Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Opponents Demand a Halt to Keystone XL Pipeline Construction

Interview with Faith Spotted Eagle, of the Brave Heart Society of the Yankton Dakota nation, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

For more than ten years, a Canadian company now called TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, has been trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline to bring polluting and super-high carbon tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. border to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to existing infrastructure for refining and export from the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pipeline has been fought every step of the way by indigenous tribal nations, ranchers, and climate activists from around the country.

President Barack Obama killed the project in 2015, but it was resurrected as one of Donald Trump’s first acts in office. Now TC Energy plans to move forward with construction, even though the company still lacks some necessary permits and easements from Nebraska landowners. On March 31, the government of Alberta provided $7.5 billion to TC Energy to expedite the building of the pipeline. Opponents are calling for an immediate halt to construction during the coronavirus pandemic.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Ihanktonwan Oceti Sakowin or the Yankton Dakota nation in South Dakota, and a leader of the Brave Heart Society. Here, she describes her people’s centuries-long fight against exploitation and violence, of which she says the Keystone XL pipeline project is just the latest chapter.

FAITH SPOTTED EAGLE: We’re always marginalized, continually, so we’ve just learned how to constantly fight for everything. This particular one is so interesting because it’s demonstrating all of the characteristics that were used against us since contact. So you look at what the governor’s doing. The governor here is refusing to do the shelter in place. I believe – and this is only a presumption – that they’re holding off so they get as much of the KXL work in as possible in setting up the infrastructure of the man camps, because we know they’re out there doing construction. So what they did is they segmented the pipeline, so it wasn’t one long single pipeline, there were different entities that took different segments of the pipeline, which built up the overall authority of any of the responsibility of the federal agencies. This is almost like, what do they call that? RICO [violations, Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] where there is a grand scheme working with each other on how they can get it in.

It keeps us very busy trying to answer to the needs of all of the segments, let alone not realizing what the tribal historic preservation officers have to do at the tribal level. Each of those is an individual entity, and it keeps them … they have something they call consultation fatigue. They just bombard you with all of these things of what you have to respond to with regard to paperwork. And once you respond to them, and you say, We want you to follow our consultation protocols because you don’t have any – because the feds don’t have any defined consultation protocols – then they will say, “We can’t follow your protocols because we’re a federal agency.” They are just adept at playing this evil chess game of collaborating and doing it behind the scenes, and I think that’s what’s happening right now, and it’s really at the risk of people’s lives, and so, I just believe that there’s something behind this not declaring this shelter in place, which is unconscionable.

And the other thing is, we have always been concerned, since contact, of the land takings, which really are done through sexual violence. And so the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, we’ve had that, ever since they built forts, when they sent large numbers of men into our territories and they created forts. We have one here on my homeland called Fort Randall. All the way up the river, Fort Yates, Fort Peck, Fort Totten. And those still exist in those names. So it’s no different: it’s a militarization of the conqueror, again taking what’s not theirs. And in this situation, they could be taking our lives by coming in and bringing men that have not been screened, and could potentially be bringing in the virus.

MELINDA TUHUS: Faith Spotted Eagle, can you talk about some of the other groups that are working together to stop the Keystone XL, like the Cowboy and Indian Alliance that includes ranchers and indigenous folks?

FAITH SPOTTED EAGLE: It’s an informal alliance. It doesn’t have any formal structure, but it just talks about working together and it’s mainly the Nebraska people and the South Dakota people, both native and non-native, working together. And then the other one that is a fairly large one, is the Promise to Protect, which all of us are members of, which was formed in And there were so many people that wanted to come to South Dakota to help. And so we told them we could not handle that many people, per Standing Rock. It was very difficult, as you know, during that fight at Standing Rock to handle thousands of people. We just didn’t have capacity.

So they came up with a different concept, where the Promise to Protect had an opportunity for signatures, so we have like 25,000 people throughout the U.S. who have pledged to help stop the Keystone pipeline. And so what we did is we went to, I believe, 10 cities within the past year, mostly last summer and fall, and we did direct action training, and we made alliances, we made relationship with the people in the cities who are very interested in the common ground of protecting Mother Earth from these tar sands, which are so toxic and will affect our water and our land. And then the double threat of the MMIW – the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls – and now we have the triple threat with the virus.

For more information about the Promise to Protect Campaign Against the KXL Pipeline, visit

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