SPOKANE, Washington, Sep 01 (IPS) - Native American tribes in the United States have taken the lead in opposing the expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada, engaging in civil disobedience to the point of arrest and attempting to physically block shipments of construction equipment from passing through their native lands.
Native opposition is based on concern over the environmental destruction associated with the expansion and with the related Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would convey oil from the tar sands through Canada and the United States to southeastern Texas.
As previously reported by IPS, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation says the expansion of the world's third largest crude oil deposit so far has caused significant damage to the ecosystem, including the disappearance of bugs, decline in the numbers of migratory birds, elevated rates of certain types of cancers, and the possible extinction of caribou herds.
The Nez Perce tribe are also concerned about the Megaload shipments coming through their tribal lands, without their permission, and the ecological damage these shipments might cause. The most recent, a Megaload shipment, contains a 322-tonne, 225-foot-long evaporator to be used in the oil refining process in connection with the Tar Sands expansion.
"What it really amounts to is our association [with] our surroundings, our environment," Tony Smith, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, told IPS in an interview at the recent Spokane Falls Northwest Indian Market, Encampment and Pow Wow.
"Outsiders believe they're apart from the environment, that we're above it, that we can control it," Smith said. "But we believe we're a part of the environment; it's a symbiotic relationship. Whatever we do to our environment we do to ourselves."
"The issue is really hot," he added. "A lot of emotions are flowing over, with the protests that happened."