Members of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota blocked two Canadian trucks from driving through the community on March 5, leading to a 6-hour standoff and 5 arrests. The Rapid City Journal reported that “several dozens” of American Indians were part of the blockade. But, a community journalist confirmed that only those 5 individuals had been arrested. Pine Ridge is home to the Lakota and is one of the poorest communities in the U.S.
The trucks apparently were on their way to Texas as part of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. KILI, a Pine Ridge radio station, posted an alert about the trucks’ arrival and asked for citizens to engage in a blockade. Lakota police and state troopers had already stopped the trucks and ordered them to return to Canada. But, the drivers refused.
“We formed a blockade to stop tar sands oil mine equipment from passing our lands,” said Deborah White Plume, one of the residents arrested. “The truckers told us the corporation office from Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the State of South Dakota made a deal to save the truckers $50,000 per truck. There were two trucks, from having to pay $100,000.”
TransCanada, a Canadian oil and gas company, still hopes to build an oil pipeline that would stretch from Alberta, Canada to Texas, roughly 2,000 miles. If constructed, it will carry one of the dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil, which is oil mixed in with sandy soil, rather than oil that is pooled beneath the surface. Tar sands oil extraction is a highly complex and intensive process. Along its route, the pipeline could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, which in turn, could jeopardize public health. Before it can begin construction, however, TransCanada will need a presidential permit from the Obama Administration. Thus far, President Obama and his Democratic colleagues have refused to grant the permit. The pipeline has become an election year issue with Republicans, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, saying that it could boost the economy.
“The tribal police had to let the trucks get off the rez,” said Plume. “They escorted them to the reservation line. We oppose the tar sands oil mine in solidarity with Mother Earth and our First Nation allies.”