The route has inadvertent historical echoes, too. From northern Nebraska through Kansas, it is almost identical to what is known as the trail of tears for the Ponca Tribe. The Poncas, who in the 19th century did almost everything the federal government asked including attending church and farming, were still forced to move to Oklahoma.
A history of broken promises, and treaties, has fueled opposition, especially in South Dakota. Last October, a group of Indians were ejected from a speech by President Obama after shouting that the president should respect the tribes and stop the pipeline. On Feb. 18, the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council demanded that Obama and Congress prevent construction of the Keystone pipeline
“The Great Sioux Nation hereby directs President Barack Obama and the United States Congress to honor the promises of the United States made through the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties by prohibiting the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and any future projects from entering and destroying our land without our consent,” said a resolution approved by all seven delegations.
The Fort Laramie treaties ceded all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River to the Lakota tribes, or Sioux. While legislation has reduced the size of that reservation, the treaties were never revoked. Baker, the lawyer, says they should still be considered in force.
Moreover, while the pipeline doesn’t cross current reservation boundaries in South Dakota, it runs across rivers and water pipelines that do.
Even under congressional legislation, a process of consultation is required for all federal agencies. But Cast said that the State Department, which is weighing the Keystone XL cross-border permit, told tribes to voice concerns at open meetings with other citizens.
“The State Department has its own process talking about government-to-government talks and the sovereignty of tribes, but they don’t really believe that,” Cast said. “Our main issues are with the federal agencies. I think they abandoned the tribes.”
Baker said: “The consultation process is really broken. Tribal interests are rarely able to be brought forward properly, and when they are they are rarely listened to.”
Native Americans have had success melding their interests with business and oil development. The Sac and Fox, like many other tribes, rely heavily on casinos for income. The tribe said in a May newsletter that it received two-thirds of its revenue from its casinos.