May 2nd, 2017

170502 keystone xl pipeline tressa welch guardian

This morning The Guardian launched a three-part series focusing on the mother of all pipelines: the Keystone XL. Why Keystone? Oliver Laughland, writing in in Part I—Life on the Keystone XL route: where opponents fear the ‘black snake—explains:

Framed as a victory over government regulation and a win for jobs creation by the Trump administration and those who support the [Keystone XL] project, critics characterize the reversal as a win for a foreign business over environmentalism and private land rights.

As the prospect of construction looms, The Guardian spent one recent week travelling along the proposed US route of the XL, meeting with those who will be directly affected by the expansion. The journey starts at the Fort Peck reserve, about 80 miles from the Canadian border and the first concentrated population in its pathway, where Tressa Welch and her group of “water protectors” believe it is a duty endowed upon them by their ancestors to resist the construction.

The men here are preparing the land for the Sun Dance festival in June, when the community will gather to pray for good health, fast without water for four days and offer parts of their flesh. “We give a little piece of ourself back to Mother Earth, because she supplies everything to us,” Welch says.

As for many of the young tribal members on this reserve, the election of Trump and the rebirth of Keystone has brought with it a renewed connection to history and culture through activism.

Welch is the focus of Laughland’s first installment and he begins from her point-of-view:

“Our people call it the black snake because it is evil,” says Tressa Welch, as thunder clouds steamroll the blue sky over the plains of Wolf Point. “And like snakes they come out of nowhere, they slither and strike unknown.”

She faces southwards where, a couple of miles away, forks of lightning crack over the Missouri River. The 2m acre Fort Peck Indian Reservation straddles this winding water source, providing sustenance for the almost 7,000 Assiniboine and Sioux tribe here and thousands of others throughout north-east Montana. It is the river that Welch and other Native American activists on the reserve say the Keystone XL oil pipeline – or the “black snake” – will corrupt.

The river maintains the deer, the fish, the native plants, sweet grasses and sacred sage. “Anything that threatens my way of life and my spiritual well-being, I consider myself at war with,” she says, her two-year-old daughter by her side. “I will do whatever it takes.”

This is the existential threat that people still emotionally tied to the land face. Privileged Americans, perennially mobile and able to buy and sell houses as they see fit, who can wake up in the morning and not really know where they’re living unless they check the addresses on their snail mail, who think they are are wonderfully urbane and 21st century because they can do their job from anywhere (and who have jobs that can be done from anywhere), see such attachments to the land as quaint, retro and so-last-century.

They ask with no sense of irony: why don’t these people just move?

Where I live, on America’s North Coast, adjacent to the Great Lakes—which contain 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water—we don’t think as much about water as we ought to. (Although the two spills on our on pipeline—the Rover—could change that.) In the West, however, water is life in ways that people who think that staying hydrated means buying cases of bottle water every week at the grocery store do not grasp.

The purpose of the Guardian’s series (and my intent in drawing attention to the series) is to expand the protests and galvanize opposition to the deadly black snake that is the Keystone XL.

Read. Act.

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