Eagle Butte S.D. – May 16, 17, and 18, 2019, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal members and a guest traveled to the homelands of the Ponca Nation, in an effort to continue building relationships with the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and Nebraska. This included youth and adults who have been collaborating with other tribes in building a strong working relationship with regards to stopping further extractive industry activities on and surrounding treaty lands.
This conference was a gathering of people from Native Nations from Alaska to Brazil. There were also many allies at the summit who share common goals with tribes to include just transition from fossil fuels, as well as a continuous effort to stop further exploration of drilling and mining.
According to the summit program, topics also covered the ongoing problems and initiatives extractive industries attract, such as pipelines that feed the desire to continue drilling for oil and gas, human trafficking, the continued destruction of mother earth, and passing along knowledge wisdom and vision to the next generation. Attendees were given leadership examples and told that making changes in these areas can only happen with the native people leading.
Last year, thousands of native and non-native individuals and organizations joined together in the “Promise to Protect” initiative, which was a grassroot movement to end all extractive industries as they have never have done as promised to protect the land, water they impact.
Tribe on losing end of oil and gas industry
Since drilling began in Oklahoma at the turn of the twentieth century, over 200,000 wells have been drilled. There are over a thousand pipelines in the ground, and many were built prior to environmental protections and knowledge of geological impacts of fracking. These pipelines are leaking without oversight of repair. Every well in Oklahoma that has been independently tested is leaking, according to Ponca tribal officials.
“The people of the Ponca Nation have been victims of environmental genocide… and all other life in Oklahoma,” said Wes Mekasi Hornek, Ponca tribal member.
The Ponca people, non-natives, and all life that live in rural Oklahoma are suffering from the effects of the oil industry. The drinking water is tainted, the fish in the lakes and rivers can no longer be eaten, and people cannot swim in the waters. Cancer rates are high in a nation that once had almost no cancer.
Oil refineries negatively impacts daily life
The people who live in Ponca City have life no better, in some ways worse. The refineries that have been there since the early twentieth century continue to slowly kill the very people who work for the refinery and others who live there as well. Life there is unbelievable- the chemicals in the air cause a burning sensation on people’s skin, make their eyes hurt, and mouths always have a bad metallic taste. During my visit, the weather was good but you rarely saw a walker and never a jogger.
In town, I did not see any kids playing outside and the streets with retail shops near the refinery are empty with images similar to what you would see in Detroit prior to new industry.
The summit ended with a march to the Conoco-Phillips refinery office entry. The march then proceeded to a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women billboard on which read: No more missing sisters, or dead relatives. Just then, a chemical release from the refinery engulfed marchers and nearby residential area.
This billboard was placed near the refineries which bring huge groups of men who come to work for the refinery during shutdown periods. Statistics show that during such influxes of workers in this industry, which is male-dominated, crime and murder rates against indigenous women increases.