About 200 American Indians sang, danced and chanted Monday outside the state Capitol to bring attention to environmental and sovereignty issues.
Those attending said they support the group, Idle No More. Many oppose TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which would move crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to the Gulf Coast.
They said they are concerned the project is harming the environment and could decimate tribal lands. About 850 workers are involved in the Oklahoma portion of its Gulf Coast pipeline.
“We would like to not see that happen mainly for our concerns with the earth and the land and the contamination aspects,” said Dave Narcomey, of Bristow and a member of the Seminole Nation. “There are also concerns about burial ground issues and violations … not just here but all over the country.”
“We want people to know that we are aware of these things,” said Rodney Factor, of Seminole and a member of the Seminole Nation. “I understand we need jobs and a lot of people around here are out of work. But what cost are we willing to give up for those things? We can't drink oil, and we can't drink money. If our water's contaminated, then we're going to be in a bad situation.”
Others said they support the federal lawsuit filed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations against the state of Oklahoma in 2011, seeking to maintain control of the water in southeastern Oklahoma. The suit has been delayed while the two sides continue to work with a court-appointed mediator.
They also said they are disappointed Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation passed in 2011 that eliminated the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission and established a liaison post in her office.
“There was not a task force,” said Brenda Golden, of Oklahoma City, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “They didn't seek public comment asking what we thought about that. They just did it. … Isn't this our government too? I consider myself a dual citizen — of the Muscogee Creek Nation and of Oklahoma.”
Narcomey said Oklahoma with 39 federally recognized tribes should have an agency dedicated to American Indian affairs and issues.
The governor's office defended the legislation and the Keystone pipeline.
“We believe that having a tribal affairs division within the governor's office is better for the tribes,” said Fallin's communications director, Alex Weintz. “The governor has the sole authority to negotiate compacts with tribes. She deals directly with tribes … therefore it makes sense to have a liaison in her office.”
Jacque Hensley, the governor's tribal liaison, is in senior staff meetings every week with the governor, Weintz said.
“I can assure you that the tribal commission was not in weekly meetings with this governor or any other governor prior to the creation of this new liaison position,” Weintz said.
Fallin believes the Keystone pipeline is being constructed in a way that is environmentally responsible, Weintz said.
“The governor continues to be a strong supporter of completing it,” Weintz said.
The rally, held on the north plaza of the Capitol, was part of a planned global day of action organized on social media websites by Idle No More, which was formed last year in Canada over treaty concerns; similar events were to be held in more than 30 cities in Canada and in cities across the United States.
Narcomey said he's concerned about equality in Oklahoma's public schools and the widespread discrimination against Indians in the state.
“I see a lot of anti-Indian attitude from a lot of the non-Indian community,” said Narcomey, who grew up in Oklahoma, left in the mid-1970s to serve in the military and returned after 35 years in 2004. “That attitude still prevails. I was hoping to see a different change when I came back, but I haven't seen any changes at all.”
Burt Poorbuffalo, of Pink, and a member of the Kiowa Nation, said he is worried about the harm that has been done by the energy industry over the years to the land.
“We need to take care of Mother Earth — the water and the air and the earth,” he said. “They don't care. … They want to take more oil out of Mother Earth. If they keep doing that, something drastic is going to happen like global warming.”
Richard Ray Whitman, of Oklahoma City, said not one treaty has been dishonored by a tribe.
“It's sacred,” said Whitman, a member of the Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe, which is part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “When our ancestors entered into an agreement, they did it with a ceremonial pipe.”
I see a lot of anti-
Indian attitude from a lot of the non- Indian community. That attitude still prevails.”
member of the Seminole Nation