By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Cowboys and Indians are usually on opposing sides in stories of the Old West, but the modern variations have found something to unite them: opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is a 1,700-mile pipeline that will tote sticky black bitumen from the Canadian Tar Sands to Texas Gulf Coast refineries when — and if — the project is ever completed. The southern leg of the line is up and running, but the northern section — the one that would cross the border into Canada — has been in regulatory limbo for years now. Despite those delays, President Obama recently said his decision on the Keystone would (Maybe. Probably. Possibly.) be announced some time this year.
The Cowboy Indian Alliance, a.k.a. the farmers, ranchers and tribal communities along the northern edge of the Keystone route, has banded together to try to prevent the pipeline from being approved. The alliance has scheduled a protest.
On April 22, members of the group will ride into Washington, D.C., and set up camp near the White House to urge the President not to approve the pipeline. The bigger part of the protest — the one where they are expecting a ton of people to show up — is scheduled for April 27.
"The name, I think, rocked people a little bit," Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, one of the groups involved in the alliance, said. "The name comes from an alliance in the '80s and '90s between ranchers and tribes. It's a little politically incorrect now, but when we brought everyone together on this, we decided to revive it."
While most people would assume that landowners — cowboys, ranchers and the like — would be on opposite sides with the tribes, Kleeb says people overlook that they all have the land in common. "The tribes and the farmers and ranchers all share this very spiritual connection to the land we live on," Kleeb said.
The Cowboy Indian Alliance protest has been in the works for months. They will arrive in Washington, set up teepees and ride their horses on the National Mall, Kleeb said, which requires a permit. Then they're expecting about 5,000 people to attend the march on April 27, which also required a permit.
The group has also given the two sides a unifying cause, Kleeb said. "Working together, we've been getting past this horrible thing that happened between the families that were homesteading on the land and the tribes. We've been coming together to protect the land. It's been a chance for healing," she said.
The hope is that they'll be able to influence the President's final decision by putting a human face on things, Kleeb said. "We don't see any reward for America with this and we certainly don't see any benefit for our families that would have to actually live with the pipeline on our land," she said. "Everyone tells us that oil spills can be cleaned up, but every oil spill in our history has not been cleaned up. We want the President to see our faces. We want him to choose us instead of big oil."
Of course, after all these years it's quite possible the President could continue not to make any decision at all.