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Photo Credit: Andrew Courtney

Photo Credit: Andrew Courtney

On February 17, 2013, an estimated 35,000 people gathered and braved the bitter temperatures, in Washington D.C., to join the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, 350.org, HipHop Caucus, and an estimated 160-plus environmental student groups from across Turtle Island, to overwhelmingly voice their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the Canadian Tar Sands.

The collective message of constructive support for the President was clearly evident in the rally’s title, “Forward on Climate,” which co-opted the president’s 2012 campaign slogan and carried over to the inclusion of messages brought by Indigenous Peoples from both the United States and Canada.

At other locations, there were thousands more at 20-plus solidarity rallies across the country, and more than one million online activists stood up and spoke out to tell President Obama that right now it’s time to move Forward on Climate.

Indigenous Peoples, whose sovereign territories the Keystone XL is slated to cross, spoke to the thousands of people at the rally of past environmental and devastating human health consequences, and what the inevitable outcome will be if the pipeline is approved:

“We the Ponca people are already dealing with environmental genocide directly from the effects of the Conoco Phillips refinery and other layered pollutants on our reservation.  We now have added insult to injury with the burden of Keystone I to our homelands; with a pump station near what was our sacred Sundance grounds. Now the KXL is going to parallel directly our Trail of Tears from our ancestral homelands and bring death and destruction to not only where we are now but where we came from.  Ponca’s are simply a microcosm of the larger more extreme death and destruction happening to our relatives around the Alberta tar sands.  This gives us the impetus and heart to not only continue to bring to light what’s happening to us but to also join forces with all of our relatives from the tar sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast.  Contacts were made with people of all colors from all walks of life and we believe that President Obama’s legacy and our legacy are tied together.”  – Casey Camp, Ponca, Oklahoma

“As a native person from South Dakota, the pipeline will run right through my backyard.  It will impact the Ogallala aquifer, my traditional treaty homelands, and my northern relatives directly affected by the tar sands.  I feel it is important that native people must stand together and support each other, nation to nation. We insist that our Crow blood brother, President Obama, deny the Keystone XL Pipeline.”  – William Underbaggage, Oglala Lakota, Founder/Director Indigenous Nations Network

Other Indigenous representatives from our sister nations in Canada spoke clearly about the devastating effects from pipeline leaks and tar sands mining already polluting their lands and sickening their people:

“The Yinka Dene Alliance is opposed to irresponsible, environmental-damaging projects that put our communities, our water, our culture, our land, our fish, our animals, and most importantly, our plants, at risk. It puts at risk my neighbors to the east of me that live at the tar sands. The government doesn’t recognize these people, and these people have been dying of mysterious cancers. Their water is polluted. Their animals are sick. And Mother Earth is sick.” Canadian indigenous leader Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation

“If this pipeline goes through, your government will help in the raping and pillaging of the land of my ancestors, then all the companies will do is promise to give back what was never theirs in the first place.” -Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree, Canada.

And from the south, in the Gulf of Mexico region where the BP disaster devastated countless Indigenous communities, and where they are still suffering those effects, Cherri Foytlin, Cherokee/Dine, Environmental Justice Advocate Gulf of Mexico told reporters and others at the rally:

“The truth is that the wasteful, toxic, tar sand extraction method that is poisoning our relatives in Canada, does and will, end up poisoning our indigenous families in the Gulf of Mexico through the refining process. This sort of extreme extraction process, from beginning to end, is an international killer and polluter that we feel we have no choice but to shut down in order to provide a future to our children.”

After the rally, the march took the 35,000 people around the White House and was collectively led by the Indigenous Environmental Network’s delegation, along with the Sierra Club and 350.org leaders and supporters. The crowd then finished the day with a friendship round dance.

“The best part of the rally was that it ended with a round dance. All day long the center of gravity was provided by indigenous people from across the continent; it’s such an honor to join with them in this fight,” said Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org, friend and ally of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

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Contacts:

Marty Cobenais, Indigenous Environmental Network’s Pipeline Organizer
ienpipeline@igc.org – 218-760-0284

Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network’s Native Energy and Climate Organizer
iencampusclimate@igc.org – 701-214-1389