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In Washington, cowboys and Indians launch five-day protest of Keystone XL pipeline

The "Reject and Protect" protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Creative Commons: Phil Ortiz, 2014

The “Reject and Protect” protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Creative Commons: Phil Ortiz, 2014

A coalition of Native Americans, farmers, and ranchers have descended upon the National Mall in Washington, DC for a weeklong “Reject and Protect” protest against the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas each day, carries significant risks. If built, the pipeline would pose a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to farms in eight states.

According to one analysis, the pipeline would also raise gasoline prices by 10 to 20 cents, costing US farmers $2.6 billion annually. And by allowing more Canadian tar sands to be extracted, Keystone XL would further accelerate climate change, which is already affecting the global food supply.

On Tuesday, the Cowboy Indian Alliance rode onto the National Mall on horseback, with many members clad in traditional clothing. They set up an encampment that features a covered wagon, several tipis, and tribal flags, and poured water from the Ogallala aquifer into a reflecting pool.

The group has activities planned throughout the week that will emphasize Native American traditions as well as draw connections between the proposed pipeline and its impacts on land and water in the American heartland.

Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe, said:

We have thousands of Native sacred sites that will be affected adversely. The Americans facing eminent domain now know what it felt like for us to lose land to a foreign country. There is no fairness or rationale to justify the risk of polluting our waterways with benzene and other carcinogens. Native people are ready to speak for the four-leggeds and the grandchildren who cannot speak for themselves. The answer is no pipeline.

Given a recent announcement from the Obama administration that the Keystone decision will be postponed until a legal challenge in Nebraska is resolved, it is unlikely that the final call on the pipeline will be made before November’s midterm elections. Nevertheless, anti-pipeline activists are keeping the pressure on the US government to reject TransCanada’s proposal. Just last month, nearly 400 youth activists were arrested outside of the White House for peacefully protesting the pipeline.

The “Reject and Protect” protest is scheduled to culminate with a march on the Capitol on Saturday that is expected to draw 5,000 people. The Cowboy Indian Alliance will finish the procession by delivering a symbolic, hand-painted to tipi to the Museum of the American Indian. The tipi will bear the names President Obama was given by the Crow Nation and the Lakota tribe, and will be painted with tribal symbols representing the protection of land and water.

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