Native Americans Increasingly At The Center Of Oil And Gas Fights

Above: The Unis’tot’en action camp has been organizing for years to blockade pipelines through First Nation’s sovereign territory in British Columbia.

In the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, European settlers stole a lot of land from Native Americans. They killed them, they cheated them, and they robbed them of most of the continent. But they made one mistake. Back then good land was fertile land for growing crops. The Great Plains and interior West — dry, dusty, freezing cold in winter and broiling hot in summer — had little to offer.

Now, however, the Europeans and their descendants lust for oil and gas to provide electricity, heat, and fuel for internal combustion engines. And guess where a lot of it is to be found? On tribal lands, or near them, requiring pipes, tracks, or roads to be laid through them.

By Jennifer Castro

By Jennifer Castro

You can see where this is going. Corporations and pliant local officials — today’s equivalent of conquistadors and European crowns — are trying to gain control of what’s left of indigenous peoples’ land.

“There are more than 600 major resource projects worth $650-billion planned in Western Canada over the next decade but relations with First Nations may be a major hurdle for those developments,” reports the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank, has issued areport fretting that oil pipelines may not be built through tribal lands owing to First Nations’ (the Canadian term for Native Americans) opposition. Fraser proposes highlighting the potential economic benefits of the projects. Canadian First Nations, just like Native American communities, suffer from disproportionately high unemployment and poverty. However, they may also lack the educated workforce necessary to fill some of the jobs.

Just south of the border in North Dakota, two members of the MHA Nation, a federation of three Native American tribes, are waging a lonely battle to protect their community from the effects of oil exploration. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “There are 22 drilling rigs, 979 active wells and 148 on the verge of completion within the reservation’s boundaries — cranking out a quarter-million barrels a day and earning the tribes $1 million a month.” So, understandably, not many residents of this impoverished, isolated community oppose drilling.

But the dangers from drilling are significant, and only just beginning to come to light. Oil leaks are killing crops in the state, and rendering land and water unusable. The Star-Tribune reports:

A Tioga farmer 80 miles north of Mandaree discovered a spillfrom a busted pipeline that oozed more than 20,000 barrels of oil on his wheat fields. It is one of the largest spills in North Dakota history, and neither regulators nor the Tesoro pipeline company informed the public for 11 days.

In October, a leak in an underground line sent 150 barrels of disposed salt water leaching onto U.S. Forest Service land west of Dickinson. Weeks later, a Nov. 7 explosion ignited 13 tanks and spilled 2,700 barrels of salt water and oil southwest of Alexander.

All told, North Dakota recorded 300 pipeline spills the past two years, many minor, without alerting the public.

Environmental damages are not the only downside to living near an oil or natural gas boom. Drilling boosters like the Fraser Institute talk up the economic benefits, but along with the influx of money and people chasing it comes traffic, escalating real estate prices, and violence. The New York Times reports that western North Dakota and eastern Montana, where the oil industry has experienced explosive growth in recent years, are currently suffering from all of those problems:

Crime has soared as thousands of workers and rivers of cash have flowed into towns, straining police departments and shattering residents’ sense of safety. …

[R]eports of assault and theft have doubled or even tripled, and the police say they are rushing from call to call, grappling with everything from bar brawls and shoplifting to kidnappings and attempted murders. Traffic stops for drunken or reckless driving have skyrocketed; local jails are spilling over with drug suspects.

Last year, a study by officials in Montana and North Dakota found that crime had risen by 32 percent since 2005 in communities at the center of the boom. In Watford City, N.D., where mile-long chains of tractor-trailers stack up at the town’s main traffic light, arrests increased 565 percent during that time. In Roosevelt County in Montana, arrests were up 855 percent, and the sheriff, Freedom Crawford, said his jail was so full that he was ticketing and releasing offenders for minor crimes like disorderly conduct.

Native American communities considering the economic benefits of oil and gas development will have to weigh them against all these drawbacks.

And, indeed, indigenous groups are increasingly resisting local governments and landowners who are trying to sell them out.

In New Brunswick, the government sold fracking leases to a Texas company over local protest led by the Mi’kmaq indigenous people from the Elsipogtog First Nation. Even though the courts are siding with the provincial government, demonstrations continue, slowing operations. And time is money.

In the U.S., Native Americans are a vibrant part of the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

But perhaps indigenous groups have the most opportunity for disrupting oil and gas projects in Western Canada, where First Nations have to be consulted about development, and compensated for it. Some First Nations groups in the area support planned pipelines and other projects, some don’t. But it is up to them, the people who have been there longest and have the most to lose — as it should be.

Ben Adler covers climate change policy for Grist. When he isn’t contemplating the world’s end, he writes about cities, politics, architecture, and media. You can follow him on Twitter.
  • Southernfink

    First they came for the Jews…and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew,

    Then they came for the communists…and I did not speak out because I was not a communist,

    Then they came for the trade unionists…and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist,

    Then they came for me…and there was no one left to speak out for me…

    ~Pastor Martin Niemoller~, Berlin, 1939

  • One of my favorites!

  • Southernfink

    It’s indeed a good one, perhaps we could we update it, as Indigenous and many more people are not even mentioned…

  • Southernfink

    Not trying to stray from the original topic, I find that the perpetual WOT is directly related to trying to create perpetual economic growth for the Plutocracy which ultimately has me wondering about how this can happen, I am thinking about the ISDS clause in trade agreements.

    Indigenous people all around the planet are living on mineral rich lands, from the Indigenous people in Australia, to West Papua, to Indonesia, The South American Amazon region, all over the African continent, to the North American Indians, and West Asia (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Levant etc) Indigenous people living on land rich in minerals are at risk of being evicted. Let’s not fail to mention that fracking is happening on a global scale and with suspiciously little resistance from local government’s while it’s only the locals whom are voicing their objections.

    Why are government’s so bloody submissive to the US, why are they so slack in protecting their own land from pollution, poisoning, and other harm such as the demise of existing cultures ?

    Why are governments even allowing this to continue, isn’t their function to protect their people and their nations from harm ?…. most nations however have signed some form of US led trade agreement and I have the strong suspicion that this is what actually silences any real opposition considering that the ISDS clauses are designed to challenge any government policy and laws and constitution’s if it stands in the way of imaginary financial forecast. (and protect’s them from unpredictable changes in government)

    The war on terror is a sham, no doubt there are some terrorist out there, that is not the purpose, it’s about installing and maintaining and then protecting US friendly puppet regimes who will subsequently sign the new array of US designed trade deal’s complete with the dreaded ISDS clause, whereafter it simply will not matter if there happens to be a radical change of government as the ISDS will take care of any disagreement and virtually blackmail any nation into submission.

    Trade deals are designed to empower corporations in that they become the more powerful, this effects indigenous people as government’s are being challenged to open up existing protected area’s for mineral exploration or face being sued in a private tribunal, this effect’s existing wildernes area’s as was recently shown by Australia’s extreme right winged government decision to allow the dumping of dredging and dumping from Abbot Point (Qld) on the Great Barrier Reef in order to expand the port where coal ships are being loaded, some of the ships have a 18 meter draft which only leaves a meter of clearance above the actual coral anyway, don’t miss the extreme irony here that with the last election the Australian Greens gave their preferences to coal mining magnate Clive Palmer of the Palmer United Party, if only the Greens had given their preferences to Labor.

  • Tha_Gu_Dona_Tapadh_Lait

    I think you’ve hit on something very substantial here. The support for terrorist organizations by the neoliberal elites is by now undeniable among the sober.

    The attacks against these terrorist organizations, real and fake (e.g. drone bombing known civilians), allows a cadre of useful idiots to deny that the US et alia support AQ et alia, much along the lines of Rwanda and Yugoslavia—it is a matter of pride for these folks (I’ve got GG in mind) to deny what is fairly obvious—it is probably a relatively tight-knit group—for the purpose of shutting up opposition, and making people suspect their own sanity (“Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying mind?”). Notice their facility with basic propaganda tactics (bandwagon, bad-jacketing, glittering generalities, guilt by association, often flimsy).

    Governments are given ‘sweeteners’ (Swiss bank accounts) or ‘carrots,’ and when they decline to play along, they are given ‘sticks,’ i.e. the propaganda shifts in favour of local thugs, often terrorists.

    Everyone in the Kalahari, white and Khoi-san, hates the fracking. Colonial era divisions sometimes undermine cooperation that is very much needed.

  • Southernfink

    Thanks, I been thinking that there is a connection between the WOT, the installation and maintenance of US friendly regimes, the current batch of secret trade deals which does not favor any nation in particular just the financial elite, at the expense of indigenous people everywhere, civil rights and humanity in general.

  • Nice post SF. I should blog it! ;)

    It’s all connected where the goal is governments, courts, media all subservient to transnational corporations. Meanwhile the transnationals get bigger and fewer until we have a one company world.

    I’m still pissed about the Farm Bill 2014 that had over a $8 billion cut to Food Stamps (SNAP). ($8.7 b according to WSWS.)

    Obama said he wouldn’t sign any bill that had cuts to the Food Stamp program. But of course now he said he would sign the bill.

    Here are some notable Senate Democrats (plus Independents) that voted Yea:
    Dianne Feinstein, CA
    Dick Durbin, IL
    Max Baucus, MT
    Harry Reid, NV
    Charles Schumer, NY
    Jay Rockefeller, WV
    Those were Blue Dogs for sure but look at these “progressive” Dems that supported the bill:
    Mark Udall, CO
    Tom Udall, NM
    Ron Wyden, OR
    Patrick Leahy, VT
    Bernie Sanders (Ind), VT

    Source: govtrack dot us H. R. 2642 113th Congress

    We should have a three strikes rule for politicians. Three strikes and we blacklist them and vote them out of office.

  • Southernfink

    Their master plan is painfully obvious, all the more reason why they need to be prevented from bringing it to completion.

  • Veri1138

    Interesting to See Tom Wyden of anti-NSA fame. Just goes toward the evidence that Tom is only using his anti-NSA stance for votes. Well, another shill.

    Bernie Sanders voting for the bill is not surprising. He supports the $400 billion and rising, cost of the Fail-35 that somehow garnered his support after the MIC authorized basing the Fail-35 in Vermont.

    Unless there were carve-outs for Oregon and Vermont. Then, both politicians would be doing their job.

  • John Eadie

    They are our last and best hope.

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  • Southernfink

    Indigenous people in Kenya are being evicted and their homes are set on fire, obviously they are sitting on something that is quite valuable.

    More here

  • Betsyalys

    Can any one recall a story from a decade or so ago- of a local
    community, I believe in Latin/South America, who was resisting one of
    the oil giant’s attempt to drill for oil on their land- and they used
    ritual and indigenous “magic” to protect the land. The result- the
    diamond drill bit kept breaking as it tried to penetrate the earth. The
    company, I heard had to give up ! it’s a great story but I
    want to ground it in fact- does anyone know about this and can lead me
    to more factual report?