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CNHI News Service

September 22, 2012

Keystone pipeline's path cuts across Native American land, history

CUSHING, Okla. — In energy circles, the town of Cushing is well known as the hub used by New York oil traders to set the benchmark price for all U.S. crude oil. Row after row of giant oil storage tanks are lined up around a moribund downtown and a shopping strip. At the edge of town stands a sign made of white pipes declaring: "Pipeline Crossroads of the World."

This is also where TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline ends and the southern leg of its new Keystone XL pipeline will begin.

Less well known is the fact that Cushing sits in the Sac and Fox Nation, part of a patchwork of land belonging to Oklahoma's 38 tribes, each with sovereignty over its own affairs and land.

TransCanada's plan to dig a trench and bury part of its $7 billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline right through this land has unearthed a host of Native American opposition, resentments and ghosts of the past. Winning support in Indian country is one of the last hurdles for the project, which is touted as a key to North American energy security. The question is whether gaining tribal support is a courtesy, as the company puts it, or a legal obligation.

Under Chief Black Hawk, the Sac and Fox tribe, originally from the Great Lakes region, fought bloody skirmishes in the 1800s against other tribes and federal troops. Ultimately, the tribe signed a series of treaties that pushed it to Illinois, then Iowa, then Kansas and finally in the 1870s to the Indian Territory — now known as Oklahoma.

Along the way, many of its members died of smallpox and other hardships.

George Thurman, chairman of the Sac and Fox Nation and a descendent of Black Hawk, is worried that the pipeline could dig up unmarked graves or other sacred archaeological sites even on private lands.

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