After years of controversy and protest, TC Energy Corporation (formerly TransCanada Corporation) and the Albertan provincial government announced plans to dismantle the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. The project was to transport tar sands oil through Canada and the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico for shipment abroad.
Rejoicing rang out across Indigenous communities on both sides of the border.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe chairman Harold Frazier issued a statement which read, in part, “I would like to thank all the people who sacrificed, stood up, took action, worked and prayed to protect our nation and Unci Maka. Jim Picotte and Leon Red Dog shall always be in my thoughts and prayers for their commitment to protecting our land. To the countless water protectors who have fought the constant battles in a thousand places to defeat this existential threat to us all: Every action you took was an answer to prayer.”
Ponca Tribal chairman Larry Wright, Jr., of Nebraska said, “On behalf of our Ponca Nation we welcome this long overdue news and thank all who worked so tirelessly to educate and fight to prevent this from coming to fruition. It’s a great day for Mother Earth.”
The Indigenous Environmental Network said in a statement, “After more than 10 years of organizing we have finally defeated an oil giant, Keystone XL is dead! We stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water, and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline.”
The Sierra Club chimed in, “For 13 years, an international movement of frontline communities in the U.S. and Canada, Indigenous leaders, and environmentalists fought back against this terrible proposed project at every turn. Today, we can say yet again, that our efforts were a resounding success,” said director Michael Brune.
Indigenous leaders pushed Obama, Trump, and now Biden
Members of Indigenous communities have been central to anti-pipeline demonstrations for years. Many water protectors worked diligently for decades and dedicated large portions of their lives to the dream of ending pipeline construction to protect clean water.
Recently, Indigenous leaders unified around resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline and other oil pipelines, which they feel contribute to the climate crisis and devastate the earth by stripping it of natural resources. They resist the “black snake” of America’s oil dependency.
“This pipeline has threatened residents and indigenous people along its proposed route, a giant has been taken down with prayers, persistence and hope for a better future for generations not yet alive,” said Fort Peck Assiniboine Council chairman Lance Fourstar. “The Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation’s water supply system became a potential victim of the project in the eventual degradation of [the] pipeline; threatening clean water drinkers whom are both Native and non-Native from our area. Our Water Protectors are owed a great debt of gratitude for their persistence in this fight,” he said.
On the first day of his term, President Biden revoked the key permit for the pipeline, shutting down construction. It is a historic win for Indigenous communities and environmentalists who made the Keystone XL the focus of a campaign to block new pipeline construction.
In 2017, the Trump administration followed through on campaign promises to overturn President Obama’s environmental legacy. Two days after Trump’s inauguration, an executive order rescinded an Obama-era decision regarding the pipeline, and allowed construction to move forward. By 2018, a federal judge blocked further construction of the project on the grounds that the Trump administration did not perform the adequate environmental reviews before rescinding the Obama decision. The project has been essentially stalled since then.
Existing resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, and the coalitions formed to fight it, fueled the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and continues to propel the fight against oil pipelines.
Pipeline opponents are invigorated by the Keystone XL decision and hope for more wins. Although the Dakota Access pipeline still moves oil through North Dakota for now, its future is uncertain. Its continued existence rests on unresolved court challenges.
TC Energy suspended work on the Keystone XL pipeline back in January when Biden rescinded the border permits. They released a statement on Wednesday, “[We] will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the project.”
Pipeline opponents are hopeful that the Keystone XL decision will bring a win in Minnesota as well. This month, hundreds of people gathered at events in Minnesota, and virtually around the world, to oppose Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 project, currently under construction across North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Opponents call for Biden to put an end to that project as well. President Biden has committed to addressing climate change as a high priority for his administration.
“The termination of this zombie pipeline sets precedent for President Biden and polluters to stop Line 3, Dakota Access, and all fossil fuel projects,” said Kendall Mackey, a campaign manager with 350.org, a climate advocacy group. “This victory puts polluters and their financiers on notice: Terminate your fossil fuel projects now — or a relentless mass movement will stop them for you.”
Chairman Fourstar called the tar sands product to be piped through Keystone XL, “highly carcinogenic, benzine diluted tar sand bitumen.” The mining of bitumen (a tarry fossil fuel mixed with clay, sand, and rock) from oil sands has economically benefited Canadians, including Indigenous peoples. However, Alberta’s boreal forests have been destroyed to make way for the strip mines, and the mines themselves leave behind devastating health effects that researchers link directly back to mining and pipelines.
Chairman Frazier reminded the community, “This has been a long fight and there is much more to do for our people. Pipelines continue to threaten our treaty territory, water, and relatives; and we must not forget those that are still standing on sacred ground in front of giant enemies. Let today be an example of what is possible when we take action to change the course of history for the better.”