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Group protests Keystone XL pipeline in advance of Obama’s visit

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CANNON BALL, N.D. – American Indians opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline erected a tepee and held up signs against a fierce wind to protest the project here Friday morning, hours before President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were scheduled to arrive.

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Members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a coalition of tribal members, farmers, ranchers and landowners stretching from Canada to Texas, set up along Highway 1806 at the Cannon Ball Pit Stop, a convenience store a couple miles west of Cannon Ball that served as the gathering point for media covering Obama’s visit.

Aldo Seoane, a coordinator for the group who lives in Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, struggled against the wind as he tried to pound a wooden post into the ground and hang an orange sign with the words “No permit, no pipeline. Protect land and water” framing a segmented snake labeled with the initials for Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, three states the pipeline would cross.

Seoane said the group hopes to raise awareness about the threats the project poses to their water, lands and treaty rights. The teepee, labeled with a “Reject and Protect” logo, was also used in a protest in April on the National Mall.

Seoane said he’s happy Obama is visiting an American Indian reservation – only the third president to do so in the last 80 years – but added the president hasn’t given due consideration to tribal members’ concerns about environmental and social impacts of the project.

“We feel we have the right to be consulted,” he said, adding, “We’re concerned for the future well-being of every child.”

Bryan Brewer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, called on Obama in a news release to reject Keystone XL and protect what the tribe considers sacred lands and water the pipeline would cross, saying the pipeline is “a death warrant for our people.”

In April, the Obama administration announced it was extending the comment period for the $5.4 billion leg of the controversial project from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., while a court case plays out that could affect the pipeline’s route. That prompted Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to reintroduce legislation that would give Congress the power to approve the project. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is among the 55 senators co-sponsoring the bill, which needs 60 votes.

The bill authorizes TransCanada to build and operate Keystone XL from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 barrels a day from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, according to Hoeven’s office.

Joye and Floyd Braun of Eagle Butte, S.D., lifted cardboard protest signs Friday as a cavalcade of law enforcement and official-looking black and white vehicles paraded past.

Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said the pipeline would put at risk their drinking water supply from the river.  Her husband said they’re not against oil.

“We just want responsible oil,” Floyd Braun said.

At the Flag Day Celebration in Cannon Ball, hundreds of spectators sat in a ring of chairs and bleachers in the powwow arbor overlooking the Missouri River at 1 p.m., anxiously awaiting the arrival of the president and first lady. A dozen tepees decorated the grounds, and dozens of American flags circling the structure flapped stiffly in the strong wind.

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