Montana Public Radio

Indigenous Organizers Say Keystone XL Workers Not Social Distancing

May 1, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 3:08 pm

This 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.

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