A person cannot begin to discuss matters of land on this continent without first looking back upon history.  As an Oglala Lakota and the Great Grandson of the honorable Chief Red Cloud, who signed the still-valid 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, I know all too well how bad acts throughout history can distort the relationship of people to land, and deny the relationship of a People to their Land.

On September 17, 1851, the United States entered into binding peace treaty at Fort Laramie with the Oceti Sakowin.  The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty recognized and acknowledged certain lands in modern day North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana as “belonging to” the Oceti Sakowin.  Although my people have not traditionally viewed Mother Earth as “belonging to” anyone, this was the white man’s way of saying that we, the Lakota, would continue our use of this land without disturbance by outsiders.  

Because of the savageries committed against my ancestors, the peace accomplished by the 1851 Treaty could not last.  On April 29, 1868, the United States entered into a new binding peace treaty at Fort Laramie with the Brulé, Oglala, Miniconjou, Yanktonai, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two Kettle, Sans Arcs, Santee, and Arapaho.  This is the Treaty my Great Grandfather had the foresight to enter into to ensure that the Lakota would be able to enjoy the land, the ceremonies, and all that we hold sacred for generations to come.

This 1868 Treaty is the cornerstone of the relationship between the Lakota and the United States.  This treaty established peace between two warring nations, and this Treaty set forth the rights and the obligations of these nations with respect to one another.  As the United States Constitution states, these Treaty rights and obligations are the supreme law of the land, and they cannot be diminished by court or by Congress.

In Article 2 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the United States agreed that all lands located west of the Missouri River and within what is presently called “South Dakota” would be “set apart for the absolute undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named.”  Article 2 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the United States further agreed that “no persons … shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory” designated by the Treaty as the Great Sioux Nation Reservation.  This means that, by virtue of the 1868 Treaty and the U.S. Constitution, the western half of so-called “South Dakota” belongs exclusively to the Lakota.  This land west of the Missouri cannot legally be disturbed or occupied by any individual or entity other than the Lakota.  Any trespass onto these lands, whether by foot or by truck or by pipeline, is a violation not only of the Treaty, but of the U.S. Constitution itself.

As a result of several unlawful and unconstitutional land takings by the United States, which were nothing short of theft, the territory of the Great Sioux Nation has been broken down into several separate reservations which - even when combined - are much smaller than the territory promised to the Lakota by treaty.

This is the historical backdrop against which present-day land issues must be considered.

At present, a company called TransCanada is seeking access to Lakota treaty lands for its own unlawful use and desecration.  TransCanada is attempting to forge a massive new pipeline through our sovereign Lakota treaty territory to carry toxic tar sands oil from Aboriginal lands in Canada to oil refineries in the United States.  Including the southern segment, the Keystone XL pipeline project would require the construction of approximately 1,387 miles of new, three-foot-wide pipeline within the boundaries of the United States.  

The entire portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that would be constructed in so-called “South Dakota” would be built to the west of the Missouri River - and therefore within the boundaries of exclusive Lakota treaty lands as identified in both the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.  315 miles of the proposed pipeline would be constructed on exclusive Lakota treaty land, in violation of two valid treaties and in violation of natural law.  More than 5,434 acres of exclusive Lakota treaty land would be trenched, contaminated, and desecrated if the United States allows TransCanada to proceed with its unlawful scheme.

For the Lakota, as for many other sovereign indigenous nations, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Lakota treaty lands would constitute an unimaginable desecration of our sacred Mother Earth and her sacred water.  The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross countless bodies of sacred water, including the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River, the Cheyenne River, the White River, the Niobrara River, and the Platte River.  

In addition to interfering with our natural water sources, the path of the Keystone XL pipeline would cross the Mni Wiconi pipeline, which pumps water from those natural sources to our communities on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Rosebud Indian Reservation.  The tar sands oil is extremely thick, corrosive, and toxic.  If the pipeline is built, spills are inevitable.  The Keystone XL pipeline poses a threat to our clean drinking water that we cannot accept.  It is baffling that the U.S. State Department did not even consider the Mni Wiconi pipeline in its earlier study of the potential consequences of the pipeline.  In addition, operation of the Keystone XL pipeline would also threaten the Ogallala Aquifer.  This aquifer provides drinking water for millions of people including many Lakota.  These water sources are vital to the health and survival of our people.  

If the State Department cannot understand this reality, we must pray that whoever is elected as President of the United States can understand it and will take the necessary step of rejecting the permit for the pipeline in order to protect the Lakota people.  And we must demand that the candidates for that office address this matter openly and publicly, giving full consideration to the rights and concerns of the indigenous communities that would be affected, so that we as First Americans may cast our votes accordingly.

At no point in time did the Lakota people give their consent for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through our Native lands.  The malevolent use of Lakota Treaty Lands proposed by TransCanada would violate the traditional law and the natural law of the Great Sioux Nation, and it would therefore constitute a “wrong upon the person or property of the Indians” in breach of the peace that was promised to the Great Sioux Nation by the United States in Article 1 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

If the United States Congress and the United States President authorize TransCanada to enter into sovereign Lakota territory, the United States will be violating Lakota law, the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, and the United States Constitution in collusion with TransCanada.

The safety and protection of our Mother Earth and her life-giving water are of the utmost importance to our generation of Lakota people, just as they were to our ancestors, and just as they will be to our future generations.  As the Presidential election draws near, I hope that the candidates will hear my words and begin to understand what they have, so far, been overlooking.  The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not just an environmental issue.  It is an issue of sustainability and survival for Native people.  It is an issue of preserving and protecting what is sacred.  And it is an issue of upholding the law by honoring the treaties.