The oil and gas industry is a familiar presence, too. Though Oklahoma was chosen as Indian Territory in part because it was thought to be worth little, the state turned out to hold substantial oil and natural gas reserves. That led to further reductions in Indian land holdings while derricks and small boomtowns sprung up. Throughout Indian areas today, old pipelines, some dating to the 1930s, can be seen alongside gently seesawing pump jacks, and the old boomtowns remain largely deserted.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Interior Department has acted as Indians’ trustee for these resources, though Native Americans have complained that it has often done a poor job of guarding their interests. The Osage tribe, which in 1906 was savvy enough to retain mineral rights when private allotments were carved out in Osage County, filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department for mismanaging those mineral rights; last October, the government settled for $380 million.
A look at the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.
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When it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, observers say there is an element of tribal politics in the opposition. During the 2008 campaign, the Crow received attention for making Obama an honorary member, bestowing him with the name “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”
Now, some believe that Sac and Fox leader Thurman feels slighted by Obama, who initially failed to invite him to the March speech the president delivered in Cushing. This was a special affront because Cushing is part of the Sac and Fox Nation. At that event, Obama announced his support for the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Thurman only heard about the visit from Kurak, who is a friend. Kurak had been invited because she caught Obama’s attention at a meeting in Washington.
Kurak, the Iowa Nation chairman, sympathizes with Thurman. She said, “All we’re asking for is respect, respect for us as a people.”
Baker, the lawyer, who comes from Oklahoma, stresses that opposition is rooted in Native American belief.
“Above all the land is sacred,” she said. “It’s not just a mantra. People really do see this as sacred land. It really causes a lot of people a lot of pain, particularly the elders. They recognize the damage this has the potential for.”