Native Americans are indigenous within the boundaries of the present-day United States (including the indigenous peoples of Alaska and Hawaii) and are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, bands and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact, sovereign nations.
The terms Natives use to refer to themselves vary regionally and generationally, with many older Natives self-identifying as “Indians,” while younger Natives often identify as “Indigenous.” Which terms should be used by non-Natives has at times been controversial.
The term “Native American” has been adopted by major newspapers and some academic groups, but does not traditionally include Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup’ik, or Inuit peoples.
Native peoples from Canada are known as First Nations.
The Canadian company TransCanada hopes to begin building the northern section of an oil pipeline that would trek close to 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. If constructed, the pipeline, known as Keystone XL, will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. Along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems, pollute water sources and jeopardize public health.
Giant oil corporations invested in Canada’s tar sands are counting on the Keystone XL pipeline to make the expansion of oil extraction operations there profitable: The pipeline would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States and transport it to refineries on the Gulf Coast and ports for international export.
Unfortunately, an area the size of Florida is already set for extraction. Before TransCanada can begin construction, however, the company needs a presidential permit from the Obama administration because the pipeline crosses an international border.
~An environmental crime in progress~
Dirty tar sands oil
Pollution from tar sands oil greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three to four times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, and result in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than 5.6 million new cars to U.S. roads.
Water waste and pollution
During the tar sands oil extraction process, vast amounts of heat, water and chemicals are needed to separate the tarry substance (known as bitumen) from sand, silt, and clay and to flow up the pipeline. The water used in the process comes from rivers and underground aquifers. It takes three barrels of water to extract each single barrel of oil. Ninety-five percent of the water used to extract the oil, which is about 2.4 million barrels per day, is so polluted that the water must be stored in large human-made pools, known as tailing ponds. As the heavy bitumen sinks to the bottom of these ponds, the toxic sludge, full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, works its way into neighboring clean water supplies.
The tar sands oil are underneath the world’s largest intact ecosystem, the Boreal forests of Alberta. The forests not only serve as an important carbon sink, but its biodiversity and unspoiled bodies of water support large populations of many different species. They are a buffer against climate change as well as food and water shortages. However, in the process of digging up tar sands oil, the forests are destroyed. This valuable forest and its endangered caribou are both threatened by the pipeline.
Northern Alberta, the region where tar sands oil is extracted, is home to many indigenous populations. Important parts of their cultural traditions and livelihood are coming under attack because of tar sands operations. Not only have indigenous communities been forced off of their land, but also those living downstream from tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer.
These problems will only get worse, unless tar sands production is halted. Investing in a new pipeline would increase the rate of production, while decreasing the quality of life for indigenous populations.