The pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year drew national attention. On Reveal this week, we team up with Inside Energy to go behind the scenes and meet the young people who started the fight. For the hour, we look at how those protests put at-risk teens on a healthier path, and how other Native American tribes are grappling with energy projects on their sovereign land.

The story of the Dakota Access pipeline is coming to a close – construction is finished and crude oil will soon be flowing from North Dakota’s Bakken region to Illinois. But back on the Standing Rock reservation, the young people who started the protest say fighting a losing battle was worth it. Being in the spotlight made the tribe look inward. Young people are once again becoming proud of their heritage, and starting to heal from hundreds of years of trauma. Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson reports that this trauma had manifested itself in alarming rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide, and now, for the first time in decades, these indicators are going down.

Next, we head north to Canada where indigenous tribes, known as First Nations, also are fighting against oil pipelines. Just like in the U.S., they’re going through the courts, which have recently said that First Nations have a big say in what happens on their land. Reveal reporter Patrick Michels brings us the story of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation near Vancouver. Leaders are staking their lawsuit on a little-known historical fact in their part of Canada: Tribes never signed treaties with the government handing over their lands.

And finally, Reveal producer Ike Sriskandarajah helps tell the story of the Southern Ute tribe, which instead of fighting energy development decided to embrace it. It’s become a successful energy producer and exporter of oil and gas. The Southern Ute are a wealthy nation and the population enjoys services that are lacking on most reservations. But this hasn’t been without controversy, as this industry has raised environmental and cultural concerns among some residents.


  • Explore: See more from Inside Energy’s “Beyond Standing Rock” project
  • Read: US oil companies hurry to lay pipelines under Trump
  • Watch: A young woman reflects on her year with the protests


Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

  • True Game (Reveal show theme), “Camerado-Lightning” from n/a (Cut-Off Man Records)


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

 Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 – 00:10:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Just a few days after Donald Trump took office, he signed a memo that pushed forward a pipeline project that the Obama administration had put on hold.


Donald Trump:This is, with respect to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.


Al Letson:Afterwards, Trump said he didn’t think it was such a big deal.


Donald Trump:I don’t even think it was controversial. You know, I approved them. I haven’t even heard. I haven’t had one call from anybody, saying, “Oh, that was a terrible thing you did.”



Al Letson:


But for Alice Brown Otter, it was a terrible thing. And just a few weeks later, in early March, she was getting ready to take her complaint to the President.


Alice:So you won’t see this part, right here, cause I messed up on it.


Alice’s mom:That purple looks nice on there.


Al Letson:Alice is sewing ribbons into a blue polka dot skirt with her mom and some friends. It’s evening in Bismarck, North Dakota.


[00:01:00]The next morning, she’ll leave at 4 AM for Washington, D.C., to march against the pipeline. Alice is tall, slim, with long dark hair and big brown eyes, and, she’s 13 years old.


Alice’s mom:Try to capture Alice getting frustrated.


Speaker 5:Yeah.


Alice:Oh, mom. Mom!


Al Letson:Alice is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. This tribe was all over the news last year, because they were the ones fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was set to cross just north of their reservation. The tribe said building the pipeline there would disturb a sacred area where their ancestors lived and where they’re now buried, and that an oil spill will contaminate their water. Over the course of months, thousands of people joined protest camps near the Missouri River.


[00:01:30]Now, Alice is heading to another protest against Dakota Access, this time in Washington. Time is running out.


Alice:I think they’re saying that the oil’s gonna start transporting through in a couple of days or something, so I’m afraid.



Al Letson:


A few days later, serious and unsmiling in her ribbon skirt, Alice stands right next to the tribal chairman, as he speaks to the crowd in front of the White House.


Tribal Chairman:We are all Americans, and above all, we are all human beings. We deserve to be included. We deserve to be respected.


Al Letson:Despite those words, the pipeline went into service this week. It’ll carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region more than a thousand miles down to Illinois. Dakota Access can move about half of the Bakken’s daily output, at a lower cost than transporting it by rail. State regulators say that this pipeline will soon make North Dakota’s oil competitive with Texas crude.


[00:02:30]After all the protests and public outcry, how did the pipeline go through, and what does it mean for the young people on the reservation who led the effort to stop it? Leigh Paterson of the public media collaboration Inside Energy, is gonna take us inside the protest movement, and show us how it all unfolded. But first, we’ll start with a look at what’s happened since Trump restarted the project.





The road to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is deserted. It’s mid-March, a week after Alice’s trip to Washington. The Missouri River is on my left, wide and frozen. The open prairie on my right is brown and also frozen. I look for the tribal radio station, KNLD.


[00:03:30]Alright, that’s not it.


Speaker 8:… to start fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, and what they wanted to do is they wanted to …


Leigh:Of all things, they’re talking about Dakota Access.


Speaker 8:If we still have money, and the oil’s gonna go underneath, what are we gonna do strategically as a tribe when it breaks?


Leigh:So, I’m cruising along, trying not to speed too much, and the next thing I know, I’m stopped, and there’s a line of cars in front of me. It’s a police checkpoint. I’m waiting, listening to some tunes …





Okay, get behind the pilot car, the next nine miles don’t stop, stay with the group, don’t stop your car, don’t slow down, just don’t get out of your car.






Leigh:Why’s that?






Police:Are you familiar with any of the …


Leigh:The Dakota Access stuff?


Police:Yep. It’s open, partially open …





Security’s tight, because back in October, protestors lit vehicles on fire, on top of a nearby bridge, and law enforcement closed the road. The road is now reopened, but you have to follow a pilot car. I’ve seen this area on the news so many times, but it looks completely different now. In the distance, I can see some dark pipes lined up at the pipeline construction site, then we pass what’s left of the protest camps. Just a couple of tents, and a muddy spot near the river.


[00:05:00]Dakota Access turned life on this quiet, rural reservation upside down. One way I monitored everything that was going on, was by following young protestors on Twitter and Facebook. Now, months later, I hear a group of kids are still getting together on a regular basis, so I drive to their meeting.


Speaker 10:[crosstalk 00:05:23] I just ask that you guide our thoughts, and guide our actions, and that you help us to continue to bring goodness into our homes and into our communities …





The Standing Rock Youth Council opens with a prayer. The group does things like hold clean-up days and dinners to honor tribal elders. Today, they’re meeting in a loud, echoing community center in Wakpala, South Dakota.


Tokata:My name is Tokata Iron Eyes.


Leigh:And you are?


Tokata:The Standing Rock Youth Council President.


Leigh:And you were a little late.


Tokata:And I was a little late, because my mom got lost.


Leigh:Tokata is 13. I ask her and her friend about today’s agenda.





We have to talk about the color of our t-shirts, and raising …


Tokata friend:… money for a headstone for a girl that passed away like last year.




Leigh:This young woman who passed away had been part of an online video campaign against Dakota Access.


Tokata:So she was in that “Respect Our Water” video, like at the very, very beginning.


Leigh:And was hit by a car last year.


Tokata:How much money are we thinking about raising?


Leigh:Members of the group suggest having a bake sale, or holding an event with a donation box to pay for the headstone.


[00:06:30]Life is hard for a lot of these kids. Around half of the families on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation live in poverty. Unemployment is around 35%, though the tribe says the real number is much higher. And if you look at things like lifespan, drunk driving accidents, and adult obesity, this reservation is one of the unhealthiest parts of the Dakotas.


[00:07:00]Now, it may be a little counterintuitive, but, Tokata says that considering all of these factors, the Dakota Access Pipeline …


Tokata:… Made a lot of positive improvements to our communities. Those camps and this whole movement give our youth something to do, that’s occupied time where they could have been drinking, doing drugs, and so I think it was a really positive movement for a really long time.


Leigh:A movement, she says, started by those young people. But, how did a group of kids start a national protest?


[00:07:30]I decide to check this story out with the actual tribal council. Ask the adults if this is really how it all went down. So, I go to Dana Yellow Fat’s house. He’s a tribal council member. I meet his stepdaughter, 17 year old Aleigha Eagle.


Dana:Introduce yourself to Leigh.



Aleigha :

Leigh:She listens while Dana and I chat, and we start with how this all began.


[00:08:00]Back in January of 2016, pipeline construction broke ground in North Dakota. Soon after …


Dana:… A group of youth approached us, and asked for help.


Leigh:So it was young people, it was teenagers who really took the first action.


Dana:Yeah. Teenagers all stepped forward, they wanted help, they wanted our help as elected officials to bring awareness to as many people as they could.





When you think back to the early days, could you ever have imagined how big this was gonna get?


Dana:Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Standing Rock would be put on such a large world stage.


Leigh:And it was the kids who put it there. So, we’re gonna let them tell you the protest story going back to the beginning, starting with Alice Brown Otter. She’s the girl who was sewing her skirt and getting ready to go to D.C.


[00:09:00]That wasn’t her first trip to Washington. Last summer, she and a bunch of others, they ran there.


Crowd:…we are sisters, we are sisters! We run, we run!


Alice:On my average day I’d run 10 miles, every day.


Leigh:I’m tired just thinking about that.


They ran, walked, and drove all the way from Standing Rock to talk with officials from the federal government.





We had a meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers, and …


Leigh:And what was the purpose of the meeting?


Alice:Of how much our water means to us, and how we get treated differently because we’re just like a background, and a shadow of everyone else, and we talked about why we ran that far. And I remember some … A couple of the people, it brought tears to their eyes, and we knew that it meant something to them.





Another thing tribal youth did?


 Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 – 00:10:04]
 Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 – 00:20:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Speaker 1:It meant something to them.


Speaker 2:Another thing Tribal Youth did. They set up the very first protest camp with help from a local land owner.


Singers:[foreign language 00:10:09]


Speaker 2:Aleah Eagle missed two months of school to be there. She took this video sitting in front of a bonfire.


Aleah Eagle:From hearing everybody just joking around and laughing at night while I go play hand games and stuff, and just laying out in the middle of all the camps, and watching the stars, and just listening to all the round dances that they’re having is really serene-like.



Speaker 2:


But it wasn’t long before thousands started pouring in to Standing Rock from all over the country, and the world. The protest camps became a symbol of Native empowerment, and fighting big oil, and the federal government.


Chanters:Keep it in the soil. You can’t drink oil. Keep it in the soil.



Speaker 2:


In September, the Obama administration ordered pipeline construction near the Missouri river to stop, while it reconsidered the legality of the project. Here’s youth council president Takoda Iron Eyes again.


Takoda IronEyes:See, the pipeline was originally supposed to be routed through Bismarck, North Dakota, our capital, which is a largely white community.


Speaker 2:The pipeline company changed the route for several reasons, including that the first route was longer, and if there were a leak, it could’ve contaminated the municipal water supply for a city of about 60,000, versus a reservation of 8,000.



Takoda IronEyes:


Yeah, because everything manmade breaks at some point.


Speaker 2:The CEO of the company building that pipeline, Kelcy Warren, responded to these concerns in an interview last year with the PBS news hour.


Kelcy Warren:Energy Transfer is doing the very best we can. We’re complying with all the laws, and I just think the likelihood of a spill into Lake Oahe is just extremely remote.


Speaker 2:He’s right. Pipelines are generally considered to be the safest way to transport crude compared to rail or truck. Nearly all the oil moved by pipeline in the US arrives at its destination just fine, but that fraction of a percent that’s spilled can have devastating effects. Once the pipeline was rerouted, the Army Corps of Engineers was required to consult with the tribe. In court documents, it lists many dates when it contacted the tribe, or tried to, and just never heard back. But the Standing Rock Sioux say when they did talk to the army corps, nobody listened.


Speaker 8:You need to get off the pickup, and you need to go [inaudible 00:12:39]. You’re gonna get sprayed with pepper.



Speaker 2:


By the fall of last year, police were clashing with protestors using tasers, tear gas, and water cannons. Some protestors blocked roads, and railroad tracks. Over 700 people were arrested over the course of the protests, and the Obama administration was letting it all play out while it decided whether or not to grant a key permit needed to build under the river. And then, on December 4th, a turning point.



Speaker 9:


The corps of engineers is gonna deny the easement.


Speaker 2:The Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant that permit, choosing instead to launch a more thorough environmental review.


Singers:[foreign language 00:13:20]


Speaker 2:Aleah Eagle, the stepdaughter of council member Dana Yellow Fat, was there.


Aleah Eagle:We were just sitting there, and then all of a sudden we heard war hooping and stuff, and everybody was running up to the top of the hill, and I’m like, “What the heck’s going on?” And we hear that the easement was denied, and everybody was full on war hooping, and we were just singing, and having fun.



Speaker 2:


This was a huge deal. President Obama had come through. For people here, Obama was making good on a commitment he’d made to help the tribe before Dakota Access was even on the radar.



Barack Obama:


People of Standing Rock, people of Indian country-


Speaker 2:See, back in 2014, Obama visited Standing Rock. It was his first trip to a reservation as president, and it was when his connection to Indian country turned from intellectual to emotional, as one Obama advisor put it to me. And it was meeting with several young people that did it. Kendrick Eagle was one of them. So you call him Barack?


Kendrick Eagle:Yeah, we’d call him Barack, yeah, He’s a pretty cool guy, man.



Speaker 2:


What was it like when you walked in?


Kendrick Eagle:It was like looking at … Like he was plastic. Is this guy real? And it was just insane to see him come in.


Speaker 2:Kendrick told Obama his story. He’s 24 years old, and takes care of his four younger step-brothers. Kendrick’s dad had died, and his step-mom started using drugs. Things at home had gotten out of hand. With nobody to watch his brothers, they were roaming around the reservation at night looking for their mom.



Kendrick Eagle:


Other people abusing them, touching them, and spanking them and stuff.


Speaker 2:They were sleeping on couch cushions on the floor. In 2013 Kendrick went from brother to parent. He got custody, and moved them to Bismarck so that he could go to college. Kendrick remembers Obama’s reaction.


Kendrick Eagle:He had tears in his eyes, him and Michelle, and after hearing all of our stories …


Speaker 2:Six months later, Obama spoke about that meeting to tribal leaders at the White House.


Barack Obama:One young man was raising his four little brothers by himself.



Speaker 2:


He said the Standing Rock youth reminded him of his own daughters.


Barack Obama:Just as smart, just as hopeful, just as beautiful, but at their core there was a nagging doubt that they would have the opportunities that my daughters had, and nothing gets me more frustrated than when I hear that.


Speaker 2:Following this speech, the White House launched projects supporting Native schools, and youth leadership, and released a report on the challenges they faced. The kids on Standing Rock felt like things were happening.



Kendrick Eagle:


Right there it gave us a spark like, “Man, we got the president got our back,” and we got all these programs.


Speaker 2:All of this really affected Kendrick Eagle. And it affected the president too.


Barack Obama:We walked away shaken, because some of this kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry, and it was heartbreaking.


Speaker 2:One of those burdens is suicide. Everyone on Standing Rock has been touched by it in some way. Here is tribal council member Dana Yellow Fat.



Dana Yellow Fat:


One of the biggest things and the biggest fears that I have is our youth taking their own lives, and it’s happened a lot on Standing Rock. It was a national story, that’s what we were known for.


Speaker 2:According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for young Native Americans are much higher than rates for other races and ethnicities, especially for young Native American men. On Standing Rock, a decade ago, there was a cluster of suicides. Over the course of a year, at least ten young people took their own lives. Local news papers reported that over 280 tried. Suicide has continued to be a problem. I ask Aleah Eagle if she ever worries about that stuff.



Aleah Eagle:


Well, when I was younger, my cousin, she committed suicide, and it was really hard for me because we were really close and we used to live here together for a while, and then three days after that, my brother was murdered, and for a while there, after all that happened, I didn’t really want anything to do with anybody, and I couldn’t be in a public setting for a really long time, or for even a short time without feeling like the world was gonna crash on me.



Speaker 2:


Being part of the pipeline protest, that changed something for her.



Aleah Eagle:


Like … I’m sorry for saying “like” so much, I’m just trying to find the right words for this. All I can really say is that it was pretty amazing, and it really helped me gain people skills and just actually enjoy being in a public setting again.


Speaker 2:All around the reservation, I heard so many stories like this. Drug addicts getting clean, alcoholics quitting drinking, depression and anxiety going away, and young people reconnecting with long lost relatives. Monique Runnels is the wellness director on Standing Rock. She collects suicide related data on a weekly basis, and says that she’s seen a change in the numbers.



Monique Runnels:


In the very beginning of when camp first started, we did see quite a significant decrease in the number of referrals, and attempts, and ideations, and all of that.



Speaker 2:


Meaning suicidal thoughts. And there are other factors on the reservation of course. Education efforts around youth suicide, and the hiring of more mental health care professionals. Monique wouldn’t share those numbers with me. The tribe doesn’t allow it, but she hopes this change will last. It’s been about a year since the fight against Dakota Access got going. The young people who were so immersed in the protests are moving on with their lives, but they’ve changed. What I found in spending time with these kids, is that you really cannot overstate what the runs, the protests, the TV cameras … you can’t overstate the impact of all that. Here’s Aleah Eagle again.



Aleah Eagle:


It would be cool to look back on and think, “Wow, I was really one of those people that was in there, that was actually helping,” and even though I only have a small part in this, it’s a really big pride to actually be a part …


 Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 – 00:20:04]
 Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 – 00:30:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Aliyah:It’s a really big pride to actually be a part of it.


Lee:Aliyah is starting to think about college. She wants to be a veterinarian. You know what you’d write your essay about?


Aliyah:I think I’d write about my life and how it is to be a Native American. It’s a beautiful but hard way of life.


Lee:Thirteen-year-old Alice Brown Otter, the girl who ran to Washington DC, is having a hard time with how the whole thing ended.





Yeah. When we passed by the pipeline this morning, it just brought flashbacks of how it used to be when the movement first started, the good feeling when it was just innocent and it was really prayerful, and there was no harm and violence going on because the youth started it, and the youth wanted it a certain way. And then the flashback of the macing came, and that just put bad medicine on the movement.





Tokata Iron Eyes, President of the Standing Rock Youth Council, the one who was talking about the headstone at their meeting, she’s going to continue her fight. The group just hosted its annual Youth Conference earlier this month. Hundreds of kids from other reservations were there.


Tokata:Our communities have such a hard time, but we don’t want to be victims anymore because we’ve been victims for a really long time. And so I think now, with this generation, with the youth, we’re just trying to pick ourselves up and start over and live in a good way.





Our story was produced by Lee Patterson from the Public Media Collaboration Inside Energy. They recently finished a TV documentary on tribes and energy development called “Beyond Standing Rock.” The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is not giving up. They’re still suing the federal government to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. They argue that communication about the project, known as consultation, was flawed, and that the government didn’t take their concerns seriously.


[00:22:30]In Canada, tribes are also fighting pipelines. When we come back, the story of one tribe that’s arguing the government there has to listen to them because the land is still legally theirs. That’s next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Lee:Hey, guys. It’s Lee again. At Inside Energy, we tell stories about people and energy, and we need to hear from you. You’re the people part of that equation. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just a tiny piece of the oil and gas infrastructure crisscrossing this country. It’s everywhere, but you probably don’t even notice it. So what do you want to know about oil and gas development in the place you call home? Send us your questions at Your question could become our next story. That’s





From the Center for Investigating Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline attracted a flood of people to the Standing Rock protest camp on the prairie. Some even came from other countries.


Konahoose:So this was the big controversy in Standing Rock, was drilling under the river.


Al:That’s Kanahoose [inaudible 00:23:58]. We’re back near her home in Canada on the banks of the Thompson River, near Kamloops, British Columbia. Kanahoose joined the protest at Standing Rock, and her Chevy Suburban still has South Dakota plates.





You can see the sign right here of the underwater pipeline crossing.





In Canada, tribes are called First Nations. And Kanahoose belongs to the Shíshálh Nation. Now that she’s back home, she’s planning a protest in her own backyard. But this one will be a little different. The Trans-Belt Pipeline is already in the ground. It’s been there for 60 years. But its owner, a company in Houston called Kinder Morgan, wants to put another, bigger pipeline next to it. To stop them, Konahoose wants to set up traditional villages along the pipeline route.


Konahoose:What we want to really establish is challenging the provincial jurisdiction over our territory by occupying and asserting our own title to our territory, by living and occupying our land.





Challenging jurisdiction, asserting our title. For her, this fight isn’t just about stopping a pipeline; it’s about staking a claim to the land for good. Because unlike almost everywhere else in North America, native people in this province never signed over this land to the government.


Konahoose:A lot of native people will take pride in that all throughout so-called British Columbia, is that we’ve seeded our surrendered our territory. There is no treaty signed within our nation.





That might sound like a long shot. But courts in Canada have recently said that First Nations have a big say in what happens on their land. Reporter Patrick Michaels has a story of a First Nation in Vancouver that’s hoping to use that momentum to kill the Trans-Mountain Project.


Charlene:We set right on the inlet. That’s where our first grandmother came from, and we inhabited this body of water for people of the inlet.


Patrick:That’s Charlene Aleck. She’s a council member for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. It’s a little before sunset, cold and windy. We are looking out across the Burrard Inlet. She’s bundled up against the wind. When she speaks, she has a calm, commanding kind of presence. We are walking across smooth rocks and shells (or midden). Basically the remains of ancient Tsleil-Waututh food scraps.





See the bank here? It’s full of shell midden. And that’s proof that our ancestors lived here, cooked here, and ate here. And the midden has been slowly eroded away by all the tankers that have come in. We have about 60 tankers a year, and they’re proposing over 400 tankers a year.





Those ships will be loading up with oil just across the water from the reservation. The new pipeline would triple the output coming from Alberta’s Oil Sands and open it up to markets in Asia. Charlene hopes they don’t get the chance. She comes from a long line of what she calls “modern-day warriors.”



Dan George:


Thank you for helping me to become a warrior.


Patrick:That’s her grandfather, Dan George. He was the Tsleil-Waututh Chief in the 50s and 60s and then became a Hollywood actor. He had that famous line in the movie, “Little Big Man.”


Dan George:Come out and fight. It is a good day to die.


Patrick:Dan’s son, Chief Leonard George, put the Tsleil-Waututh in the construction and tourism business in the early 90s. Charlene says their success has made them more self-sufficient than most First Nations. They’re building homes here today, big condos with a pool and waterfalls and a view of the inlet. It’s prime Vancouver real estate, and it brings in a lot of money. An oil spill would ruin it. When the Tsleil-Waututh first heard that pipeline expansion was in the works, back in 2012, it was a non-starter, even when the company offered them money.





We reached out to our community, and everybody just saw no huge benefits, even though there was millions of dollars offered.


Patrick:They got one chance to object, and they took it. In 2014, regulators held a hearing near Vancouver. Testimony was limited to just a few minutes, and they couldn’t talk directly to company officials.


Charlene:This process is a flawed process, not just for the First Nations, but for every citizen in this province.



Speaker 1:


You know, there’s a time when you gotta get up off your couch and turn off your remote and turn off your TV games and stand up for something. Now I’m telling all of you. You guys, warrior up, for God’s sake.


Patrick:But not every First Nation on the pipeline route is against it. Far from the city, where jobs are scarce, the company’s money is hard to pass up. In Kamloops, in the mountains a few hours north of Vancouver, I visit the man who signed the very first deal with Kinder Morgan. I saw a photo in the museum of Joe LeBourdias. That’s your uncle?







Patrick:Yeah. Michael LeBourdais used to be the Chief of the Whispering Pines Clinton Indian Band. He is a big guy in his early 50s. Pretty much always has a black cowboy hat. Rodeo runs in his family. His uncle was a bronco rider. Michael is a little more sane. He’s a calf roper.





It’s an expensive hobby is what it is.


Patrick:That’s for sure.


Michael:Yep. As good as I was, and the championships that I won, I never made money.


Patrick:Today, Michael is a business advisor. He helps First Nations find ways to make money by working within the system. And that’s pretty much what he did when people from Kinder Morgan came asking for his support.


Michael:You know, there wasn’t a “Do you approve of this pipeline” question because they would never ask that. They asked about our thoughts because-


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(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Speaker 1:We were never asked that. They asked about our thoughts because we don’t have the right to say, “No” We can say, “No”, but it will come with no benefits.


Speaker 2:This all happened a few months before the Canadian courts stopped a timber project because of opposition from a first nation. For tribal leaders, the ruling suggested that consultation wasn’t enough. They needed to give their consent for a project to go forward. Big business and government so it differently. Both sides are waiting on future cases to clear up the confusion, but in Michael’s case, it looked like a one-sided negotiation. So, he figured he’d make the best of it.



Speaker 3:


Balance. My grandfather always said, “There’s no right and wrong in nature. There’s only balance.” And so, it’s our responsibility to make sure there’s not too much development, that there’s not too much of a carbon footprint. This, to us as caretakers of the land and all that, was put here for us to benefit and enjoy from, to live a good life.



Speaker 2:


Michael says they got money, about as much as they get from the government each year. Plus, some tighter safety controls, like a promise to use thicker pipe under river crossings, and he’s not an outlier. So far, 50 other first nations have cut a deal with Kinder Morgan.


In a hotel ballroom in Camloobs, I see the company’s approach in action. They’ve got posters and sandwich platters and dozens of company reps and matching green jackets. Lots of locals here are looking forward to the project, especially if it means jobs. That’s where I met Lazette Parsons-Bell. She’s a spokeswoman for the project.



Speaker 4:


Do we have every single landowner that’s in favor of it? No. But, we continue to work with them and continue to resolve their issues, find out what it is, and try and come to point where there is an acceptance of the pipeline going through their property.


Speaker 2:When Kinder Morgan meets with first nations, it’s the same deal. If they can’t get to “Yes”, maybe “No” doesn’t have to be so bad.



Speaker 4:


And, I think it’s a mutual respect is understanding that not everybody believes the same things you do.


Speaker 2:When the pipeline first went in, it was a different story. Here’s a company video produced in the 50s.


Speaker 5:In December 1950, executives and engineers of several of the the major oil companies and the [inaudible 00:32:19]Organization, began studying the roots that could be followed between Edmonton and Vancouver.


Speaker 2:The pipeline company did work out deals with landowners, but they didn’t bother to consult with first nations. Sharlene Alek wasn’t alive then, but she’s heard the story from Slawa Tooth elders.





No. There was no consultation that happened. They just kinda came into the territory and told us that they would make our land prosperous for us, and that we would see jobs come out of it, kinda like what they’re saying today.


Speaker 5:Now, an uninterrupted artery, 24 inches in diameter and 718 miles long, connected the Edmonton and Vancouver terminals, and through it goes the wonderful fluid that would turn the wheels of commerce and industry.



Speaker 2:


But, things are different now. Canada has a progressive Prime Minister, who has promised to respect first nations. So, when indigenous leaders complained about the pipeline, they expected Justin Trudo to listen. Instead-


Speaker 7:The Government of Canada has approved the Kinder Morgan Transmountain Expansion Project. The project will effectively triple our capacity to get Canadian energy resources to international markets beyond the United States.



Speaker 2:


Trudo announced his decision last November. He says the first nations are split on transmountain, and no individual tribe gets a veto. After years of trying to work with the government, the Slawa Tooth had finally run out of options, except one. A few weeks later, they filed a lawsuit.


Speaker 8:It starts on this basis that the Supreme Court has recognized that treaties did not exist here, that the land was seeded.



Speaker 2:


That’s Eugene Kong, a lawyer for the Slawa Tooth. The key to their lawsuit is that this land was never signed over to the government. In British Colombia, first nations in Canada just didn’t sign a treaty. That weird bit of history has opened up a door here that isn’t opened anywhere else in Canada or the U.S.


Speaker 8:I think what we’re seeing now is a culmination of first nations exercising their rights, exercising their indigenous laws that were never extinguished by Canadian law or by treaty.



Speaker 2:


Back on the banks of the inland, with a pipeline just across the way, waves are lapping up on the shore. For Sharlene, this fight to protect the water is just the latest chapter in the Slawa Tooth fight for self-preservation.


Sharlene:I do come from a long line of Chikes, stretching back to Watsakoo was … How would I put it in today’s terms? Like he spoke to all the sea life. I don’t know if you’ve read our big comprehensive assessment, the story of Watsak and the Salmon.



Speaker 2:


The story of Watsak and the Salmon is a Slawa Tooth legend. The tribe included it in a report they submitted to the government because for them, it helps explain their unique connection to the water better than any official document could.


Back when Watsak was Chief, around the time of first contact with European settlers, some boys were just being stupid and maybe a little bored. They were throwing rocks and killing salmon, just for fun. So, the salmon took off. They disappeared. And suddenly, there were no fish to eat. Since Watsak could speak to the fish, the boys asked him to apologize. He said, “No. Do it yourself.” They walked down to the water, wondering what to do, when one heard a song in the wind and began humming, and the second boy heard him and began to sing it. And soon, the salmon came home, and the children understood their connection to the sea, and that’s when they learned to respect it.





It’s not just a political thing. It’s to the Earth and to the water and all those living beings that are with it.


Speaker 2:Now, Sharlene and the Slawa Tooth are trying to spread that message. They’ve launched a media campaign to convince all Canadians that supporting indigenous rights isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also their best bet to protect the environment and keep big business in check.



Speaker 9:


That’s Reveal’s Patrick Michaels. So far, no date has been set for the Slawa Tooth court case, but Kinder Morgan plans to start construction on the pipeline in September. In a moment, we’ll come back to the States and visit a tribe that, instead of fighting energy development, decided to embrace it, and they’ve been counting the money ever since.



Speaker 10:


Dollar, dollar-


Speaker 11:Yeah. Dollar, dollar.


Speaker 10:Now, five dollars.


Speaker 11:Five dollars, five dollars.


Speaker 9:That’s coming up on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Speaker 12:Hey, listeners. Cole Gowins, here, from Reveal. The stories you’re hearing in this episode are part of an ongoing Reveal initiative called “Chasing Energy”. We’ve been reporting on the issues that drove the Standing Rock fight, and we’re also looking at other places where energy development, Native American land rights, and environmental protection converge. We’ve got more to come on this series. Reporter Patrick Michaels, who we just heard from, will publish his full journey down the Transmountain pipeline on our website soon. To get exclusive updates about our reporting, just text the word, “Pipeline”, to 701-289-9353. We’ll send you occasional texts and share ways that you can ask questions about our stories. The magic word, again, is “Pipeline”, and the number is 701-289-9353.



Speaker 13:


From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Lexon.


So, I want to take you to another Reservation. This one is on the southwestern border of Colorado. It’s a strip of land about the size of Rhode Island. It goes from desert to high Alpine wilderness, framed by snow-capped mountains in the distance. This is the home of Southern Yute Tribe, a small Indian nation of about 1400. It’s a little different than the others we’ve been to this hour. Let me show you around.


[00:38:30]Walking through the Southern Yute Main Compound, you can stop by well-maintained gym and its indoor swimming pool, full of kids swimming around. The REC Center here cost 9.4 million dollars. You can visit one of the only accredited Monesory schools on tribal land. Here’s a room full of elementary students, sitting in a circle on the ground, learning Yute. (kids singing)


[00:39:30]If you want to learn more about Colorado’s oldest continuous residents, step into the 38 million dollar glass tee pee shaped museum, showcasing Yute culture, like in this video exhibit.


Speaker 14:The Spanish history and American history is like the skin of an onion compared to the ancient history of the Yutes right here.


Speaker 13:Another video explains what pays for all this.


Speaker 15:Beginning in the 1970s, the Southern Yute Indian Tribe began to invest profits from natural gas production on the reservation, profoundly changing-



Speaker 13:


For four decades-


 Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 – 00:40:04]
 Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 – 00:52:41]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Al Letson:For four decades, this tribe has been fighting the federal government over oil and gas drilling, not because they oppose it, but because they want to develop the resources themselves. Reveal’s [Itris Condorajo 00:40:15] recently visited the reservation to see if other tribes can follow in the Ute’s footsteps.


Itris:Tribal chairman Clement Frost is a grandfatherly man in his mid 70s, he’s wearing a sky blue shirt, leather vest and a beaded bolo tie and when we sit down to talk he points to my microphone.


Clement Frost:If I see him talking to this [foreign 00:40:41] I’m talking to this-





You’re talking through this microphone.


Clement Frost:That’s what I said, yeah but there’s no word for microphone.


Al Letson:There are only about 100 fluent Ute speakers left here. Part of the chairman’s role at head of the council is connecting the Southern Utes past to its future.



Clement Frost:


Back in my younger days when I was younger, you know, it was a struggle, it wasn’t like here, like we got now, you know, for young people to look at, we didn’t have these things.


Al Letson:So how exactly did the Southern Ute become a multi-billion dollar energy company? Well, it actually starts back in 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant established the current Southern Ute reservation. The tribe that once roamed across all the four corners of the south west was now confined to a small parcel of land but-



Clement Frost:


When they placed the tribes in different reservations, I don’t think they realized that our reservation was over a big part of the gas that’s underground.


Al Letson:He’s talking about natural gas, a vast deposit of the stuff was discovered here in the 1950s. Outside energy companies came on to the reservation, drilled wells, harvested the gas and paid the tribe meager royalties. That lasted for about 25 years until chairman Frost’s predecessor Leonard Burch came to office in 1966 and decided to take the reigns. Here he is in a PBS documentary from about a decade ago.



Leonard Burch:


So it was our thinking at that time, we should maintain and control our own operation.


Al Letson:This is the moment when the trajectory of the tribe profoundly changed. The Southern Ute put a moratorium on development for an entire decade, which was a big risk at the time that paid off. Under Chairman Burch’s watch, the Southern Ute taxed energy companies and renegotiated new leases. The tribe collected more than 100 million dollars in back royalties and they hired outside experts, prospectors, engineers and a lawyer who became one of the tribe’s fiercest advocates, Sam Maynes.



Sam Maynes:


Now they own hundreds of gas wells



Al Letson:


Here he is in that same documentary.


Sam Maynes:They own the majority interest in the gas treatment facility and they’re getting paid at every step along the way.


Al Letson:He makes it sound easy but it wasn’t. They had to navigate the U.S. government bureaucracy and learn a highly technical industry, but once the Southern Ute cleared those hurdles, the chairman and their lawyer had built an energy empire. Here they are again in that same PBS documentary.


Sam Maynes:Sounds like a gas well



Leonard Burch:


It looks like a gas well.


Sam Maynes:Looks like a gas well, it must be a gas well.


Al Letson:It’s a whole field of gas wells with giant pump jacks that look like huge mechanical drinking birds dipping down and back.


Sam Maynes:Dollar, dollar, dollar, dollar, dollar. Now five dollars.


Al Letson:Each sip, making the tribe richer.


Sam Maynes:Five dollars, five dollars.


Al Letson:The lawyer, Sam Manes and the chairman Lenard Burch have since passed away, but those dollars kept adding up. The oil and gas financial journal says they’re one of the largest privately held energy producers in the U.S. and the tribe’s assets now are worth billions. Between 1980 and 2010 per capita income here more than doubled. And any tribal member who wants a job can have one. Like Daniel Roddy.



Patric Michaels:


Where are we and what do you do here?


Daniel Roddy:We’re at the Southern Ute museum and cultural center and I do everything in the museum-



Al Letson:


Dan’s in his 30s, he wears his long black hair in a ponytail. His arm is tattooed with tribal symbols depicting a house raid.


Daniel Roddy:There’s a horse on there and my Indian name is Horse soldier and the way you say it in Ute is Kavaserch.


Al Letson:Dan’s generation has really benefited from the tribe’s new wealth. It paid for his college tuition. The museum he works in and he’s got friends who work in the gas fields and want to keep their jobs but still-



Daniel Roddy:


If I was able to make decisions I would veer away from it cause we’re just like raping the earth and we cannot keep doing this or else everybody’s going to die.


Patric Michaels:It’s like that existential to you, like life or death.


Daniel Roddy:Yeah.


Al Letson:Dan’s not alone. Since the beginning, there have been tribal members critical of energy development and even though Dan doesn’t agree with what his tribe’s doing, he supports their right to make that decision. Just like he does for all tribal nations. As I was walking in to the museum, I noticed a ‘no DAPL’ sign leaning in the lobby, that was the rallying cry against the Dakota access pipeline and I asked Dan about it.



Daniel Roddy:


So those ‘no DAPL’ signs that you saw standing strong were actually made by some people that work here. I personally made a couple of trips up there and I felt super drawn to it.


Al Letson:His last trip was during Thanksgiving as temperatures in North Dakota severely dropped and the protest camps were running out of fuel.



Daniel Roddy:


And I packed my SUV full of supplies and I made the trip up there and it took me two days and it was really cold. There was one camp that didn’t have enough wood to go throughout the night so they were really thankful for when we showed up.


Al Letson:And I learned that the Southern Ute tribe lobbied against the pipeline at Standing Rock. So how does a tribe that’s made a ton of money using a vast network of pipelines stand in solidarity with the tribe fighting against one? It’s all about tribal sovereignty, says the tribe’s lawyer, Tom Shipps.



Tom Shipps:


The Southern Indian tribe is very supportive of the concerns that’s been raised by other Indian tribes and I can tell you even those tribes that are against energy development on or near their own lands to the extent that that’s consistent with the exercise of their sovereignty.


Al Letson:In fact, the Southern Utes have backed off of energy projects because another tribal government raised a flag.



Tom Shipps:


I can tell you the Southern Utean tribe was very actively involved in trying to develop a wind project on another Indian reservation. Ultimately it didn’t work out but the tribe looked at that very seriously and was very far along in the planning process before ultimately it didn’t proceed.


Al Letson:It’s a tricky balance between business and respecting another nation’s sovereignty that the Southern Ute have managed to maintain pretty well. They even get asked by other tribes who are looking to take control of their own resources. Here’s tribal chairman Clement Frost again.



Clement Frost:


We’ve had visits from other tribes to come to talk to us and asking us “how did you do it?” You know. “What did you all have to do to make it work and where you’re at now?” You know.


Al Letson:More tribes could be looking to follow the Southern Ute model. 20% of untapped fossil fuel reserves in the U.S. are on Indian land. That could be a huge potential windfall for tribes. Even the Standing Rock Sioux could develop their own petroleum reserves. While she was there, my college Lee Patterson asked some of the Ute tribe leadership at Standing Rock if that’s something they’d consider.



Lee Patterson:


So, if an energy project came to the reservation that would bring jobs and revenue to do all sorts of projects, what would you say to that?


Speaker 10:No, there’s a lot of negative things that come along with those jobs. Sure it’d create jobs and stuff but there won’t really be a reason for extra jobs if we’re living in chaos.



Dana Yellow Fat:


If the choice is between clean water for our future generations or a few dollars, there’s really no choice, it would have to be the clean water.


Al Letson:That last voice was from Dana Yellow Fat, we heard from him earlier this hour. He’s a Standing Rock tribal council member. He says, this isn’t just a thought experiment, their petroleum reserves are relatively small compared to the Southern Ute’s, still the tribe has taken steps to ban fracking on the reservation and they’ve decided to leave what they do have in the ground.



Dana Yellow Fat:


You know I hope and I pray that we always have that foresight to protect what we have now. I want to make sure that my grandkids can go someplace along the river and see something that my great grandfather saw without having to look at a big oil well.



Al Letson:


Back on the Southern Ute reservation there are hundreds of pump jacks and miles and miles of pipeline. Chairman Frost acknowledges that yes, they have changed the landscape, but they try to make up for it.


Clement Frost:Sometimes in the past we used to do, wherever development was, we’d go and ask for forgiveness to the creator for having to change what he has created, you know how it looks.



Al Letson:


But they haven’t had to ask for too much forgiveness, if you look at the Southern Ute’s pipelines, they do leak out thousands of barrels of chemically laced brine, that’s the salt watery byproduct that comes from drilling and when it seeps out, it can make farmland useless, but if you take the rate of spills from pipelines here on the reservation and compare them to pipelines across the rest of Colorado, it’s only half as bad. And while the energy infrastructure does loom large across parts of the reservation, it’s not everywhere.



Clement Frost:


Right now, the west side is our major development and the east side, the tribe has said no development, let’s keep that as wilderness as possible. There’s coal out there, there’s gas out there. That’s for the future of the younger generation.


Al Letson:Whether the next generation of Southern Utes decides to keep the landscape as wilderness or develop it for money, that will be their sovereign choice.


That story’s from Reveals [Itris Condaraja 00:51:11], he worked on it with Lee Patterson of Inside Energy who first reported on the Southern Utes in the documentary ‘Beyond Standing Rock’. Our show was edited by [Tokki Telanidis 00:51:23], [Itris Condaraja 00:51:24] was our lead producer. The show was reported by Patrick Michaels and Lee Patterson. Thanks to Lee’s colleges at Inside Energy, including their executive editor Alisa Barba, reporter Amy Sisk and engagement editor Amber Rivera. Some of Reveals in house filmmakers, The Glassbreakers have made some great videos about the history of Standing Rock, watch them at Our sound design team is the Wonder Twins, my man Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Clair ‘C-note’ Mullen. Rom team Era Bluey mixed and scored the show this week and we had help from Mary Lee Williams. Our head of studios Christa Scharfenberg, Amy Pyle as our Editor-in-Chief, Susanne Reber as our executive editor, and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado, Lightning. Support for Reveals provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, The Fourth Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. night Foundation, The Heising-Simons Foundation, and The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production for the Center for Investigative reporting and PRX.



Clement Frost:


There’s no word for goodbyes you know, the Uteny people never have words for goodbye, it just says we’ll see you.



Al Letson:


I’m Al Letson and we’ll see you next time.


 Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 – 00:52:41]

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Ike Sriskandarajah was a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.