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April 29, 2014

Reject and Protect: Communities Unite to Stop Keystone XL

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Jim Dougherty

By Courtenay Lewis, Tar Sands Campaign Representative

A criticism sometimes leveled at "environmentalists" is that we care more about trees than people. Perhaps we unwittingly reinforce this stereotype-we sometimes use images of burning globes to symbolize climate change and the consequences of fossil fuel development -- when in fact, for many climate and energy campaigns, working to protect human livelihoods and rights is a fundamental motivation.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Rae Breaux

Too often we fail to put faces to the individuals who suffer as a direct consequence of a society addicted to fossil fuels, and those who are bravely fighting corporations and sometimes even governments to protect their land, water, and communities.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Jim Dougherty

However, Reject and Protect was an inspiring weeklong event in which human faces took center stage. From April 22-27, farmers, ranchers, and members of tribal communities along the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route, as well as First Nation representatives whose communities are being devastated by tar sands development in Canada, came to Washington, D.C., and set up an encampment on the National Mall.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

Below, fourth-generation Nebraska rancher Ben Gotschall, who has been speaking out against the KXL pipeline for several years.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Mark Heffling

With the aim of showing the Obama administration the faces of people who would be affected by Keystone XL, the "Cowboy Indian Alliance" led a week of actions which included an opening ceremony with ranchers and tribal leaders on horseback, daily water ceremonies, and a march and ceremonial tipi gifting ceremony which was joined by thousands of people on Saturday April 26th.

REject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

The Sierra Club's Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska chapters and partners including Idle No More held solidarity events that same day in Oklahoma City and Lincoln, Nebraska, featuring landowner and tribal representatives who are playing leadership roles in the fight against Keystone XL.

Reject-and-ProtectPhotos by Bora Chung (left) and Javier Sierra (right)

This week also marked a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle spiritual encampment in Green Grass, South Dakota, where Native nations came together to pray for communities living at the source of tar sands development.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Bora Chung

There are few circumstances in which music legend Neil Young (below, at microphone) is the supporting act, but such was the case at Saturday's event in Washington.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

Speakers including Sundance Chief Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Wizipan Little Elk of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, young Nebraska rancher Meghan Hammond, and other representatives of the communities that would be the hardest hit by Keystone XL, who emphasized that the pipeline plan threatens communities' land, water, and tribal rights.

Reject-and-ProtectPhotos by Javier Sierra (left) and Bora Chung (right)

Actress Daryl Hannah (below) also attended and marched in support of the communities participating in Reject and Protect.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

At the event and throughout the week, speakers called on President Obama to reject Keystone XL and other tar sands projects, and on Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honor Canada's treaties with First Nation communities, many of whom oppose tar sands development on their lands. They stressed the cultural and ecological devastation that tar sands development is already having in Canada --impacts that cannot be measured. "You can't put a price on the sacred," said Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sundance Chief Rueben George (below).

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

For a week, the Cowboy Indian Alliance altered the iconic landscape of the nation's capital with stark white tipis standing proudly on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, and traffic was occasionally brought to a standstill by Reject and Protect marches and ceremonies.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

Although the tipis have now come down, the influence of those who participated in the week will only grow. Below, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune (below, right of center, in tie) with members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance at one of the Reject and Protect tipis.


In Canada, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (AFCN) is suing the federal government for failing to adequately consult First Nation communities on proposed tar sands expansion projects. In February, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe announced that the tribe was not properly consulted in the U.S. government's environmental review process for Keystone XL, and would refuse to sign the Programmatic Agreement required in the consultative process.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Courtenay Lewis

And on April 18, the State Department announced that the Obama administration would extend the government comment period for Keystone XL in response to legal challenges brought by Nebraska landowners that have invalidated the proposed route through the state.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Mary Anne Andrei/Bold Nebraska

To the great frustration of Big Oil, America's residents of heartland are demanding that their rights and wellbeing are recognized, and evidence shows that the White House is paying attention.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Courtenay Lewis

Reject and Protect week was a reminder of the incredible individuals who are leading the fight against Big Oil from the heart of the country. As Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, told the audience of thousands on Saturday, "We will never have the millions of dollars that they do. But we have you." It was a reminder that coming together and building alliances remains the best hope we have for beating Keystone XL, and ultimately ending destructive energy development.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

Below are some highlights of the powerful week that was Reject and Protect.

· Video of the opening ceremony
· Reuters video on Saturday's march
· Frank Waln, an award winning hip hop artist from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, rapping
· Additional images and coverage from Reject and Protect
· Congressman Raúl Grijalva's video in support of Reject and Protect
· Senator Barbara Boxer's message of support for Reject and Protect

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Jim Dougherty

The Sierra Club organized logistics for the April 26th event.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

In the near future there will be many ways to join the fight against Keystone XL and other fossil fuel expansion projects. May 17 is the U.S. National Day of Action against Keystone XL and other dirty fuel projects. (You can text "KXL" to 69866 to find out if there's one near where you live, or create your own). You can also send a letter to President Obama at pipelinefighters.org (a project of Bold Nebraska and the Nebraska Farmer's Union).

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Mary Anne Andrei/Bold Nebraska

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