Members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance avoided arrest Thursday when they took their anti-Keystone XL pipeline message into the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The carefully co-ordinated public relations stunt involved two members of the group wading into the shallow pool and holding a sign that read “Standing in the water could get me arrested, TransCanada pollutes drinking water and nothing happens.”
Meanwhile other members of the group unfolded a giant inflatable mock pipeline that stretched across the width of the picturesque pool as curious tourists snapped photos. Police quickly came to the scene and watched it unfold.
Officers prevented the group from fully inflating the pipeline but allowed Wizipan Little Elk and Art Tanderup to stand in the water, contrary to federal law, for the entire length of the event and did not arrest the pair afterwards.
Elk, from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the demonstration was meant to draw attention to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the negative impact it will have on Indian territory. He told the crowd that the U.S. government has not fulfilled its treaty obligations.
“We have not been consulted, we have not been asked about this pipeline,” he said. “We do not want this on our land, it’s going to endanger our drinking water, our farming, our ranching, our way of life.”
The reflecting pool spectacle was part of six days of anti-Keystone events that began on Tuesday in Washington. Members of the group paid a visit to the Canadian embassy on Wednesday and tomorrow they are visiting Secretary of State John Kerry’s home. Workshops, film screenings and other events are also on the agenda.
Kerry's department is in charge of the review currently underway that will determine whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest. Kerry will make a recommendation to President Barack Obama on whether the cross-border pipeline should be approved and Obama will make the final decision.
The proposed TransCanada pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf coast has been in limbo for more than five years. Last Friday, Kerry’s department announced the review period has been extended pending a Nebraska Supreme Court decision on the pipeline route. Now, a decision may not come until the fall at the earliest.
Decision delay a 'win' for opponents
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government are advocating for the pipeline and expressed disappointment over the latest delay.
Some anti-Keystone activists, however, think it’s a good sign. “The delay was definitely a win. All the momentum has shifted to pipeline opponents,” said Jamie Henn, from the group 350.org. Henn said Canadians should be challenging Harper’s government on the price tag for pipeline lobbying in Washington.
The public relations campaign, for example, includes advertisements plastered all over Metro train stations in D.C. telling passengers that the U.S. should “go with Canada” for the sake of its energy security.
“We’d encourage our Canadian friends to help us on this fight and shut down the tar sands and take the country in a different direction,” Henn said.
Several Canadians are participating in the series of demonstrations and more are expected to arrive for Saturday’s large rally on the National Mall where the Cowboy and Indian Alliance set up teepees.
The group is made up of ranchers, farmers, and members of tribal communities along the proposed route. Its members and supporters say it is historically significant that they have joined forces to oppose Keystone XL.
“There was a time when cowboys and Indians fought. That time is over, today we stand united,” Elk said.
Elk also had a message for Canada. "Our message to the Canadian government is let’s do what’s right for North America, let’s not capitulate to multinational corporations and their greed.”
A spokesman for TransCanada said he'd like to see some proof from the group that the company has endangered drinking water.
"It’s so easy to create publicity stunts and events that get attention, but it seems to be much harder for some to have a discussion on energy issues that are grounded in facts and the truth," Shawn Howard said in an email.
Howard also said the proposed route does not cross any reservation land or any land held in trust. He said TransCanada has worked closely with Native American communities for many years.
"Our landowner and tribal relations staff work hard to better understand and respond to local concerns, and to demonstrate all of the steps we take to protect the land, air and water resources we all rely on," he said.