Tribune | March 24, 2017
FORT PECK RESERVATION — Dozens of Fort Peck tribal members are hoping their 85-mile prayer walk across the reservation will bring more awareness to the soon-to-be-constructed Keystone XL pipeline and its potential danger to their water supply.
The walkers, some carrying an eagle feather staff and “No Oil” and “Mni Wiconi (Water is Life)” signs, set out Friday at dawn on U.S. Highway 2 by Big Muddy Creek, which is the eastern border of the reservation to protest the pipeline.
TransCanada, the parent company to the pipeline, is planning on building the controversial project several miles from the western border of the reservation and 40 miles upstream from the tribes’ multimillion-dollar water intake plant, which treats water from the Missouri River and disperses it throughout northeastern Montana.
On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a permit to allow the construction of the 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline that President Barack Obama had blocked in 2015.
TransCanada has said it will use the best materials and technology to build and maintain the pipeline, which will travel under the Missouri River, but many of those in the walk said it’s not a question of if the pipeline will break, but when.
“It won’t just affect us (if it breaks) but could affect our drinking supply, animals, crops and many of our traditional medicines that grow in the area,” said Cheryl Bighorn-Savior, a tribal member, nurse and diabetic educator.
“As a diabetic educator, I tell patients all the time to drink your water and grow your own garden to maintain their health.”
The day for the walkers began just before dawn when a water ceremony was held. Usually conducted by women in the tribe, the ceremony began and ended with prayer songs and the blessing of a pail of water that will be carried throughout.
At the end of the walk on Saturday on Porcupine Creek near Nashua and the eventual pipeline construction site, a prayer circle will be formed by the walkers and tribal members.
Tribal elder Cheyenne DeMarrias said not enough people appreciate what water does for their bodies and take it for granted.
“When I pray and fast, I always break it with water. It’s something that we can’t live without and everything Creator gave us needs water,” she said.
The plan for the walk was developed after TransCanada officials pulled out of a public meeting with the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board for fear of protesters at the event.
About 50 people were waiting for the meeting and others waited outside the tribal complex holding signs and flags.
The company met via telephone with tribal leaders behind closed doors a few hours after canceling the public meeting.
The tribal government has been urging TransCanada to build the pipeline elsewhere and away from the reservation to protect the $200 million water pipeline project.
Some tribal council members have also suggested the company build on the reservation but downstream from the intake plant for the tribe to get some financial benefit from the project.
By Richard Peterson, For the Tribune Published March 24, 2017