Archives For South Dakota

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Attorney Robin Martinez has the cultivated voice of an old-time radio news anchor – just deep enough to be resonate, clear diction, and a confident tone. It’s undoubtedly a valuable tool when he is called upon to make oral arguments in a case, but it’s just as easy to imagine him using that powerful voice in the context of ritual magic, which is part of his Pagan practice. The values that led Martinez to Paganism are, in fact, the same ones that led him to now be involved in one of the many local court battles being fought over the Keystone XL pipeline.

Robin Wright

Robin Martinez

Over the years, The Wild Hunt has followed the proposed tar sands pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta to Texas when completed, through the eyes of Pagans, watching from afar. Most visible to them and the rest of the public is the permit that operator TransCanada needs in order to bring the pipeline over the international border and whose fate lies with President Obama and the State Department.

Martinez has a different perspective. He is fighting on the front lines of a local skirmish that is attempting to block Trans Canada’s ability to pass through the state of South Dakota. States’ rights are alive and well in the Western US and, while Obama can halt the project in its tracks, his blessing won’t necessarily stop the ground war.

Martinez describes himself as Pagan, but not following a particular tradition. “I have a strong environmental ethic,” he said, “and a strong sense, like a lot of us who are Pagan, of the interconnectedness of all beings. It’s so much bigger than us; we’re just a part of that web.”

It’s that belief in protecting the earth and all its creatures that led him to oppose the Keystone XL personally, and his profession gave him the opportunity to do what many Pagans can’t: take it to the courts. “I have been lucky enough to have been blessed with a set of skills and abilities — and a law license — that allow me to do whatever I can to help protect the Earth from being degraded and polluted.”

Fossil fuel use and the consequences of extracting and processing it, are top on Martinez’s list of things humanity needs to stop doing if the planet is to survive, not to mention the species. The Keystone XL pipeline represents, what he considers, a particularly egregious form of fossil fuel to extract, because the thick tar sands of Alberta can’t even be put into a pipe without a lot of work. This type of oil, bitumen, is designated “sour crude” because it has a high sulfur content, and is embedded with a lot of sand. It’s extracted through a strip-mining process. Then, the sludge is heated up, so that the sand can be removed. Finally, diluents are added in order to get it flowing. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the mixture includes “natural gas condensate, naptha or a mix of other light hydrocarbons.” .

Alberta tar sands in the early 20th century (source: Wikimedia Commons)

“What bothers me about the Keystone XL is that it’s an enabler of tar sands exploitation,” Martinez said. “It’s an awful process, and the tailings from separation are leeching out into what were pristine waters. It’s easy for large energy companies to engage there, because only indigenous peoples live there, and they’re bearing the brunt. The land and water damage is heinous. It’s flat-out evil.”

In South Dakota, there are also indigenous peoples in the cross hairs of history. Four Sioux tribes, among others, have joined the court case, in which Martinez is representing the organization Dakota Rural Action, a grassroots group focused on protecting agriculture and promoting conservation. “One thing I never want to lose sight of is that this is a life or death matter for them. Being an outsider to that culture, I never want to lose sight of that. They’re the ones that would bear the brunt if something were to go wrong. That’s the physical nature of pipeline slicing through those states, and what might happen to water resources in that region in the event of a breach.”

One of the causes of pipeline breaches is the corrosiveness of the product shipped through them. Industry documents on tar sands maintain that diluted bitumen, or dilbit, is not more corrosive than other petroleum products. However, according to Scientific American, the processes, which remove sand and add dilutents, create “the most viscous, sulfurous and acidic form of oil produced today.” That is one reason that the physical nature of the pipeline is of great interest.

To make matters more worrisome, Martinez calculates that, between federal and state regulators, there will only be one inspector for every 5,800 miles of pipeline. In addition, the highly-specialized skills needed to become an inspector make the regulators subject to the revolving door known as “regulatory capture.” Consequently, Martinez refers to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration as “the little agency that couldn’t.” He is focusing on the engineering aspects of the pipeline, and will seek to make the case that the risk of breaches is unacceptably high.

Alberta tar sands production in 2008 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

This is not Martinez’s first time defending ideals which are aligned with his world view. He’s an active member of the National Lawyers Guild, first set up in the 1920s when the American Bar Association refused admittance to Jewish attorneys, and those of color. From the guild’s website, “We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests.” Martinez said that he met his co-counsel for this particular case, Bruce Ellison, because they served together on the NLG’s environmental committee in the Midwest region. Ellison has considerable experience representing indigenous tribes.

In South Dakota, a quirky law interacting with national politics provided Martinez with a legal opportunity. “The permit was granted in 2010 with very little opposition from the public utilities commission.” he explained. However, “if work was not started within four years, it must be recertified.” Work on that section of pipeline was likely delayed to see if Obama would approve the permit to cross the border.

“All of a sudden, there was grassroots opposition. Farmers and ranches, four major tribes, Bold Nebraska, my client Dakota Rural Action” rallied in the interest of property rights, water security, and in defense of cultural heritage, which would be disrupted by this massive project. Even so, it has been an uphill battle against a well-entrenched opponent. Martinez is working the case pro bono, which he admits has “taken a chunk out of my income for this year.”

South Dakota is one of the poorest regions in the country, so there is still a big difference in how much money each side can bring to the table. “We’re scrambling to find $20,000 to pay for expert witnesses,” Martinez said. “The CEO of TransCanada can find that in his couch.”

There’s also the hurdle of the “Chevron deference,” a legal standard which arose from a 1984 Supreme Court decision. The EPA under George W. Bush began using a more relaxed interpretation of the Clean Air Act, prompting the National Resources Defense Council to sue. The court determined that, so long as the interpretation is reasonable under the law, courts should defer to the administrative expertise of the body doing the interpreting.

In this particular case, the administrative body is the South Dakota Public Utilities Board, which must balance the public interest in the energy security and jobs promised by pipeline supporters against the risk of environmental and socioeconomic damage highlighted by opponents. Preparing for the case includes wading through thousands of documents provided by TransCanada, many of which the company wants kept confidential. “Some of them I agree on, like the details of cultural surveys of paleolithic sites, because they’d essentially become a treasure map. Other, like worst-case spill scenarios, we’re arguing over.”

Look for a media push from the South Dakota tribes. Members of the four major Sioux nations will be riding into the state capital from four directions on horseback and gathering for a huge rally. The effort is in recognition of how difficult a fight this will be, but even while the deck may seem stacked against the local effort, President Obama can change all of that with the stroke of a pen. “If Obama denies the permit, I would file a motion to dismiss the next day,” Martinez said. How victory is achieved doesn’t matter to this attorney, who is confident that “the fight would go on without me.” What does matter, and guides him as he sifts through documents and develops a legal strategy, is a simple concept: “Our Earth is a sacred place.”

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Happy Sunday! Here are few quick updates on stories that I’ve covered here previously at The Wild Hunt.

Sacred Land Sale Stopped: A week ago I reported on Lakota, Dakota and Nakota efforts to purchase the land known as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that was being sold by its owners. This was no ordinary piece of land, as one Native commentator put it:Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.”  However, after a flurry of media scrutiny, and an urging for consultations from the United Nations, the land was withdrawn from auction with no comment or reason given.

“Iowa-based Brock Auction Co. planned to auction five tracts of land owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds on Saturday. But a message on the auction house’s website Thursday said it has been canceled at the land owners’ direction. The auction house and Margaret Reynolds declined to comment. Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation consider the site key to their creation story and are trying to purchase it because they fear new owners would develop the land, which they call Pe’ Sla. The property, which spans about 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass, is the only sacred site on private land currently outside Sioux control.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and gives more time for tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to raise funds should the land eventually go up for auction. Let’s hope the request of James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is heard and a consultation with tribal nations, local, and federal government officials can take place to find a way forward so that this sacred site isn’t developed.

An Analysis of the Maetrum of Cybele Case: Earlier this month I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”) doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“Is this, as some claim, a case of deep discrimination? On its face, it does not appear to be so. It appears to be a stand-up analysis of facts presented at trial. Were these all the facts presented at trial? One would have to review all the exhibits accepted into evidence and read the transcript of all the testimony in order to be sure. Wil this case be appealed? That is yet to be seen. What will the fate of the Matreum be if it is appealed? Appellate courts do not like to second-guess the fact finding entity (whether it be a judge or a jury) on appeal. The appellate court will be entitled to review the entire record, however, and not just the facts which Judge Platkin found to be determinative. This fight may not be over.”

I don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.” The real question will be if the Maetreum can afford to take this fight to the next level. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted of further developments.

A Dogwood Blooms at COG’s Grand Council: About a week ago I wrote my analysis of Wiccan/Witchcraft organization Covenant of Goddess (COG), having just returned from their annual Grand Council. However, while I managed to say quite a bit in my piece, there was lot I didn’t include. Most memorable was a brief audio interview with several members of the Dogwood Local Council, which covers Georgia and Alabama. A truly vital example of how local councils work within their community, I would like to share that audio with you.

You can download the file, here. It’s only twelve minutes long, and there’s some background noise, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom, history, and good conversation packed into it. I hope you’ll check it out.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

What happens when sacred lands go up for sale? That is the situation faced by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is being sold by its owners. Though long in private hands, tribes had been allowed access to perform necessary ceremonies, and this is now in question with the sale. In addition, the government of South Dakota is planning on paving a road right through the middle of the site, a move that is seen as sacrilegious. In response, a last-minute campaign to raise funds to purchase the land has been launched, but with only a few days to go they are still far short of their million-dollar goal.

“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has designated $50,000 for the purpose of purchasing Pe’ Sla land.  By contributing to the effort of all the Sioux Tribes, we aim to purchase at least some of the tracts, if not all.  Many of the Sioux Tribes continue to exist in poverty and do not have a thriving casino-based economy as the media may have portrayed.  Yet we continue to fight for what is sacred, because it matters!”

Ruth Hopkins, writing for Indian Country Today, puts the importance of this land in context.

“Like many other Indigenous groups, our ceremonies are tied directly to the Universe and the natural cycles of Ina Maka (Mother Earth). Therefore, it only serves that Pe’ Sla, a location in the heart of the Black Hills that serves as a basis for our star maps, is also a sacred site where ceremonies must be observed each year. According to our beliefs, these rituals must be performed to keep the Universe in harmony and preserve the well being of all, Native and non-Native alike. You see, to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, Pe’ Sla is not merely prairie. Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray. The danger of the Oceti Sakowin losing Pe’ Sla is real, and imminent. Should Pe’ Sla pass into the hands of someone other than us, it’s highly likely that it will be developed. The State of South Dakota has expressed that it wants to use eminent domain to build a road right through the heart of Pe’ Sla. Development of Pe’ Sla would effectively cut off our access to it, and spell its destruction as a sacred site.”

Point of fact, this land was illegally taken from the Great Sioux Nation, and they have refused a settlement award (currently nearly 600 million dollars) for it because that would legally terminate demands for that land’s return. Native tribes across the country have been working for years to reclaim land that was taken from them in the name of greed or “integration,” and even when lands are “safely” in the hands of the federal government, that is no guarantee that the wishes of American Indian tribes will be respected.

Pe'Sla in the Black Hills (Photo:South Dakota Magazine/Bernie Hunhoff)

Pe’Sla in the Black Hills (Photo: South Dakota Magazine/Bernie Hunhoff)

The protection of Native sacred lands is an ongoing issue in Indian country, encroachments and construction on sacred lands often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). For some politicians it seems very plain there is no such thing as sacred land at all. However, we know there are consequences and a price to the eradication or desecration of sacred ground, whether it is Tara in Ireland or the peaks in Arizona. We can only hope that some sort of reprieve emerges, and this holy site isn’t developed and destroyed. We have to ask ourselves what sort of nation, culture, are we, that blithely moves forward in destroying indigenous holy sites in the name of commerce while screaming about “religious freedom” on somewhat flimsy (and politically motivated) pretexts. When you sell a people’s sacred ground, what dignity or honor is left, what claim do we have to be human beings?

For updates on this issue, see the site Last Real Indians.

On Tuesday of this past week I spotlighted the efforts of Peter Dybing, a Pagan and member of COG, who is on the ground in Haiti providing emergency care to those affected by the massive earthquake that has shattered Port-au-Prince and killed tens of thousands. This morning Dybing posted an open letter to the Pagan community, and I’d like to share it with you here.

Open letter to the Pagan Community,

It is hard to communicate my gratitude for all the support from the Pagan community for Haiti Community Support. We are in the middle of a transition to having local providers doing all the medical care for the NGO. Long term the solution to this crisis lies in the hands of locals. Haiti Community Support continues to administer funds and provide logistical support and we are considering sending more medical providers. Our major consideration now is how best to use the funds we have raised. Sending a provider costs about $3,000.00 for a two-week deployment. These funds can buy a lot of medical supplies for local medical providers to use at our clinic.

It would be impossible to fully relate the effect this mission has had on me personally. The level of pain and suffering is unimaginable; the scale of the need is beyond all the resources in place. With many years of disaster experience, nothing equipped me to deal with the sights and sounds I experienced in Haiti. Please continue to support this great cause. While Large NGO’s were still doing a “Needs Assessment” we were on the ground providing direct medical care. Today there are people alive in Haiti who would have had no chance without your support.

Over the next few days the directors of Haiti Community Support and myself will be doing an assessment of long-term needs and funds available. It continues to be our focus to provide direct care to the people of Haiti without the high administrative costs of large NGO’s

Each day the positive healing energy sent my way helped me deal with the realities on the ground. To my sisters and brothers in the community THANK YOU, you made a difference.

Peter Dybing

If you want to contribute to Dybing’s efforts in Haiti, head over to the Haiti Community Support web site and make a donation. Dybing’s message to us is important, because it shows that our community can make an impact in these matters. That we can be effective in saving lives and changing things for the better. It eradicates the notion that you have to be in a multi-national NGO or member of an entrenched mainstream faith to help the afflicted. All it takes is our involvement.

While I’m on the subject of afflicted populations, and the Pagan efforts to help them, I’d like to turn your attention to a post made yesterday by fellow Pagan blogger Kathryn Price NicDhàna. While the world’s attention has been, understandably, turned to Haiti, South Dakota Reservations have been hit with massive ice-storms and some sections have been without heat, power, or water for over a week. Just as we have reached out to Haiti, let us also reach out and show solidarity with the indigenous population here in the United States. For a listing of legitimate organizations to donate too, click here. You can get ongoing updates at the Supporting SD Rez Twitter feed, and the Supporting South Dakota Reservations Facebook group.