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Friday, 09 August 2013 09:13

Nez Perce Tribal Leaders Arrested During Four Day Idaho Blockade of Tar Sands Megaload

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nez perce8 23According to Brenda Norrell of Censored News blogspot, eight of the nine members of the Nez Perce tribal executive council in northern Idaho were arrested this past week during a peaceful but boisterous effort to prevent mega tar sands processing equipment from moving across tribal land.

The tribal council decided on Sunday, August 4th, to attempt to prevent the transport of massive General Electric tar sands processing equipment on its way to Alberta. 

"There were about two hundred protesters the first two nights," Cass Davis, a veteran of the Rising Tide movement in Idaho, told BuzzFlash at Truthout.  Cass, who has been arrested in the past for climate change protests, confirmed that Silas Whitman, chair of the executive council, was among those taken into custody and later released.

According to a rare mainstream corporate media article covering the civil disobedience protest, Reuters provides some of the background:

Nez Perce Chairman Silas C. Whitman said in a statement that tribal leaders were against "the conversion of this wild and scenic area into a high and wide industrial corridor."

The load, which measures 255 feet long, 21 feet wide and 23 feet tall, is one of two planned shipments by an Oregon hauling company, Omega Morgan, of a water purification unit being trucked to Alberta production fields, according to an Idaho transportation permit issued on Friday.

The route along U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. 12 follows a historic trail broken by early Nez Perce bison hunters and used in the early 19th century by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a government-sponsored expedition that charted the newly purchased American West.

Megaload opponents say the oversize trucks may impair the visual and ecological values of the trail and a river corridor that supports threatened steelhead and Chinook salmon and fuels a tourist economy tied to rafting, fishing, camping and hunting.

The Omega Morgan load, which will take four nights to cross Idaho into Montana, was approved by Idaho over the objections of environmentalists and despite U.S. Forest Service concerns.

The controversy involves two primary issues: the movement of massive trucking loads over tribal land (and also allegedly in violation of US Forest Service regulations).  It also was a symbolic protest by indigenous Americans against the despoiling of their land by the natural resource extraction industries.  This puts the Nez Perce nation in support of the Idle No More movement, which seeks to reclaim control over North American indigenous lands.  Although the GE giant equipment is destined for the Alberta tar sands fields, Nez Perce is acting in solidarity in protesting frequent US and Canadian exploitation of tribal territories through pollution and despoiling of the environment.

Unfortunately, despite four nights of efforts, the convoy has now moved onto US Forest Service lands.

Greg Stahl, assistant policy director at Idaho Rivers United (a state conservation organization), told BuzzFlash at Truthout that now that the tar sands megaload is on US Forest Service land, Idaho Rivers United assisted the Nez Pearce Tribe office of legal counsel with filing a lawsuit Thursday night seeking an injunction against further movement of the tar sands equipment.

Idaho Rivers United released a news statement about the legal action late on August 8th:

Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a joint lawsuit in federal court in Boise late this afternoon in order to stop the movement of megaloads along U.S. Highway 12 through tribal lands and the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild and Scenic River corridor.

The lawsuit charges that the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to stop a megaload from entering the river corridor was “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.” The Tribe and IRU are also seeking an injunction that would halt the megaload now in the river corridor and block transport of other megaloads until the federal agency completes a review of their impacts on the Nez Perce homeland and the federally protected Wild and Scenic River corridor.

“It’s incomprehensible that the Forest Service didn’t have the backbone to enforce its own rules,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “They’re sending a terrible message to anyone who would abuse rivers and forests, as well as important cultural and historic sites on our public lands.”

Nez Perce Executive Committee Chairman Silas C. Whitman said the tribe had exhausted its avenues of diplomacy and outreach, but received no redress.

“The tribe is frustrated we have to take action in court to stop something that a court has previously ordered the Forest Service to actively regulate, but feel we have been left with no other option,” Whitman said. “Our action of filing this legal proceeding as well as our active protests on the highway to this transport was precipitated by the agency’s failure to do its job.”

The lawsuit filing makes the charge (among other regulatory enforcement deficiencies by the US Forest Service):

By denying its authority to enforce its own directives and jurisdiction to regulate the transportation of mega-loads on U.S. Highway 12, the Forest Service is yet again “standing down,” just as it did in Idaho Rivers United, and is allowing Omega Morgan to proceed unauthorized and uncontested with its mega-load through the Wild and Scenic River corridor and National Forest. The agency’s arbitrary conduct irreparably and substantially harms the Tribe because the Tribe was and continues to be deprived of the opportunity to consult with its federal trustee concerning the mega-load’s impacts to its rights and interests in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Specifically under NFMA and its implementing regulations, as reflected in the Clearwater Forest Plan, the agency must ensure that its actions are not detrimental to the protection and preservation of the Tribe’s religious and cultural sites and practices and access to treaty-reserved rights in the National Forest. This requirement, in conjunction with the Forest Service’s responsibilities under Executive Order 13175 and Department of Agriculture policies on coordination consultation with Indian tribes, does not permit the agency to waive its consultation responsibilities when it is inconvenient or politically challenging to effectuate them.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the end of this month, it is worth noting that almost the entire executive committee of the Nez Perce tribal community took to heart MLK's advocacy of civil disobedience.

During four days of dauntless and strategic blockades -- and now in a lawsuit filed against a bureau of the US government -- the Nez Perce nation has been taking a stand for preserving the pristine lands, their lands, from being violated and despoiled.

There should be less speechifying about Dr. King from the White House and more honoring of those who engage in MLK's moral crusade rather than supporting policies that necessitate civil disobedience.

After all, this entire nation belonged to indigenous Americans before it was "conquered" by those of European descent.  They know well the destruction of home, land and planet that "civilization" and industrialization without limits can cause.

For audio coverage of the Nez Perce tar sands blockade, listen to these KPFA "Flashpoints" podcasts:





(Photo: Brooklyn Baptiste, Nez Perce/Censored News)