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'Moccasins on the Ground' Aims to Shield People from 'Black Venom' of Keystone XL

Tom Weis

First Nations people started the Keystone XL fight in the U.S. by waking up the world to the survival threats posed by Canada's poisonous tar sands mining. Indigenous leaders now vow to end the Keystone XL fight by vanquishing, once and for all, the northern leg of TransCanada's "black venom" tar sands pipeline.

Oyate Wahacanka ("Shield the People"), a project of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has erected tipi spirit camps along the northern route of Keystone XL to "stop progress along the pipeline right-of-way." Should it need to, the tribe intends to use its "legal and moral authority" to nonviolently prevent the construction of the tar sands project. As described on their website, Lakota leaders are standing their ground against Keystone XL for the following reasons:

  • Potential loss of clean drinking water
  • Violation of treaty rights
  • Increased levels of violence that have been associated with the "man camps"
  • Increased rates of cancer affecting residents near the pipeline
  • Loss of crops and insect life caused by the hot pipes

Under the tireless leadership of Lakota matriarch Debra White Plume, Owe Aku ("Bring Back the Way") has organized an extended series of 3-day "Moccasins on the Ground" nonviolent direct action training camps to prevent the construction of Keystone XL North. I had the distinct honor to participate in one of these life-changing gatherings last summer. As described on their website:

"Lakota People, and many other Red Nations people, we have painted our faces. Our allies up north have painted their faces. For sacred water, for Unci Maka [Mother Earth], for our generations. As people of the earth, our coming generations have a right to sacred water, no policy, no corporation, no politics should be more important than that... We are in a time of prophecy, our collective action will be significant, with all the love in our hearts, we must all resist this destruction, and stand for sacred water and Unci Maka." 

This Earth Day, a "Cowboy Indian Alliance" from the Keystone North pipeline route will ride into the nation's capitol on horseback and set up tipis near the White House to call on President Obama to reject a presidential permit for the tar sands project. This public event comes two and a half years after a group of "Cowboys and Indians," joined by Daryl Hannah, first saddled up to fight Keystone XL. The 6-day Washington, DC encampment is called Reject and Protect. As described on their website:

"On that day [April 22], we will set up camp nearby the White House, lighting our fire and burning our sage, and for 5 days, we will bear proud witness to President Obama's final decision on Keystone XL, reminding him of the threat this tar sands pipeline poses to our climate, land, water and tribal rights. Throughout those 5 days, we will show the power of our communities with events ranging from prayers at Sec. Kerry's home and an opening ceremony of tribes and ranchers on horseback in front of the White House."

While campaigning for president in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was adopted by the Crow Nation and given a Crow name that translates as, "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land." Barack Black Eagle would do honor to his Crow name, and to Native wisdom, by rejecting the Keystone XL permit outright. His Friday announcement to delay (again) a decision on Keystone North until after the November elections does not do this, but it shows the strength of a movement that has fought TransCanada to a standstill.

With gratitude in my heart, I thank our indigenous brothers and sisters for their fearless leadership, and for showing us how to make peace with the planet. Let all who are for the Earth unite as one human family against the existential threat tar sands pose to those living today, and the next seven generations to come.


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Tom Weis

Tom Weis

Tom Weis is the president of Climate Crisis Solutions in Boulder, Colorado.

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