By Debra White Plume
On Monday, March 5 we were called by a lady from Wanblee village that was forced to pull completely off the highway as the huge semi-trucks hauling enormous pieces of equipment took up the whole highway. I was sewing new kitchen curtains when she called.
The two trucks were hauling equipment called “treater vessels” from Houston, Texas to Alberta Canada. These treater vessels arrived in Texas in August 2011 from South Korea. The papers the truck drivers gave us say that the treater vessels weighed 229,155 pounds each. The individual value of each vessel is $1,259,593.
The truck drivers said they were given their route by corporate headquarters in Canada. The route was worked out with the State of South Dakota, according to the truckers. They said they were told by South Dakota that if they go on the route they did they could avoid paying South Dakota the fee of $50,000 per truck, so they came down Highway 44 through Interior, Potato Creek and Wanblee.
Wanblee was the site of the heavy haul stop. Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice President Tom Poor Bear was with us. He called state government officials in Pierre and they verified that yes they gave that route to the corporation to cross Indian lands.
Apparently, the treater vessel is used to separate gas and oil and other elements. The device is also used to provide intense heat. Our Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, along with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, have both passed legislation against the Keystone XL oil pipeline and have adopted the Mother Earth Accord which calls for a moratorium on the tar sands oil mine as destructive to water, Mother Earth, all animals and human beings. Whatever these treater vessels are and where ever they were going, they are much too huge, heavy and hazardous to be on our roads.
There were about 75 people at the site. Approximately 20 cars parked in front of the semi-trucks, who were accompanied by about a dozen pickups with flags displaying wide load warnings, etc. They also had their own electric trucks traveling with them in order to push up the power lines in their path.
The trucks were too enormous to turn around. The tribal police arrested us as we did not want the trucks to proceed across our land. We were told the tribal police were going to escort the heavy haul caravan to the reservation border and direct them to the state highways, we found out later that they indeed had done the escort.
Alex White Plume, Sr. and I, along with Sam Long Black Cat, Andrew Iron Shell, and Terrell Iron Shell were all arrested by the tribal police. We were all handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct, as the police said there were no other charges to bring against us. We were taken to Kyle jail.
We stood our ground for our land, our treaty rights, our human rights to clean drinking water and our coming generations. We did this in solidarity with the First Nations people in Canada who are being killed by the tar sands oil mine, which is so big it can be seen from outer space, it is as big as the state of Florida. It didn’t matter where the heavy haul was going, either to the tarsands oil killing fields, or another oil mine, we didn’t want it crossing our lands, until the Tribal Police could get there and determine under whose authority they got onto the Reservation.
OST Vice President Tom Poor Bear and Alex White Plume of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council stated they will work together to create enforceable laws that prevent any future heavy hauls of equipment through the Pine Ridge Reservation, as well as another piece of legislation that will specifically prohibit tarsands oil mine equipment from our lands. President John Steele was in Washington, DC and the tribal council representatives for the Eagle Nest District where Wanblee is located could not be found, the tribal police were asking for them, but the local folks could find them.
The oldest person there was Marie Randall, age 92. Renabelle Bad Cob Standing Bear in her wheelchair was there as well. These ladies gave everyone a big heart to be strong! People from the village brought pots of soup, fry bread, cases of water, doughnuts, and coffee. Many stayed for the rest of the day.
When the tribal police gave a warning to move off the highway or be arrested, five of us did not move. All five of us were arrested. Tribal attorney Sonny Richards was at the jail in Kyle and he did the paper work necessary to get us all released. We felt it was important to send a message to the corporations that it is not going to be just business as usual when they encounter Lakota Oyate (people, nation) in their huge, dangerous vehicles.
The truck drivers said they did not know they were crossing a Indian reservation, and would let their corporate office in Canada know that this was a route to avoid as there were road blocks set up to stop them.
After we were released from the jail, there was a crowd of people waiting for us, who offered us soda pop and cigarettes. Several people had bond money ready to bond us out! They offered us rides home, and that was fortunate, because we did not have our cars there. What gave everyone a silent chuckle was that Alex’s pickup truck actually was stalled there, in front of the heavy haul caravan. Of course there were mechanics in the crowd (Lakota mechanics are wizards who do magic!) who helped get the truck started in time to move it before it got towed away.
On the ride home from jail, I shared with my children my jail time, they were curious what the cell looked like and what I did in there for 3 hours. I told them it was empty, nothing in there but a toilet, not even drinking water. I told them I just paced back and forth, and read the grafetti scratched into the walls that said “this cell is 11 by 6”, “Tristan loves Luke”, “Angel and Wildflower have outlaw love”, and “I used to work here, now I am IN here”. My teens were sad, but understood why this happened, and they were glad me and their Poppa were coming home.
There are so many Lakota people ready to stand up for Mother Earth, and for our rights to have our own laws on our own lands. It was a good feeling to be in solidarity with so many relatives and friends! As it is, reservation road repair funds are in short supply, so to allow such massive vehicles go thru, endangering other vehicles, is just not good common sense. It is not over, tribal officials are very concerned about the backroom deal made between these corporations and the state of South Dakota, and have assigned tribal attorneys to delve deeply into this blatant abuse of tribal sovereignty. Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council will be meeting soon on the Yankton lands, be sure there will be some action on this as well in the coming weeks!
So, with the spring season and bright sun coming soon, today I can get back to sewing my kitchen curtains!