Pawnee: Natives Sue Frackers, Exposing Pruitt Again as Main Cause of Continuing Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic

Pawnee Nation, a Native America tribe, has sued several fracking companies in Oklahoma, for causing one of the largest fracking related earthquake that hit the tribe’s structures, including historic structures. Pawnee Nation Executive Director Andrew Knife Chief said, “We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here. We are using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys accountable.” (, March 4)

Knife Chief told Workers World (source) that the quake left extensive cracks, bowed ceilings and sagging roofs in all of the impacted historic buildings. The tribe wants the oil and gas companies to be held accountable for the damage caused by their operations. Cummings Oil Company of Oklahoma City and Eagle Road Oil of Tulsa are among the companies cited. Both were operating wastewater injection wells less than 10 miles from the epicenter of the September quake.

Workers World report

Pruitt, Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, recently caused an uproar when he denied that human activity was a major contributor to climate change, openly contradicting scientific consensus on the issue.

As Oklahoma’s former attorney general, Pruitt was responsible for protecting the people of that state. It was during Pruitt’s tenure that Oklahoma developed the human-made earthquake epidemic.

Even after the U.S. Geological Survey established the link between injection wells and earthquakes averaging three a day, Pruitt’s response to the crisis was to dismantle the environmental protection unit. Pruitt was very proactive on lawsuits favoring the oil and gas industry, while ignoring the industry-induced earthquakes and their impact on Oklahoma communities.

Harold Hamm, head of Pruitt’s reelection campaign in 2014, argued that wastewater injections did not cause the earthquakes. An oil billionaire, Hamm made his fortune from fracking shale deposits in North Dakota. He served as energy advisor to Trump during his election campaign and is firmly committed to doing away with any regulation of the oil and gas industry.

Now his protégée Scott Pruitt is busy filling high-level EPA positions with fossil fuel industry lobbyists. The Trump administration and the EPA are talking about eliminating the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which was established to protect communities of color, Indigenous lands and poor communities in general from the impact of environmental racism.

In this context, the Pawnee Nation’s lawsuit against the energy industry, to be tried in their own sovereign courts, holds out promise to all people in Oklahoma and beyond who are fighting for environmental justice.

The Pawnee Nation:

The Pawnee are a Plains Indian tribe who are headquartered in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Pawnee people are enrolled in the federally recognized Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Historically, they lived in Nebraska and Kansas.[1] In the Pawnee language, the Pawnee people refer to themselves as Chaticks si Chaticks or “Men of Men.”[2]

Historically, the Pawnee lived in large earth lodge villages with adjacent farmlands. They used tipis when traveling. With the arrival of horses, the Pawnee retained their agricultural lifestyle, with the tribal economic activities throughout the year alternating between farming crops and hunting buffalo.

In the early 19th century, the Pawnee numbered over 10,000 people and were one of the largest and most powerful tribes in the west. Although dominating the Missouri and Platte areas for centuries, they later suffered from increasing encroachment and attrition by their numerically superior, nomadic enemies the Lakota and Cheyenne and were occasionally at war with the Comanche further south. They had suffered many losses due to diseases brought by the expanding Europeans. By 1860, the Pawnee population was reduced to 4000. It further decreased, because of disease, crop failure and warfare, to approximately 2400 by 1873, at which time they were forced to move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Many Pawnee warriors enlisted to serve as Indian scouts in the US Army to track and fight their tribal enemies resisting European-American expansion on the Great Plains.

There are approximately 3200 enrolled Pawnee and nearly all reside in Oklahoma. Their tribal headquarters is in Pawnee, Oklahoma and their tribal jurisdictional area is in parts of Noble, Payne, and Pawnee counties. The tribal constitution establishes the government of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. This government consists of the Nasharo Council, the Pawnee Business Council, and the Supreme Court. Enrollment into the tribe requires a minimum  18th blood quantum.[3]

The Nasharo Council, also known as the “Chiefs Council” consists of eight members, each serving four-year terms. Each band has two representatives on the Nasharo Council selected by the members of the tribal bands, Chaui, Kitkehahki, Pitahawirata and Skidi. The Nasharo Council has the right to review all acts of the Pawnee Business Council regarding the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma membership and Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma claims or rights growing out of treaties between the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and the United States according to provision listed in the Pawnee Nation Constitution.

The Pawnee operate two gaming casinos, three smoke shops, two fuel stations, and one truck stop.[3] Their estimated economic impact for 2010 was $10.5 million. Increased revenues from the casinos have helped them provide for education and welfare of their citizens. They issue their own tribal vehicle tags and operate their housing authority.

The Pawnee were divided into two large groupings—the Skidi living in the north and the South Bands (which were further divided into several villages).[4] While the Skidi were the most populous group of Pawnee, the Chaui of the South Bands were generally the politically leading group, although each band was autonomous. As was typical of many Native American tribes, each band saw to its own. In response to pressures from the Spanish, French and Americans, as well as neighboring tribes, the Pawnee began to draw closer together.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado visited the neighboring Wichita in 1541 where he encountered a Pawnee chief from Harahey in Nebraska. Nothing much is mentioned of the Pawnee until the 17th and 18th centuries when successive incursions of Spanish, French and English settlers attempted to enlarge their possessions. The tribes tended to make alliances as and when it suited them. Different Pawnee subtribes could make treaties with warring European powers without disrupting their underlying unity; the Pawnee were masters at unity within diversity.

Traditionally Native American and First Nations tribes sold captives from warfare as slaves to other tribes and to European traders. In French Canada, Indian slaves were generally called Panis (anglicized to Pawnee), as most, at first, had been captured from the Pawnee tribe or their relations. Pawnee became synonymous with “Indian slave” in general use in Canada, and a slave from any tribe came to be called Panis. As early as 1670, a historical reference was recorded to a Panis in Montreal.[14] By 1757 Louis Antoine de Bougainville considered that the Panis nation “plays… the same role in America that the Negroes do in Europe.”[15] The historian Marcel Trudel documented that close to 2,000 “Panis” slaves lived in Canada until the abolition of slavery in the colony in 1833.[15] Indian slaves comprised close to half of the known slaves in French Canada (also called Lower Canada).

In the 18th century, the Pawnee were allied with the French, with whom they traded. They played an important role in halting Spanish expansion onto the Great Plains by decisively defeating the Villasur expedition in battle in 1720.

Pawnees in a parley with Major Long‘s expedition at Engineer Cantonment, near Council Bluffs, Iowa, in October 1819.

A Pawnee tribal delegation visited President Thomas Jefferson. In 1806 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Major G. C. Sibley, Major S. H. Long, among others, began visiting the Pawnee villages. Under pressure from Siouan tribes and European-American settlers, the Pawnee ceded territory to the United States government in treaties in 1818, 1825, 1833, 1848, 1857, and 1892. In 1857, they settled on the Pawnee Reservation along the Loup River in present-day Nance County, Nebraska, but maintained their traditional way of life. They were subjected to continual raids by Lakota from the north and west. On one such raid, a Sioux war party of over 1,000 warriors ambushed a Pawnee hunting party of 350 men, women and children. The Pawnee had gained permission to leave the reservation and hunt buffalo. About 70 Pawnee were killed in this attack, which occurred in a canyon in present-day Hitchcock County. The site is known as Massacre Canyon. Because of the ongoing hostilities with the Sioux and encroachment from American settlers to the south and east, the Pawnee decided to leave their Nebraska reservation in the 1870s and settle on a new reservation in Indian Territory, located in what is today Oklahoma.

Until the 1830s, the Pawnee in what became United States territory were relatively isolated from interaction with Europeans. As a result, they were not exposed to Eurasian infectious diseases, such as measles, smallpox, and cholera, to which Native Americans had no immunity.[1] In the 19th century, however, they were pressed by Siouan groups encroaching from the east, who also brought diseases. Epidemics of smallpox and cholera, and endemic warfare with the Sioux and Cheyenne[16] caused dramatic mortality losses among the Pawnee. From an estimated population of 12,000 in the 1830s, they were reduced to 3,400 by 1859, when they were forcibly constrained to a reservation in modern-day Nance County, Nebraska.[17]

Warriors enlisted as Pawnee Scouts in the latter half of the 19th century in the United States Army. Like other groups of Native American scouts, Pawnee warriors were recruited in large numbers to fight on the Northern and Southern Plains in various conflicts against hostile Native Americans. Because the Pawnee people were old enemies of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and Kiowa tribes, they served with the army for fourteen years between 1864 and 1877, earning a reputation as being a well-trained unit, especially in tracking and reconnaissance. The Pawnee Scouts took part with distinction in the Battle of the Tongue River during the Powder River Expedition (1865) against Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho and in the Battle of Summit Springs. They also fought with the US in the Great Sioux War of 1876. On the Southern Plains they fought against their old enemies, the Comanches and Kiowa, in the Comanche Campaign.

In 1874, the Pawnee requested relocation to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), but the stress of the move, diseases and poor conditions on their reservation reduced their numbers even more. During this time, outlaws often smuggled whiskey to the Pawnee. The teenaged female bandits Little Britches and Cattle Annie were imprisoned for this crime.[18]

In 1875 most members of the nation moved to Indian Territory, a large area reserved to receive tribes displaced from east of the Mississippi River and elsewhere. The warriors resisted the loss of their freedom and culture, but gradually adapted to reservations. On November 23, 1892, the Pawnee in Oklahoma signed an agreement with the Cherokee Commission to accept individual allotments of land in a breakup of their communal holding.[19]

By 1900, the Pawnee population was recorded by the US Census as 633. Since then the tribe has begun to recover in numbers.[20]



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