In an unusual alliance, ranchers, farmers, and tribal communities, who live along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, came together in Washington D.C. this past week to tell President Obama to reject the pipeline.
Obama's administration has been putting off the decision on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, and will likely be waiting until after the November elections to make a decision.
If approved, the controversial pipeline will have the ability to pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands per day from Canada, through the US, and to the Gulf Coast where the oil will be refined.
To protest the pipeline, ranchers, farmers, and tribal communities, who called themselves the Cowboy Indian Alliance, set up an encampment on the National Mall for a week of action called “Reject and Protect.”
On April 22, the Cowboy Indian Alliance held an opening ceremony near the US Capitol Building. The ceremony began with drumming and singing as the ranchers and tribal members mounted their horses, facing each other in the middle of 3rd Street.
A rancher, Bob Allpress, and Chief John Spotted Eagle each gave gifts to Billy Tayak, Chief of the Piscataway tribe which originally inhabited the Washington, DC area.
Afterwards, they requested permission to be on Piscitaway land. Chief Billy Tayak accepted their request, and gave Allpress and Spotted Eagle gifts on behalf of his nation.
Tom Genung, representing the Cowboys, and Gianna Strong, representing the Indians, then carried a bucket of water to the Capitol reflecting pool. They poured the water into the reflecting pool for a water ceremony, and they each said a prayer focused on water.
Once the ceremony was over, the ranchers and tribal members walked side-by-side back to the tipi encampment, where a welcoming prayer song was led by the Yankton Singers.
The Cowboys then assisted the Indians in putting up the center tipi, and Indigenous women place the cover on the tipi structure.
Throughout the week, there were planned actions, including an act of civil disobedience which occurred on Wednesday.
Rancher Art Tanderup, and Native American Wizipan Little Elk, stood in the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool while holding a banner that said, “Standing in this water could get me arrested. TransCanada pollutes drinking water and nothing happens.”
The Ollagalla Aquifer, which is one of the world's largest aquifers, lies along the proposed pipeline route. Tanderup, who lives on the pipeline route, talked about how this aquifer, which provides water to 2.3 million people, will become contaminated if there is an oil spill.
He said, “There is no way that they can clean up that aquifer. There is no spill plan for that. They absolutely cannot clean it up, so once it's in there, it's in there forever. And that means all kinds of health issues.” Tanderup then explained how he and his family will not be able to drink the water or use it to irrigate their crops.
Although Tanderup and Little Elk risked arrest by wading into the reflecting pool, they were, ultimately, not arrested.
An interfaith prayer service was held outside Secretary of State John Kerry's home in Washington, DC on Friday. Representatives from the Sojourner, Protestant, and Jewish communities, as well as Casey Camp from the Ponca tribe, all gave prayers, asking that the pipeline not be approved.
Once the prayer service was over, 200 people marched to a major intersection and held a round dance, blocking the streets for about five minutes.
On Saturday, thousands of supporters came from around the US to join with the Cowboy Indian Alliance.
Among the crowd was musician Neil Young, and environmental activist and actress, Daryl Hannah. Young addressed the crowd, saying, "The change is coming, why not give it a push? Why not stand up and put America on the right side of history?"
The week wrapped up on Sunday, with a traditional closing ceremony to end the encampment.
During the ceremony, the Cowboy Indian Alliance will commit to continue their opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and all other tar sands pipelines.