The leader of a South Dakotan Native American tribe says he is willing to fight and even spill his own blood to stop the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, whose path crosses his tribe’s land, from being built.
President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux was on Capitol Hill Tuesday ahead of the contentious Senate vote on the project. He hoped to lobby lawmakers to kill the pipeline -- which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico -- but if the legislative process ultimately fails his cause, other options are on the table, including lawsuits and maybe more.
“We gave up a lot of things so that we wouldn’t be in wars. We wanted to raise our people peacefully, but they don’t want that. They want the Native Americans to always be in struggle,” he told msnbc in an interview. “Well we struggle no more. We tell the Keystone XL pipeline: Come to our lands and we will fight you there. We are ready. Don’t come without expecting a fight, because we will give you a fight. I am willing to spill my blood on behalf of our people."
Scott clarified that was he was not speaking metaphorically or figuratively. “If they come to our land, that’s what I mean,” he said. “If it comes down to it. We hope it don’t, we’d rather use a legal war.”
Scott and leaders from seven other tribes in the Great Sioux Nation will meet in Washington to discuss next steps to resist the pipeline project.
The tribe last week declared that a vote to authorize the controversial pipeline, which would carry tar sand oil from Canada to a port in Louisiana, amounts to an “act of war” against the tribe. Members of the tribe have for seven months been camped in the proposed path of the pipeline, and say they’ll stay there “forever” if need be to stop the pipeline.
Scott said the pipeline represents an existential threat to his people. “What they're proposing to do here is once again try to annihilate our people, the Rosebud Sioux. We’ve been massacred at Wounded Knee, we had the big victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but our people have been massacred throughout the generations,” he explained.
“Tar sand oil is the worst thing ever to be proposed to cross not only our treaty lands and the lands of our ancestors, but one of the biggest water aquifers in the world,” he said.
The Sioux fear especially for the quality of their water in case of a pipeline leak, which they say would hurt not just their children but all American children. They would rather not fight, Scott said. “By no means do we want to lead our people to war with Keystone XL pipeline or anybody else, we want to lead a peaceful existence to be able to raise our children and practice our religions and our cultures and our way of life, but they’re preventing it with Keystone XL pipeline,” he said.
“The last time were together, we killed Custer ,” he added with a guffaw.
Native American activists joined youth climate protesters and others in demonstrating against the pipeline on Capitol Hill Tuesday, ahead of the planned vote.
About 30 activists occupied the office of Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who said he is voting in favor of the pipeline. Protesters also staged a sit-in at the offices of Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, another Democrat who supports the pipeline.
Lindsey Halvorson volunteered on Bennett’s campaign, but came today to express her disappointment in the senator. “I worked tirelessly” for Bennett, said the Colorado native, who is now a student at American University. “I didn’t not vote for him for this.”
The final Senate vote on Tuesday was 59-41, which was one vote shy of the 60 vote threshold the legislation needed to advance.