While U.S. Oil Sands is vocally proud of the fact that their projects will not require the ultimate eyesore of dirty oil, the tailings pond, the company is permitted to dump wastewater directly on the land, so activist Melanie Martin confirmed. According to her steadfast pursuance, the reasoning propounded by state agencies is, pathetically, that the region is so bereft of humidity that there is simply no water to poison.
“We hiked through dense forest, and see all kinds of wildlife out there that probably need a lot of water, like elk and deer,” Martin remembers. “They're trying to say that the toxins wouldn't be flushed out of the land into the streams, which run through the canyons down to the Green River, which feeds into the Colorado.”
U.S. Oil Sands tries to say that they're going to leave the land as clean as beach sand, which to me is a really chilling turn of phrase, because it's not by any means a beach.
The canyons have thick forest. There’s all sorts of wildlife, there's mountain lions, coyotes, occasionally bison, elk, deer, turkeys you name it. And to imagine leaving a place like that as clean as beach sand and thinking that that is somehow acceptable is just completely outrageous.
The idea that you can take away all the topsoil, you can take away all the microbial life, all the fungal life, everything that is the building blocks of life in that place, and completely remove it and expect everything to come back is just completely ludicrous. If you ask any biologist they would say the same thing.
They actually want to dump overburden into the canyons. So, I'm not sure how they're planning to get it back into place after that. So, even what they say they're going to do they're actually not planning to do.
It's just ludicrous. The high desert areas of the plateaus are windy, and you can't just put sand back in place and sprinkle some hayseed on and expect things to come back.
“The site slated for mining is a traditional hunting ground of the Uintah people,” Martin revealed. “They would migrate by season and come out there to hunt at certain times of the year, and I shouldn't speak in the past tense, because some very well might come out and hunt.”
When asked about the neighboring reservations, and the people who live there, Snarr responded, “We're not near their land. We don't need any permissions. All of our work is done on state land.”
“Back in November we held a concert on the reservation where Indigenous performers from around the region whose work involves social justice themes came out and performed,” says Martin. “It was a chance for a lot of people, locals and folks from other places to get together and talk about the issue of tar sands mining and what it means for people in this area.”
Martin aspires to realize greater networking capacity with activist communities on the frontlines along the Athabasca River impacted by tar sands mining. She speaks admiringly of when the Dene Nation’s Elder Council member, Francois Paulette, visited Utah to encourage tar sands resistance.
Another prominent Native activist, Winona LaDuke returned to the White Earth Reservation after attending Harvard University. She first spoke with her father. He said: “I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn.” LaDuke echoed his timeless wisdom to an audience encamped at Indian Lake, to demonstrate global resistance to tar sands industry. She has been growing corn ever since. That was her advice to hundreds of activists standing to listen in muddied footwear before the 2013 Tar Sands Healing Walk. “I don’t want to squander my energy entirely on being reactive, on being reactive to their craziness. Be clear on where we are going,” she said. “It’s our choice.”
The tar sands extractive industry, as known most pressingly in Alberta, and much more recently Utah, remain pivotal in debates as seemingly divergent as national economics and planetary crises. In 2012, the Natural Resources Minister of Canada, Joe Oliver, called environmental activists “radical ideologues”, as published in his open letter in the Globe & Mail, Canada’s largest-circulating national newspaper.
Similarly, U.S. Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd named land defenders, “obstructionist groups” who would “hijack the regulatory and legal processes” to “solicit funds” in a letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert. In the same breath Todd wrote: “…It is ironic that US Oil Sands’ project is one of the most environmentally-responsible projects ever undertaken in the oil sands”.
Todd then went on to list seven suggestions for the Governor to impose on his local citizenry, among them: “Restrict and enforce the period of time in which petitioners may make claims or comments against a proposed development…Greatly restrict the types of claims which are to be routed through a judicial process…exclude frivolous challenges…Do not subject small projects to the same standard of regulatory scrutiny as large or ‘mega-projects’”.
This letter is perhaps one of the most deafening examples of American exceptionalism in the 21st century, if not ever. On the same stage as LaDuke, during the 2013 Healing Walk encampment, a mere half hour’s drive from the Athabasca tar sands developments, the noted author and environmentalist Tzeporah Berman articulated the essential issue behind such collusions between government and industry. “Oil in Canada is corroding our democracy,” she roared, noting the corrosive effect of oil in pipelines, which spilled the width of the Athabasca River the very next day as hundreds of demonstrators walked a 14-kilometer Syncrude tailings pond loop.
Living Rivers, a Moab-based environmental organization that took U.S. Oil Sands and the Department of Water Quality to the Utah Supreme Court, cites the example of the Athabasca tar sands as reason enough to resist tar sands development everywhere. Sadly, U.S. Oil Sands has global designs, which would include similar projects in Africa, Russia and South America.
The perspectives of Indigenous Peoples are among the immediately related concerns in what is, fundamentally, a struggle for life on planet Earth. The 32,000 acres leased to U.S. Oil Sands is also the traditional territory of the Ute and Shoshone people. Based on 2000 census data, residents on the Uintah and Ouray Reservations endure five times the poverty rate, for families with children, than the national average. In Utah, the Indigenous Peoples of the Uintah and Ouray Reservations have mounted resistance to the local tar sands extractive projects as land defenders. In June of 2014, U.S. Oil Sands, the Calgary-based company pining for industrial extraction of bitumen from the Uintah Basin received a letter from the EPA.
Mr. Barclay Cuthbert, Vice President, Operations in the Division of Oil, Gas & Mining read: “…the U.S. Oil Sands proposed project is located on land straddling the boundary of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation… The EPA has not approved the Ute Indian Tribe or the state of Utah to implement any federal environmental regulatory program on Indian country lands within the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.”
In 2012, when Tar Sands Resistance began working to stop U.S. Oil Sands from going forward with their extractive designs, Winona LaDuke published The Militarization of Indian Country. In her methodical work, she chronicled the history of industrial, and military incursions on reservation lands with painstaking detail.
“About 70 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, a small community of Goshutes lives on an 18,600-acre reservation. For the past 40 years, the federal government has created, tested and dumped toxic military wastes all around them,” wrote LaDuke. “Less than 10 miles southwest of the reservation is the Dugway Proving Grounds, where the government conducts tests of chemical and biological weapons.”
Interestingly, the military recruitment statistics from 2004 showed Utah as having the least amount of recruits joining the Army, Navy and Air Force among all the fifty states, even less than Puerto Rico. “Army recruiters have credited the weak economy with a rise in recruitment numbers for years,” wrote the National Priorities Project (NPP) in 2011. The organization was nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
By 2010, according to the NPP, Utah remained among the states with the lowest recruitment rates. Logically, the lack of an impetus to join the military would indicate a relative economic stability, as before and after the Great Recession of 2008. However, even if people are not entering the military, as LaDuke has shown in Indian Country, the military (and military-industrial complex) will go to them, whether they like it or not.