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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Indigenous Organizers Say Keystone XL Workers Not Social Distancing

A photo of Prairiedawn Thunderchild, Tahnee Thunderchild, Lance Fourstar, Catherine Bear, Delberta Eagleman, Angeline Cheek, Vermae Taylor and Cheyenne Foote taken Apr. 14, 2020.
Curtis Yaz
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A photo of Prairiedawn Thunderchild, Tahnee Thunderchild, Lance Fourstar, Catherine Bear, Delberta Eagleman, Angeline Cheek, Vermae Taylor and Cheyenne Foote taken Apr. 14, 2020.

Indigenous Organizers Say Keystone Workers Not Social DistancingThis week, tribal members who protested the Keystone XL oil pipeline construction earlier this month submitted statements to a federal judge that they witnessed workers breaking social distancing protocol.

The protesters say this backs up their concern about construction workers bringing COVID-19 into the area.

Angeline Cheek, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and an indigenous justice organizer, was one of three tribal members to submit statements to Great Falls federal court Apr. 28.

She told YPR News shortly after their protest in Phillips County that the group observed workers failing to follow social distancing protocol.

“They weren’t wearing any type of masks. They were standing next to each other," she said.

Cheek is involved in an ongoing case that tribes brought against pipeline developer TC Energy and the federal government for allegedly violating historic land treaties by building the Keystone XL pipeline.

The plaintiffs also submitted photos showing workers standing shoulder to shoulder, although it’s difficult to tell whether they’re wearing masks due to photo quality.

TC Energy says it put a protocol in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which includes social distancing, a 14 day quarantine and health checks.

In a statement to YPR, spokesperson Sara Rabern writes that TC Energy’s workforce continues to follow site-specific safety plans. She also writes TC Energy has coordinated with local city and county leaders and consulted with multiple health services for advice on best practices.

There are currently no cases of the COVID-19 illness in Phillips County, where construction work is occurring, or in Valley County, where Keystone XL workers are housed.

 

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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