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Tar Sands Megaloads Blocked By Tribes, Protests

Leonard Higgins, a climate justice activist locks down to a megaload. Photo courtesy Portland Rising Tide.
Leonard Higgins, a climate justice activist locks down to a megaload. Photo courtesy Portland Rising Tide.

Attempts to move megaloads of Canadian tar sands extraction equipment are being met with strong resistance in Eastern Oregon. On Dec. 1, two opponents of the loads locked themselves to the transport vehicles, while still more of the more than 50 protesters from anti-climate change groups 350.org and Rising Tide as well as Oregon tribes “held down a ceremonial line” in front of the truck, according to Kayla Godowa Tufti, a Eugene resident and Warm Springs tribe member who participated in the action. On Dec. 2, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation tribal elder Cathy Sampson-Kruse lay down in front of the megaload and was arrested.

The two protesters arrested Sunday night, Leonard George Higgins, 61, and Arnold George Schroder, 35, locked themselves to the trucks hauling the equipment, and the megaload was unable to depart the Port of Umatilla. Protesters chanted, “No tar sands on tribal lands.” The number of protesters has steadily increased since the megaloads were first made public, according to a press release from Portland Rising Tide, and the activists are urging others to come support them and ally with the tribes.

Godowa Tufti called the blockade and lockdown “very courageous” and added, “That’s what solidarity looks like out here.” The megaload, which consists of a General Electric water evaporator to be used in Canadian tar sands oil extraction and its transport, is 22 feet wide, 18 feet tall, 376 feet long and weighs 901,000 pounds. In comparison, the average loaded semi-truck weighs about 80,000 pounds. Oregon-based Omega Morgan is transporting the loads. 

The load did begin to move Dec. 2, getting under way before the 8 pm time that the Oregon Department of Transportation’s permit allows it to move, according to the climate justice activists who are monitoring its slow progress across the state. 

Opponents to the megaloads — and to mining the Canadian tar sands — say the energy- and water-intensive oil extraction process accelerates climate change, poisons water and destroys forests. The tar sands oil would feed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. 

Tribal representatives as well as local officials along the Eastern Oregon route, which winds from Umatilla through John Day and Prairie City, also object to a lack of consultation about the loads and their possible effects on bridges, towns and salmon runs due to the size of the loads. 

Sampson-Kruse calls the megaloads “insanity” in a video of the protest that was posted online. She says that the shipment crosses her traditional Native American homelands, and she opposes the megaloads to protect the sacred land and the waterways.

According to Godowa Tufti the Columbia River Treaty Tribes of the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs and Nez Perce issued a resolution opposing the development of the Canadian tar sands oil and the megaloads earlier this year.

Omega Morgan has said the megaloads will bring jobs as well as the money spent by employees to Eastern Oregon. Godowa Tufti says she knows of only three Umatilla tribal members who have gotten jobs from the megaloads under the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance, which requires employers engaged in business on, or sometimes near, reservations give preference to qualified Indians in all aspects of employment, contracting and all other business or economic development activities. 

Godowa Tufti says the megaload route goes through restoration areas for salmon within the John Day River subbasin that are owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The John Day River is home to runs of spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead populations that are two of the last remaining intact wild populations of anadromous (fish that go from the sea to rivers to spawn) in the Columbia River basin. 

“What if a bridge collapses?” Godowa Tufti asks. She says, “We can’t just look the other way while Native lands and the climate are being destroyed.”

The protests will continue throughout the week. More information is available at portlandrisingtide.org. — Camilla Mortensen 

Web extra: 

Umatilla Tribal Elder at Speaks at Megaloads Protest, Umatilla, OR from Trip Jennings on Vimeo.