Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

State News

September 19, 2012

Keystone pipeline's path cuts across Native American land, history


CUSHING, Okla. —

In other states, TransCanada's route for the Keystone XL pipeline neatly avoids Native American lands.

In South Dakota, TransCanada threaded its way in between the seven major reservations that cover about 16 percent of the state. The Keystone XL would enter the northwest corner of South Dakota from Montana then move diagonally. It would run southwest of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation and north of the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglalla Lakota. It would narrowly miss the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and travel south of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule.

"It's not necessarily by design," Russ Girling, TransCanada's chief executive, said in an interview. "When you build a pipeline . . . the least environmental disturbance is a straight line from A to B."

In Oklahoma, however, where the U.S. government drove tribes from the East Coast and all over the Western frontier, it is difficult to sidestep Indian burial or archaeological sites or to circumvent the patchwork jurisdiction of tribal governments. More than a century ago, the federal government broke up tribal lands into allotments, which Indian individuals could later sell. The goal was to shrink tribal areas, make way for a land rush by whites and prepare for Oklahoma statehood.

TransCanada has sought to stick to privately owned plots. But a wide layer of sovereign tribal authority remains and burial sites could exist on land no longer owned by tribal members.

Near the giant oil tank farms of Cushing lies a cemetery that holds the family of legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox member whose remains the tribe is trying to repatriate from Pennsylvania. About 20 minutes down the road, Iowa tribal chairman Janice Rowe-Kurak bows her head and folds her hands as she pays her respects before a small cemetery hidden behind trees at a cousin's ramshackle house.

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