivered approximately 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to the Texas refineries. Transporting this much oil was not enough for TC Energy Corporation as they proposed an extension, also known as phase 4, to deliver 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day by creating a shortcut from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. The oil is harvested in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, one of the largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas with almost all of the world’s tar sands oil. The American Geosciences Institute, a nonprofit that represents earth scientists, reports that “Tar sands (also known as oil sands) are a mixture of mostly sand, clay, water, and a thick, molasses-like substance called bitumen. Bitumen is made of hydrocarbons—the same molecules in liquid oil—and is used to produce gasoline and other petroleum products.”
This oil passes through and nearby Indigenous lands, such as those of First Nations, Pawnee , Ponca, Fort Belk-nap Indian Community specifically the Assiniboine (Nakoda), Gros Ventr, and Oceti Sakowin that includes the Lakota, Dakota and the Nakota peoples. Additionally, the Native American Rights Fund, a non-profit organization that uses existing laws and treaties to ensure that U.S. state governments and the U.S. federal government live up to their legal obligations, explains, “the pipeline’s proposed route crosses through traditional Lakota homelands and treaty territories, and will affect not only the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota Oyate), but also Native Nations in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. It also endangers the Oguhlalla Aquifer, which supplies water for Native and non-Native users’ residential and agricultural needs on the High Plains in eight states.”
Even though this podcast mainly focuses on the Keystone pipeline, I will also briefly discuss the Dakota Access pipeline, which transports crude oil from the oil source, the Bakken formation in northwest North Dakota, to an oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois since 2017 and is owned by Energy Transfer. In crossing North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, the pipeline impacts and passes through the lands of Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Oceti Sakowin that includes the Lakota, Dakota and the Nakota peoples, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Muscogee Nation in Iowa. Therefore, this pipeline also gave rise to large protests with Pan-Indigenous support. Dr. Andrew Curley in “Beyond Environmentalism: #NoDAPL is Assertion of Tribal Sovereignty describes, “In 2016, the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe mobilized to prevent [the Dakota Access pipeline] from crossing through their unceded territories and threatening the Missouri River alongside the tribe’s eastern boundary. This became the #NoDAPL movement that galvanized hundreds of thousands.”
Fighting for tribal sovereignty, which entails the Indigenous right to self-determination and their ancestral lands, Indigenous lives, clean water, their environment, and sacred grounds, Indigenous communities and activists have spent years working to shut down these pipelines. Continue listening to ultimately find out the Biden administration’s response and the current state of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines (Music).
I will be using settler colonialism as a framework to study the experiences of Indigenous communities in the United States, and this framework focuses on colonists’ and US Americans’ deliberate extermination of Indigenous communities in order to occupy their land and seize their resources. Settler colonialism, which is inherently a genocidal policy, defines United States history, but the prevailing consensus national narrative tells a different and less truthful story. This origin narrative found in many textbooks and elementary and high school classrooms, driven by the Columbus myth and “Doctrine of Discovery,” suggests that “European nations acquired title to the lands they ‘discovered’ and the Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to the land after Europeans arrived and claimed it” as Dr. Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz explains in her book, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. To acquire Indigenous land, Euro-Americans waged war against Native American communities, aiming to wipe them out through predominantly their inhumanity and partly the fatal diseases they carried, forced them to sign treaties that US Americans most likely reneged on in the future, pushed them onto reservations often under military control, and tried to assimilate Indigenous children through brutal boarding school systems . A crucial part of the settler colonialism framework is also highlighting Indigenous agency, survivance, and resistance against colonialism, which can be seen through the powerful #NoDAPL movement and protests against the Keystone pipeline. This brief history lesson does not do justice to the distinct stories and experiences of Indigenous individuals and groups. Native American cultures and histories are not a monolith, and believing so would be a setter colonial behavior.
To learn more about the pipelines within United States’ long history of land grabs, I had the honor of speaking to Ms. Wainya Locke, a Lakota activist fighting the Dakota Access pipeline. [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE] Discussing US Americans’ unjust extraction and exploitation of Indigenous natural resources, she explains [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE].
Settler colonialism is not a thing of the past as it still continues today in combination with capitalism, which allows for government-supported corporate exploitation and seizing of Indigenous land and resources. In fact, Dr. Dunbar Ortiz states, “in the early twenty-first century, free-market fundamentalist economists and politicians identified the communally owned Indigenous reservations lands as asset to be exploited and, under the guise of helping to end Indigenous poverty on those reservations, call for doing away with them-- a new extermination and termination initiative.” With TC Energy and Energy Transfer breaking treaty obligations, denying tribal sovereignty by encroaching on Indigenous land, creating conditions that put Indigenous health and livelihood at risk as US Americans have done throughout history, oil pipelines are an example of this modern settler colonialism.
(Music) Thank you so much for listening. In the next episode, we will connect the setter colonial framework we defined to the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. In discussing their impact and history more specifically, we will hear from the first-hand accounts of Indigenous activists fighting the pipelines and finally find out what is happening with the pipelines in 2021. Until the next time. (Music)
EPISODE 2 Transcript
[QUOTE FROM MS. CHEEK. WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE]
Welcome back. My name is Ishikaa Kothari, and I am the host of the Pipeline Podcast. You just heard me speaking with Hunkpapa Lakota and Oglala Sioux activist and ACLU Indigenous Justice Organizer of Montana Ms. Angeline Cheek who is from the Fort Peck Reservation and has been diligently battling the Keystone XL pipeline for years. We were discussing the impact of tar sands oil on the environment and Indigenous communities.
As I mentioned in the first episode, since 2016, the Keystone pipeline has delivered approximately 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to the Texas refineries. This dramatic statistic communicates intuitively that the oil pipeline is terrible for the environment, no matter how safe and sustainable oil corporations like TC Energy and Energy Transfer make Keystone and Dakota Access out to be. Fossil fuels produce pollutants harmful for the environment and public health, and oil extraction emits methane, which locks in heat and exacerbates global warming. By allowing the United States to easily transport and extract crude oil, oil pipelines fortify our dependence on fossil fuels, pushing us in the wrong direction when it comes to moving to renewable energy sources and more sustainable practices to fight climate change. To make matters worse, the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental advocacy group, reported in January 2021 that “Tar sands oil is thicker, more acidic, and more corrosive than lighter conventional crude, and this ups the likelihood that a pipeline carrying it will leak. Since it first went into operation in 2010, TC Energy’s original Keystone Pipeline System has leaked more than a dozen times; one incident in North Dakota sent a 60-foot, 21,000-gallon geyser of tar sands oil spewing into the air.” Toxic chemicals from these leaks threaten human health, entire ecosystems, and “at least 20 imperiled species — including the San Joaquin kit fox, black-footed ferret and whooping crane” as the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that works to protect endangered species, states.
In addition to Ms. Cheek’s firsthand account, Madelon Finkel’s paper called “The impact of oil sands on the environment and health” has shown that the tar sand oil spills from the Keystone pipeline increase the risk of cancer and respiratory and neurological diseases, impacting Native Americans exposed to the toxic chemicals from these spills. Not only does exposure to these pollutants and contaminated water lead to fatal diseases, but it also makes daily survival more difficult with Indigenous communities having to test their meat before they eat it and constantly haul clean water from father sources than the original water source as Ms. Cheek described. These significant hindrances on Indigenous existence demonstrates how pipelines contribute to the US historical attempted genocide against Native Americans.
While tar sands oil is more dangerous than crude oil, the Dakota Access pipeline’s spills are still detrimental. #NoDAPL Activist Wainya Locke told me during our discussion that [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE]
Even though some Indigenous people might care about the environmental impact of these pipelines and view the environment and land as more than commodities, the reasoning for advocating against Keystone and Dakota access goes beyond conservation. This fight is about decolonization and protecting tribal sovereignty. Dr. Andrew Curley, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Geography, Development, and Environment and member of the Navajo Nation, makes this argument in his essay, “Beyond Environmentalism: #NoDAPL is Assertion of Tribal Sovereignty, which is a part of Nick Estes’ and Jaskiran Dhillion’s incredible book, Standing with Standing Rock. He explains [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE].
While Indigenous communities believe that the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines violate tribal sovereignty and right to their land by running through treaty-protected lands, the owners of the pipelines deny these claims, creating a clash between two opposite narratives. In fact, Dakota Access pipeline developed Energy Transfer has a website called DAPL Pipeline Facts to fortify their side of the story. It includes a quick facts page that addresses misconceptions about the Dakota Access pipeline as well as resources like Standing Rock Fact Checker, which was published and written by Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. This organization is a partnership of entities from the agriculture, business, and labor sectors aimed at supporting the economic development and energy security benefits associated with infrastructure projects in the Midwest, meaning that the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now is a completely impartial entity to accurately fact check on this controversy. Just to be clear, I was being sarcastic. After extensive research, let’s engage in some fact checking of our own. (Music)
On the DAPL website, Energy Transfer states, “The pipeline does not encroach or cross any land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” The Fort Laramie treaty of 1868 proves this assertion to be false. According to Science writer Kimbra Cutlip in the Smithsonian Magazine, “In 1868, the United States entered into the treaty with a collective of Native American bands historically known as the Sioux (Dakota, Lakota and Nakota) and Arapaho. The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, a large swath of lands west of the Missouri River. It also designated the Black Hills as “unceded Indian Territory” for the exclusive use of native peoples. But when gold was found in the Black Hills, the United States reneged on the agreement, redrawing the boundaries of the treaty, and confining the Sioux people—traditionally nomadic hunters—to a farming lifestyle on the reservation. It was a blatant abrogation that has been at the center of legal debate ever since. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians ruled that the U.S. had illegally appropriated the Black Hills and awarded more than $100 million in reparations. The Sioux Nation refused the money (which is now worth over a billion dollars), stating that the land was never for sale. ... In the five generations since the treaty was signed and broken, the Oceti Shacowin Nations have steadily lost reservation lands to white development. They now live in small reservations scattered throughout the region.” Both Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines pass through the unceded Indian territory, clearly encroaching on Indigenous land and adding to the United States long history of broken promises to Indigenous communities. Ms. Locke adds [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE].
Additionally, the DAPL website includes that Energy Transfer consulted with Indigenous communities on the pipeline, and The United States Army Corps of Engineers had hundreds of contacts with dozens of tribes while the Dakota Access project was under review. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is an engineering formation of the United States Army that signs off on civic engineering construction projects, especially those on navigable rivers. Since the Dakota Access pipeline is underneath the Missouri River, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to assess the pipeline’s environmental risks and decide whether the project should continue. Although the United States Army Corps of Engineers did consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous communities, they did not receive their consent. Without the power to veto the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ decision, Indigenous voices are clearly unheard by and do not matter to the federal government. In fact, without the ability to offer and deny consent, the US government continues to deny Indigenous existence and self-determination, which a setter colonial tactic.
Lastly, the DAPL website mentions, “Multiple Native American tribes in the U.S. benefit from oil and gas development on their land. In North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation recently negotiated a more favorable tax revenue sharing arrangement with the state from new oil and gas activity on trust and fee lands. The tribe (also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes) earns this revenue based on the amount of oil produced on their land, with 80% of its budget coming from oil and gas royalties and revenues. The Three Affiliated Tribes use Dakota Access to transport more than 60% of the oil they produce. Accordingly, their members stand to suffer significant losses if the Dakota Access Pipeline is shut down and Bakken production fails to recover or declines as a result.” What this statement fails to include is that despite the fact that the MHA nation benefits from this business, it supported Standing Rock’s efforts to stop and move the pipeline. According to Dr. Curley’s essay, “If we were to rely on the framework of [Indigenous people as natural environmentalists], we would find the actions of these tribal governments contradictory. However, if we understand tribal support for Standing Rock as a challenge to continued colonialism and the appropriation of Native lands for projects that put stand the actions of tribal governments who simultaneously support Standing Rock’s claim and the industries that caused the problem in the first place.” The owners of the pipelines and others greatly profiting off these pipelines also often respond to the backlash Keystone and Dakota Access face by emphasizing their economic benefits, mentioning the great revenue they create for the country and countless jobs produced. But it is important to keep in mind that the benefits can be inflated, which in no way justify the substantial detriments of these pipelines. For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council asserts, “When TC Energy said the pipeline would create nearly 119,000 jobs, a State Department report instead concluded the project would require fewer than 2,000 two-year construction jobs and that the number of jobs would hover around 35 after construction.” Ms. Cheek confirms this, saying “[WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE.]” Overall, while some Indigenous communities and people in the low or middle class might have some small gains from the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, the true benefactors are the large oil corporations and producers, essentially the 1%. Before we find out the current state of the pipelines in 2021, I want to remind you that setter colonialism is inherently a genocidal policy and show you how the pipelines contribute to this violence too. [Music]
Ms. Cheek proclaims, “If you take a look at these pipelines, they're all going near the borders of the reservations. I see it as an act of genocide, another way to destroy our people, just like how the government tried to strip us of our culture and our ceremonies.” To provide temporary housing for the predominantly male construction workers of these pipelines, corporations have erected housing communities, known infamously as man camps. Contributing to the genocide Ms. Cheek describes and United States’ extensive history of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, these man camps have led to an increase of violence against Indigenous women. Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization founded to raise awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice, explains, “The Fort Berthold Reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations, is located in western “North Dakota” , and, in recent years, has experienced an exponentially increasing level of violence against Native women. North Dakota’s Uniform Crime Report shows that violent crime has increased 7.2 percent, while 243 reported rapes occurred in 2012 – an increase from 2007 in 2011.” Despite these inhumane crimes, these men are often not held accountable because of the Oilphant v. Suquamish of 1978, a Supreme Court case that established that tribal justice systems do not have the right to prosecute non-Natives who committed crimes on the reservation. Ms. Cheek, in fact, has been impacted by the man camps.
After years of awareness walks, informational workshops, self-defense workshops, protests, and legal observing, Indigenous activists fighting the Keystone pipeline experienced a victory. Ms. Cheek remembers, [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE]. On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order revoking the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline permit that the Trump administration granted, blocking the phase 4 extension from being built and stopping the entire system from operating. The Fort Belk-nap Indian Community specifically the Assiniboine (Nakoda), Gros Ventr, Oceti Sakowin, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) as well as their allies must have been ecstatic. Indigenous voices were heard, and Indigenous resistance paid off. But, like Ms. Cheek said, the fight is far from over.
Specifically, former President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline during his presidency, and, then, former President Donald Trump reenacted the pipelines. This history of back and forth demonstrates that this victory during the Biden administration can easily be reversed in the future, meaning that this accomplishment is tenuous and that the fate of Indigenous communities depends on the whims of presidential administrations like it has been throughout the past. The infrastructure of the keystone pipeline should be removed so that this victory cannot be undone. Dr. Curley adds, “[WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE].”
As for the Dakota Access pipeline, the status quo is much more complicated. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been filing lawsuits against the US Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer for years through EarthJustice, their legal representation. For example, according to Earthjustice, on February 14, 2017, The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe files a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to overturn recent Army Corps of Engineers permits of the pipeline issued without environmental review or consideration of treaty rights. On March 25, 2020 D.C. District Court granted a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down federal permits for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, and on July 6, 2020, The D.C. District Court ordered the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline to halt operations while the government conducts a full-fledged analysis examining the risk DAPL poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The shutdown order was swiftly overturned, and the pipeline has been operating since. This January of 2021, a D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling that the Army Corps unlawfully issued the pipeline's water crossing permit, but deferred to the new administration to decide whether to shut down the pipeline or ignore its legal obligation and allow it to continue operating. On April 9, 2021, Representatives from the Biden administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the agency will not shutter the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite the ongoing threats it poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the fact that it is operating illegally without a federal permit.” United States District Judge on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia James E. Boasberg has said while the appeals court ruling upheld the finding that the pipeline is currently an "unlawful encroachment on federal land," the ability to act rests largely with the Corps, rather than the courts. He also wrote [on March 25, 2020] that “the Court thus cannot find that the Corps has adequately discharged its duties” and ordered a more stringent review. Specifically, he ruled that the original study did not adequately consider whether an oil spill under the Missouri River would affect the tribe’s fishing and hunting rights; whether the project might disproportionately affect tribes and other at-risk, low-income communities; and whether the pipeline’s effects on the environment would be “highly controversial.”
After all these court battles, we know that the Army Corps is currently conducting an environmental and safety review to determine whether the pipeline poses a threat to the Tribe. Once this review is complete (expected in early 2022), then it will be determined whether the pipeline is safe to operate or must be permanently shut down, according to EarthJustice. Here is Ms. Locke’s predictions on what will occur with the pipeline. [WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE] (Music)
Since our inaction allows for such injustice to continue and the settler colonial history to repeat itself over and over again, It is imperative that we join this fight against oil pipelines and in support of tribal sovereignty and environmental justice to prevent these injustices from continuing. Raise awareness about this information, take a Native American studies class, if this crucial history is not part of your school curriculum, advocate for it and do your own research, divest from companies, such as Wells Fargo, US bank, and Chase, that contribute to the fossil fuel industry, listen to and amplify Indigenous voices, and get involved in and support, such as through donations, organizations, like Indigenous Environmental Network, 350.org, Honor the Earth, Standing Rock Youth Council, and EarthJustice. Also, write to the Biden administration and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline. In fact, EarthJustice has an email template to easily write to the Biden administration. Ms. Cheek adds, “[WE ARE WORKING ON INSERTING QUOTE].” (Music)
Thank you so much for listening. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Karmen for her guidance and lessons on Indigenous history, Ms. Wainya Locke, Ms. Angeline Cheek, and Dr. Andrew Curley for allowing me to interview them and share their stories, and all the sources that I referenced throughout. This podcast will be taking a pause to wait to cover the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the Dakota Access pipeline, but I will make sure to keep you updated, cover more Indigenous stories, and maybe even hear what Energy Transfer and United States Army Corps of Engineers have to say about their role in perpetuating settler colonialism. In the meantime, I encourage you to reflect, learn more, and take action. With limitless power to create transformative change, I am certain that we will be able to abolish these pipelines and more.
Until the Next Time.
Donate, sign petitions and letters to government officials, attend protests, divest, and educate yourself! (Check out the last five minutes of episode 2 of The Pipeline Podcast for more)
Tell Biden to permanently shut down Dakota Access Pipeline through EarthJustice: https://earthjustice.org/brief/2021/biden-delivers-disappointment-on-the-dakota-access-pipeline
Stop Line 3 resource guide and donation link through Honor the Earth: https://www.honorearth.org/stop_line_3
Tell Biden to Stop Line 3 through Lakota People's Law Project: