People’s Tribunal Convened to Expose Mountain Valley Pipeline’s Violation of the Rights of Nature

Interview with Crystal Cavalier-Keck, Ph.D., convener of the People’s Tribunal, and her husband Jason Crazy Bear Keck, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

In May 2023, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, inserted a requirement into a bipartisan debt ceiling agreement requiring the completion of the controversial 303-mile Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline, or MVP, through Virginia and West Virginia.  The deal made with Democratic Senate party leaders overrode any judicial or environmental regulatory decisions against the pipeline.

Indigenous activists in North Carolina took a creative approach to exposing damages caused by the pipeline that included an extension into the state of North Carolina called Southgate. They organized a people’s tribunal on June 1 to expose the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s violation of the rights of nature and foster an understanding of how the MVP is destroying the health of rivers and waterways.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with the convenor of the tribunal, Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck of the Occoneechee Band of the Saponi Nation and her husband, Jason Crazy Bear Keck of the Louisiana Choctaw bands. Here, they explain how they worked with the United Nations to bring the tribunal to North Carolina, with the support of Movement Rights, an organization that works to align human law with the laws of the natural world.

DR. CRYSTAL CAVALIER-KECK: I put together a case presentation and I actually wrote to the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature to ask if we could hold a tribunal for this and we had to take it before the assembly of judges with the international tribunal organization, and they agreed that we could hold a local tribunal. So in September, there will be an international tribunal held close to the United Nations and this will be one of the cases presented. So it will get a global view of about the regulatory agencies not doing their jobs as well as the governments not really upholding the citizens of the United States, not upholding their constitutional rights and having these corporations violate them. It’s all in the name for greed, right? Lining somebody’s pocket at the end of the day.

MELINDA TUHUS: I know that the Mountain Valley pipeline was found guilty and —

JASON CRAZY BEAR KECK: They were invited to defend themselves and did not show.

DR. CRYSTAL CAVALIER-KECK: We invited the state of Virginia, the state of West Virginia, the state of North Carolina, the Mountain Valley pipeline, they were all invited. And we actually had put West Virginia and Virginia as defenders because, you know, they allowed these pipelines to come through. And so they have let down the public in holding up their regulatory duties violating environmental justice acts, getting bought and paid off by the pipeline. You know everything you can imagine

MELINDA TUHUS: This tribunal or the result of it is gonna be brought up at the UN. Is that sort of the next step and what does that mean for the pipeline? Does that mean anything in terms of trying to stop it in any way? It’s obvious public opinion is important.

DR. CRYSTAL CAVALIER-KECK: It is public opinion, you know, I wish they could stop it. But they won’t be able to stop it. But I can just go over a couple of the judge’s rulings, right? And, you know, this is more for administrative because there’s no military to enforce this, right? In the United Nations. So, you know, MVP is a violation of the rights of nature and should be stopped.

The president, which was Casey Camp-Horinek, asked the audience and witnesses if the pipeline was necessary or offered any value. By show of hands, unanimously, all present said “No, you know, the MVP Southgate should not be approved.” So it was more of, you know, this is a tribunal for the people in the community and you know, if our lawmakers had our votes at heart, they would listen to what the people have to say.

And what that means is what we’re gonna have to do is take this precedent of this tribunal and we’re gonna have to take it to the streets because this is an election year and we really do not want to have these elected officials in office who are not holding polluters or land destroyers accountable, right?

We need to remove those people from office. And that’s what I say. So anybody who was complacent or stood by and allowed the pipeline to go through, they need to get outta office. Whether you are in appointed position or you’re in elected position, we need to organize and get you out. And that’s what it’s gonna take is people power to organize and get people out of the rally.

JASON CRAZY BEAR KECK: One of the things that was said at the tribunal was that 100 percent of pipe fail 100 percent of the time. Eighty percent of pipes fail in the first 10 years. And these stats are when a pipeline is built on flat terrain, not through the Appalachias and not with pipes that weren’t engineered for such a task.

MELINDA TUHUS: And not having sat out in the open for six years —

JASON CRAZY BEAR KECK: For years, right. Compromised, already failing testing like this last month, I believe they failed testing. And they’re like, “Oh, so what? Still put it in.” You know, it’s all about making the money on getting the project open. It’s not about whether it’s viable, useful, dangerous, you know, all of these things.

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