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Native Americans Continue The Fight To Stop The Trans-Pecos Pipeline In West Texas

Using the Dakota Access Pipeline as a blueprint, Native Americans and other activists have brought protests to West Texas.

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Courtesy of Lori Glover

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota has served as a blueprint for environmental and pipeline related protests around the country. The country watched as the #NoDAPL movement’s tactics successfully halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (at least temporarily), and it seems that landowners and activists in the Big Bend area, who have been fighting against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline since 2013, took note on the significance of Native American involvement in environmental protests.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline set up temporary encampments near the construction site of the 1,100-mile pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois. After months of protesting and clashes with law enforcement, the protestors finally saw results in December. That’s when the Army Corps of Engineers said they would not approve an easement necessary for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says is their primary water source. Protestors cited concerns about the contamination of the water should the pipeline leak, but also the treaty rights of native nations. The big break was short lived—President Donald Trump signed executive orders last Tuesday to continue the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, and one executive order in particular called for expedited approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But that hasn’t deterred protesters who have learned from and molded themselves after the #NoDAPL movement. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline, a project of the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (which is also behind the Dakota Access Pipeline), is 148 miles of pipeline that will bring natural gas to Mexico through fracking. The pipeline passes through the Rio Grande River and three counties in West Texas: Pecos, Brewster, and Presidio, most of its path going through privately owned land. West Texas ranchers and environmentalists joined together to form the Big Bend Conservation Alliance to stop the pipeline, raising concerns about the environment and the dangers of fracking. But the ETP’s status as a common carrier in Texas gives the company eminent domain over land ownership rights, so construction of the pipeline began last May.

Lori Glover is a landowner in Alpine and Presidio County and also the co-founder and organizer of Big Bend Defense Coalition, a nonprofit created from offshoots of groups such as the Sierra Club and Defend Big Bend. Throughout her involvement in those groups, Glover focused on community rights and the legal aspects of eminent domain, until she and other members created the coalition in November to pursue more “direct action” against the pipeline. That usually involves preventing workers from accessing the pipeline site by blocking equipment, locking up gates, standing on pipelines, and even protesters locking themselves to construction equipment in hopes of delaying pipeline construction.

Photograph by Brandt Buchanan. Courtesy of Lori Glover

In September, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) held a protest in support of Standing Rock at the Dallas headquarters of Energy Transfer Partners. Glover attended the protest in solidarity with the #NoDAPL movement and to bring attention to the fight against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. It was there that Glover met Frankie Orona, then the co-director of AIM Central Texas.

“There is an Energy Transfers Partners pipeline that is being constructed in Texas, your own state, for the past two years,” Glover says she told Orona. “So would you come out and support us in our fight?” Orona and other members of AIM had traveled to Standing Rock in August to support the movement, so when they learned that there was another fight in their own backyard, Orona said they felt compelled to join. 

Orona left AIM Central Texas and created the Society of Native Nations in October along with about fifteen other members. Although the organization is relatively new, it’s still part of the national chapter of AIM, and Orona noted that because members have a long history of working with native communities in the state, it helps give them influence among Native Americans. The overall goal of the Society of Native Nations is to connect tribal communities and preserve the culture, history, and teachings of indigenous people in North and South America—and that means preserving the land as well. The organization’s website states that they believe Native Americans were called to be “keepers of the earth.”

“In our culture, we’ve always believed that you only take what you can and you give back what you can,” Orona said. “And so in doing that we believe that it’s our job to help preserve and take care of and nurture those things that are around us that provide us with the things that we need to survive.”

That firmly aligned with the mission of groups like Glover’s. Together, the Society of Native Nations and the Big Bend Defense Coalition established Two Rivers Camp on land owned by Glover on December 30. Orona said the camp is about 30 to 40 minutes away from “the front lines” of the pipeline, which is along Highway 67 between Marfa and Presidio. The establishment of the camp is one of many lessons they’ve learned from the #NoDAPL movement. Because they’re entering the fight against the pipeline near the end of its construction (it’s more than 93 percent complete), a permanent camp near the site provides old and new protestors with a dedicated area to come together, stay, and organize. Orona said one major goal of the camp is to slow down the pipeline enough so that more members outside the West Texas community can have a place to stay if they want to join the protest.

“The biggest thing we learned out of Standing Rock is power in unity,” Orona said. “It wasn’t one nation that made that happen. It was over four hundred different nations that came together within our own nation and other countries that came down to support so that all nations, all different tribal communities, all faith communities, religions and backgrounds came together to make that happen.” Standing Rock also showed Orona the importance of establishing the camp on private land. “If, for some reason, the police wanted to come in, law enforcement wanted to come in, they would need a search warrant,” he said.

From their camp base, members of the camp plan protests and “direct action” at pipeline construction sites, often streaming their protests on Facebook. Activists, including Glover, have been arrested on charges such as criminal trespassing and criminal mischief. Orona and Glover say tensions with local law enforcement from the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office have increased, especially when protesters learned that members of the law enforcement were employed by ETP as security when they’re off duty. Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez confirmed this, stating that it’s “not illegal.” In an email, Vicki Granado, an ETP spokesperson, said that the “it is very typical in the industry to use off-duty law enforcement for security.” Orona, however, believes the involvement of local law enforcement members with ETP has an effect on the community. “That’s one of the reasons why the community is so scared to be in opposition with them,” Orona said. “It’s scary.”

But the active participants in the protests have only felt more invigorated, even as the current president has undone the work of protestors at Standing Rock. Orona said that President Trump’s executive actions have only made activists at Two Rivers Camps more determined to “step up [their] game.” As more activists join them at the camp, members are planning more direct action and “soft action,” peaceful activities that raise awareness of the issues with the pipeline, such as sending protestors to Marfa to spread information. Even with things looking dire for protesters toward the end of the pipeline’s construction, Orona still has hope that if they can’t stop the completion of the pipeline, then maybe they can prevent fracking, as long as more people pay attention and join their fight. “We’re going to continue moving forward,” Orona said. “We just hope that we have enough support. We need more of our communities to support [us]. We need more feet on the ground.”

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  • Paul R. Jones

    “Native Americans Continue The Fight To Stop The Trans-Pecos Pipeline In West Texas
    Using the Dakota Access Pipeline as a blueprint, Native Americans and other activists have brought protests to West Texas. February 1, 2017By Doyin Oyeniyi”

    is an astonishing piece of a deplorable lack of journalist curiosity regarding U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” since The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924! That single Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, made moot all previous common law-state and federal-including Presidential Executive Orders, Commerce Clause and Treaty Clause alleged Indian Treaties (if any U.S. Senate confirmed Indian treaties actually existed pre-1924 Citizenship) regarding U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” so often touted by politicians and Indian advocates as being legitimate law.

    And yet, MSM continue to perpetuate willful blindness to the Constitutional absurdity that Congress, Presidents/Governors, Initiatives and Referendums can make distinguishable the metes and boundaries of a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” post citizenship.

    The Constitution makes for no provisions for:

    1. Indian sovereign nations. None of the asserted tribes possess any of the attributes of being a ‘sovereign nation:
    a. No Constitution recognition
    b. No international recognition
    c. No fixed borders
    d. No military
    e. No currency
    f. No postal system
    g. No passports

    2. Treaties with its own constituency

    3. Indian reservations whereby a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” reside exclusively and to the exclusion of all others, on land-with rare exception-that is owned by the People of the United States
    according to federal documents readily available on-line that notes rights of ‘occupancy and use’ by these distinguished U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” only with the land owned by the People of the United States.

    4. Recognition of ‘Indian citizenship’ asserted by various tribes. There is no international recognition of “Indian
    citizenship” as there is no ‘nation’ from which citizenship is derived.

    A simple question for politicians and MSM to answer…a question so simple, it is hard:

    “Where is the proclamation ratified by 1/3rd of the voters of the United States that amends the Constitution to make the health, welfare, safety and benefits of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because
    of their “Indian ancestry/race?”

    • St. Anger

      So your point is that since we followed the theft of a continent by passing a document only agreed to and signed by a small number of white men, that this makes all other claims officially forfeit?

      Wow. Go ahead and bring me your car. I just signed a document that says it belongs to me now.

      • Paul R. Jones

        A reminder…the Indian tribes lost the wars 130-years ago!. Period. 130-years is plenty of time to stop whining. Get off free everything federal welfare. Man-up and move on instead of living off U.S./State taxpayers welfare. U.S./State citizenship under the Constitution in the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 provided the same opportunities to succeed in life just the same as all non-Indian U.S./State citizens were provided with opportunities while some 560+ Indian tribes squandered their opportunities then whine about how bad they were treated by the bad white man all the while wallowing in victim-hood scenarios living off U.S./State citizen taxpayers money. Time to man-up.

        • St. Anger

          I’m sure they would gladly stop taking us aid, if the us would just leave.

          Seriously? Whining? I suppose you think that Jewish people and Israel are all a bunch of whiners too, since they just keep going on about the holocaust.

          • Paul R. Jones

            Sophistry.

          • St. Anger

            no. analogy.

            close, though. they both end in “y.”

        • brandt buchanan

          I grew up ranching and making a living as a hunting guide on this pipeline’s route. Lets talk about “manning up.” When some comes and bulldozes your ranch under the guise of a “public utility” without your permission and demolishes the only pasture on the ranch that holds pronghorn, what would you do? We’re fighting ETP in the courts on our own dime just for the right to say NO, I paid for this land with HARD EARNED MONEY and you can’t destroy my property. WE (local landowners) asked the Native Americans to come help us. Nobody is whining, RANCHERS in West Texas have been violated and we are PISSED!!!
          This isn’t Left v.s. Right, this is Texans that love and care for their land v.s. a corporation that violated our constitutional rights.

          • Paul R. Jones

            From what MSM has published, the pipeline route passes over land the private owners agreed-to the easement/right-of-way for a fee and with the balance of the path over land owned by the People of the United States. I have yet to read where eminent domain was exercised to ‘take the land’ for public use (public utility for example) and benefit with just compensation to the owners of the land ‘taken’ by eminent domain. Given the Constitution makes for provisions for eminent domain, your argument has an uphill battle.

            Amendment V

            No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

          • brandt buchanan

            You just read of a case in my comment. Boerschig v.s. Trans-Pecos pipeline

          • Paul R. Jones

            Thanks for the case. Boerschig v.s. Trans-Pecos pipeline disputes sets into motion a legal challenge to the exercise of ‘right-of-way/eminent domain’ for public use/utilities. Historically, each case rests on it own unique issues and historically remain an up-hill battle by the property owner(s) involved. The article notes such. Do you have any other cases whereby the property owner(s) were successful in defeating ‘right-of-way’ for easements or eminent domain? This case-Boerschig v.s. Trans-Pecos pipeline-is shaping up to be just such an up-hill battle to date.

          • brandt buchanan

            I’ve never seen my step-father (Mr. Boerschig) take a day of in my life, not a weekend, a Christmas, a Thanksgiving, a birthday, nothing. He has worked himself like a rented slave every single day of his life to afford to buy every acre of ranches he owns and I never thought they’d step foot through that gate but I was wrong. Now it breaks my heart to see him pouring tens of thousands of hard-earned dollars into these battles in the courts, just to stop a corporation from taking what he loves. He’s the only one, six other Ranchers have pooled their resources together in another fight, which is taking place in the state courts. All the Ranchers that dont have the money or energy to fight have had no choice but to take chump change as they watch their ranches destroyed. They want to speak publicly about it but their gagged by contracts for now. I’d sure like to see a train of fellow Ranchers load up a string of good horses and come fight with us. Not to mention, the protest camp has a hell of a camp cook.

          • Paul R. Jones

            I Googled for this case…United States Supreme Court KELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al., (2005) No. 04-108 Argued: February 22, 2005 Decided: June 23, 2005.

            The case addresses the up-hill battles private parties face when ’eminent domain’ is at issue. SCOTUS was a 5 to 4 decision so the Court has problems when ‘eminent domain’ is exercised for purposes noted in the case. My expertise rests with debunking faux Federal Indian Common law collectively housed in Title 25-INDIANS, a federal common law that has no Constitutional source of authority to exist. I have the strength of arguing Constitution-guaranteed protections of one’s citizenship in debunking Title 25-INDIANS versus your battles to over-come a Constitutional Article in the 5th Amendment. Suggest running all of the cited cases in this case to determine whether any are close to your battles. Doing such is time-consuming and a pain…but, you may be rewarded with one or more cases that were ruled in the private parties favor you can use in your case.

          • Benjamin Craft-Rendon

            It would help if you learned about Texas law & how easy it is for fossil fuel companies to abuse eminent domain:

            “Right now, a company that wants to lay a pipeline in Texas can check a box on a form declaring itself a “common carrier.” The idea is that it will provide its services for hire to transport oil and gas. It’s that role – which some say makes it similar to a utility – that gives it the right to take land.

            But in Texas, there’s no test to make sure the pipeline will act like a common carrier.”
            https://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2013/07/16/how-changes-to-eminent-domain-failed-and-why-some-say-thats-just-fine/

          • Paul R. Jones

            Smacks of politics plain and simple. Absent a bright line in the Constitution regarding eminent domain, the battle remains up-hill. Digging into case law decisions on the topic of eminent domain may reveal a case that defeated eminent domain in some manner. That would offer a path to yet more cases cited in that one case that successfully defeated eminent domain. Nevertheless, it is an up-hill battle as eminent domain flows from the Constitution directly.