The chairman of the Nez Perce Nation and 18 other members of a human chain were arrested along Highway 12 in Idaho this Tuesday. The chain was comprised of more than 250 activists of the Nez Perce Nation, Idle No More, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide who came together in opposition to the 200-ton megaload shipments by Omega Morgan, with equipment heading to the oil sands in Alberta Canada. The tribal members and environmental activists stretched across the highway at the border of the Nez Perce reservation in northern Idaho.
Oregon-based shipper Omega Morgan decided to move the so-called “megaload” through a protected area of Idaho over objections from the U.S. Forest Service. The controversy over “megaloads” on Idaho’s Highway 12 first ignited three years ago when ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil sought permits to use the route for refinery equipment. It’s seen as a prime passageway through the mountains between the West Coast and Alberta’s oil sands.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the Forest Service has the authority to review permits issued to megaload traffic on Highway 12. The Idaho Transportation Department says it also advised Omega Morgan that federal agencies have jurisdiction to review the state permit. A representative from the Forest Service says the agency is reviewing its options. But, it appears federal officials don’t plan to forcibly stop the megaload.
Having been warned of the illegality of the shipments through the Wild and Scenic Corridor and the Nez Perce reservation by the U.S. Forest Service, Omega Morgan decided to try to sneak the shipment through against the law.
These actions by the shipping company left the Nez Perce with no choice but to take direct action. Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe, was among the people arrested.
“I don’t look at this as a symbolic issue,” Whitman said. “Otherwise, we’d just issue a press statement, put up a few signs and just let it go. No. We’ve run out of time and initiatives. So that leaves us with disobedience, civil disobedience.”
The next day the “megaload” was scheduled to travel across Nez Perce ancestral land and the Wild and Scenic Corridor again. A call for more activists to join in renewing the blockade and for efforts to stop the tar sands equipment from moving through Highway 12 was issued. More than 50 protestors came out. They were met by a force of 40-50 police officers in a fleet of cars.
After allowing the protestors 15 minutes to speak out, the police then forced them to move to the shoulder. However, some protestors wanted to maintain the presence of the blockade and hauled large boulders and rocks onto the streets, holding up traffic. Several Nez Perce tribe-members were arrested, adding to the 19 already arrested (including the entire executive committee).
The Nez Perce issued an emergency resolution, urging the Forest Service to exercise its authority. The tribe added, it won’t stop tribal members from protesting.
The legal process is likely the next recourse for the Nez Perce tribe. Several members mentioned Tuesday night the intent of the tribe to file an injunction in district court that would halt the passage of this load through the reservation and, ultimately, national forestland.
The laws are in place, the authority is known, and the decision is clear. The U.S. Forest Service needs to exercise its authority and stop the megaload from illegally crossing through protected areas and the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho.