WASHINGTON, DC, April 27, 2014 (ENS) – Once deadly enemies, cowboys and Native Americans have joined forces to do battle against a Canadian corporation that wants to build and operate a 1,179-mile long pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska.

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Canadian musican Neil Young addresses the crowd at the Cowboys and Indians rally on the National Mall, April 26, 2014)

On Saturday afternoon thousands of people joined the farmers, ranchers, and tribal leaders of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance for a ceremonial procession along the National Mall to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. The procession was the largest event of the five-day “Reject and Protect” encampment on the mall.

“Today, boots and moccasins showed President Obama an unlikely alliance has his back to reject Keystone XL to protect our land and water,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, one of the key organizers of the Reject and Protect events.

Canadian musician Neil Young and American actress Daryl Hannah were among the crowd of thousands who rallied on the National Mall and then marched past the Capitol building.

“We need to end the age of fossil fuels and move on to something better,” Young told the crowd.

Proposed by the Canadian corporation TransCanada, the Keystone XL Pipeline would be, 36-inch-diameter oil pipeline beginning in Hardisty, Alberta, and extending south to Steele City, Nebraska. There it would meet an existing pipeline to carry tarry diluted bitumen to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The $5.4 billion pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily, an increase of 45 percent over current import levels. If the pipeline is approved, Canada could increase tar sands oil production levels 300 percent by 2030, some scientists warn.

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Crowd of thousands at the Cowboys and Indians Alliance rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, April 26, 2014 (Photo courtesy Reject and Protect)

Because it would cross the border, a Presidential Permit declaring the pipeline to be in the national interest is required. The U.S. State Department is tasked with evaluating the risks and benefits and making a recommendation to the President.

In February a Nebraska judge declared unconstitutional a state law that had allowed Governor Dave Heineman to approve the route the Keystone XL pipeline would take through Nebraska.

Encouraged by the State Department’s recent delay of the project at least until a route through Nebraska is finalized, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance has pledged to intensify their efforts to convince President Obama to “reject” the pipeline and “protect” their families, land, water, treaty rights, and climate.

“Every time Keystone XL gets delayed it just gives us more time to speak up and tell the truth about this dangerous pipeline,” Meghan Hammond, a sixth-generation Nebraska rancher told the crowd on saturday. Hammond worked with her family to build a crowd-funded, clean-energy powered barn on her property, directly on the proposed route of Keystone XL.

Saturday’s procession included the presentation of a hand-painted tipi to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as a gift to President Barack Obama. The tipi represents the Cowboy and Indian Alliance’s hopes for protected land and clean water.

The formal name of the tipi is “Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish” and “Oyate Wookiye,” two names given to President Obama by the Lakota and the Crow Nations upon his visit to those Nations in 2008. The title translates from the Lakota and Crow languages, respectively, as “Man Who Helps the People” and “One Who Helps People throughout the Land.”

“Keystone XL is a death warrant for our people,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer, who helped lead the presentation of the tipi to the Smithsonian. “President Obama must reject this pipeline and protect our sacred land and water. The United States needs to respect our treaty rights and say no to Keystone XL.”

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Boots and moccasins march together against the Keystone XL pipeline, April 26, 2014 (Photo by Bora Chung)

The tipi was blessed on the Ponca Trail of Tears in Neligh, Nebraska on the land of Art and Helen Tanderup. The land could be crossed by the Keystone XL pipeline. A spirit camp was held in November, 2013 with the un-painted tipi with the Ponca Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe, along with allied citizen group Bold Nebraska.

The tipi was blessed again on the same land earlier this month after the Cowboy and Indian Alliance used a tractor to create an image of a Cowboy and an Indian Warrior with a symbol of water under both of them. This crop art image created was the size of over 80 football fields.

The tipi was blessed for the last time before gifting to the museum at the Cowboy and Indian Alliance’s Reject and Protect event to symbolize the farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities’ shared love for the land and water.

The five-day Reject and Protect encampment began with a march and opening ceremony on Earth Day, April 22.

On Wednesday, members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance met with the White House to voice their concerns about Keystone XL and tar sands expansion.

On Thursday, the Alliance hosted a protest at the Lincoln Memorial where Rosebud Sioux member Wizipan Little Elk and Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup risked arrest by walking into the reflecting pool with a sign that read, “Standing in the water could get me arrested, TransCanada pollutes drinking water and nothing happens.”

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Reject and Protect marchers appeal to President Barack Obama for protection from oil spills along the pipeline route and from the climate impact of buring tar sands oil. (Photo by Bora Chung)

On Friday, the Alliance hosted an interfaith prayer ceremony outside Secretary of State John Kerry’s house, before marching through Georgetown and holding a round dance in the middle of the M St. and Wisconsin Ave. intersection.

“The proposed pipeline is going to be coming through our backyard,” said Robert Allpress, a rancher from North-Central Nebraska. “We live in an area that is very slide-prone and TransCanada has never checked that out. They’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and we don’t need them because they’re not beneficial for the United States.”

Reject and Protect also included representatives from First Nations communities living in Alberta, Canada, where tar sands production is devastating tribal land, water, and health. First Nations are fighting back by demanding the Canadian government honor their treaty rights.

“We have come to a point where we have no choice left but to lift up our inherent treaty rights – our birthrights,” said Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Treaty No. 6.

“The Crown and this Government do not get to pick the pieces of their law it likes and which ones it does not,” said Lameman. “They made their laws thus they have to abide by them. As First Nations people, we abide by natural law, and there is nothing natural about a people dying from cancer and suffering from respiratory illnesses caused by tar sands production.”

On Friday, Senator Barbara Boxer offered her support for the encampment, “I commend all of the ranchers, farmers and indigenous leaders from throughout our nation’s heartland who have come to Washington, DC. this week. Although I cannot be with you in person, I want you to know that your presence sends a strong signal to Congress and the administration about the need to protect our communities and families from the impacts of dirty tar sands oil.”

Reject and Protect ended with an interfaith ceremony at the encampment Sunday morning, but according to lead organizers, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance will continue to build its ground campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline until President Obama rejects it once and for all.

Said Kleeb, “This is just the beginning. The Cowboy and Indian Alliance will ride again.”

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