Art and Helen Tanderup

Cowboy-Indian Alliance Members


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

June 16, 2017 in Neligh, Nebraska

Introductory Note

As lifelong Nebraskans, Helen and Art have creatively and passionately worked to protect their farm and all land that could be disrupted by the Keystone XL Pipeline, aka KXL. As an angled “shortcut” for Canadian tar-sands oil to go Gulf of Mexico processing and export facilities, KXL could contaminate personal property and local water reserves. A bigger fear, as climate change droughts continue, is Canada might use KXL to pull water from the Ogallala Aquifer (that runs from Texas to Nebraska.)

Art and Helen Tanderup, at their KXL Arboretum



The KXL [planned] route crosses so many Nebraska rivers and streams and comes close to so many wells since we’re blessed with the Ogallala Aquifer. Our soil is porous sand. If there’s a leak, those KXL chemicals will go right into the aquifer. – Art Tanderup

If standing up for clean water and clean air is being an extreme environmentalist, then I guess I’m an extreme environmentalist. - A Nebraska neighbor, fighting the KXL pipeline

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

NWNL  Thank you, Helen and Art, for inviting me to your home to discuss TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. I understand it could cross your property and 40 tributaries to the Missouri River. I am very interested to hear more about your unique efforts to stop the KXL.


ART TANDERUP  Helen and I live north of Neligh, Nebraska, as you say, on the proposed Canadian Keystone XL route. Here in our farm machine shed, and here is some Ponca Indian Sacred Corn we grew last year to help block KXL.

“Seeds of Resistance” - sacred corn of Ponca tribe carried along Trail of Tears

NWNL  This is also called “harvest corn”?

ART TANDERUP  Yes, we use Ponca native corn as “Seeds of Resistance” in our battle against the Keystone and other pipelines. This corn goes back to the late 1800’s, when the Ponca tribe lived about 30 miles north of here. They roamed, hunted and fished across this whole area. 

The Niobrara area was one of the Ponca’s main settlements. In the late 1800’s, the U.S. government drove them from there to Oklahoma along the Ponca Trail of Tears. It was May and they’d already planted their corn. So didn’t have any seed to take to Oklahoma. Their corn was left for the Yankton Sioux, who were given their land here in northern Nebraska. The Ponca tried unsuccessfully to grow some corn in Oklahoma. Throughout those years they couldn’t grow what to them is one of the most sacred things in their culture and religion. 

In 2013, we held a 4-day Ponca Trail of Tears Camp, the first Keystone XL resistance camp here. It was cold and snowy as we sat in a teepee, discussing how to stop Keystone. Mekasi Hornek, an Oklahoma Ponca, was with us around the fire. He said, it would be great to reestablish their scared corn here, since it’s a wonderful food source and  part of their religion, their culture. And…, if it was planted in the path of the pipeline, that ground would become sacred. 

Mekasi and Amos Hinton found a 137-year-old medicine bundle of Ponca sacred red corn seed. I asked if this very old corn would grow and was told to have faith. We planted it with some blue corn, and it grew! A couple years before, they worked with the Pawnee to find that blue, which grew in the Grand Island, Nebraska area. We had that revitalized blue seed, white, multicolored and a gray seed. We planted about 4 acres of corn that year, most of it by hand. When we ran out of seed, we probably had an acre-and-a-half left. 

Commemorative hide at Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Community Building

Amos and Mekasi said, “We have some blue seed in Oklahoma we can bring back this week.” Mekasi’s grandfather walked across our farm on the Trail of Tears. Mekasi brought it back  to us, and we three planted this corn by hand. We had a wonderful harvest that year and sent that corn back to Oklahoma. The next year they grew 80 acres of corn there, planted in the shape of the four winds. From the first year, we’ve grown corn each year.

Casey Camp, Mekasi’s mother, has taken this corn on her trips to S. America, Canada and all over the United States. Last summer, Helen and I were part of a Habitat for Humanity in Nicaragua and took seed to the family whose house we built. They were more “Seeds of Hope” than Seeds of Resistance. Last year, we planted and harvested seeds to help fight the natural-gas export pipelines in the Virginias.

Pipeline-Fighter Arboretum dedication sign

  After President Obama rejected the Keystone 1 Pipeline, we thought everything was done. Jane Kleeb suggested we plant trees, as a green celebration and remembrance that that pipeline was rejected. So, we created our Pipeline-Fighter Arboretum and Medicine Wheel.  Due to so much activity here, there are many trees for various people involved in the battle. 

We planted 12 trees in a circle last spring – somewhat strange, as normally in Nebraska we plant trees in rows as wind breaks. We added markers with people’s names. Last fall when we picked the corn, we allowed people to bring rocks here from Standing Rock, the Virginias and elsewhere to become part of our Arboretum Medicine Wheel.  Then we planted a beautiful stone Jane Kleeb contributed by the flagpole, where we fly our Cowboy Indian Alliance flag. That logo was designed by a Native American artist in California. The wavy lines along the bottom are water lines. Water is life. There’s always been water.

Flag design for the cooperative “Cowboy Indian Alliance” fighting KXL

  At that Trail of Tears camp, our teepee and sacred fire left a little spot where nothing has grown. In April of 2014, that teepee from our Trail of Tears camp was used when our first crop art went to Washington, D.C. for “Reject and Protect.” Renowned Native American Artist Steven Tamayo drew designs for the teepee. Our teepees on the Mall were set up so people and their kids could paint them. Then we carried that teepee as a gift to President Obama to go in the Native American Smithsonian display.  

In May we had about 125 people to help plant the corn here and finish our arboretum. Ken Winston came, sat down by this tree playing the guitar. Kids were playing. It was just what life should be – awesome, awesome scenes. 

Anti-KXL road sign posted by Bold Nebraska, & Sierra Club

  Just south of here, the pipeline would cross Road 857 as it comes out of our property. That route goes slightly uphill and takes a 45º turn to the northwest at the bend.  We’re concerned about the KXL pipe being put at that bend. It’s a high-impact site due to the 1,500 pounds of pressure that would constantly hit it.

Another impact site exists as the KXL route goes across Highway 14 towards the farmer’s field. There are 4 miles of pipe, and there’d be 4 significant bends – each a potential impact site. 

NWNL  Why are there so many bends?

ART TANDERUP  If they kept the angle of their line, it would run right through our living room. So, we’re thankful they didn’t do that. But we’re worried about the bend. 


ART TANDERUP  We also had a great Harvest the Hope Concert here on our property with Neil Young and Willie Nelson!

NWNL  Did attendees use the nearby Old Schoolhouse?

Neligh’s Old Schoolhouse, off Rte. 20

  No, he only allowed a helicopter there if there was a medical emergency. We tried to rent the nearby alfalfa field for a parking lot, but the farmer said no. That underlines that we’re one of a few within several miles in all directions not signing on for the pipeline. There’s big support for the pipeline here, seemingly due to money being paid, and they’re not understanding the value of what they already have. I don’t think they understand the implications of what they signed and that they gave their property rights away.

NWNL  What if those residents were given a second chance to decline signing? Has enough awareness been raised now that they would reconsider?

ART TANDERUP  There’s been much education, so some might reconsider; but not all. Our concert was very educational, even though many just came to hear Willie Nelson and Neil Young. It was an awesome venue, with our field of rye sloping gently uphill. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house. We had a huge screen, concession stands, and so forth.

NWNL  How did you get Willie Nelson to come?  

ART TANDERUP   John Quigley, a close friend of Daryl Hannah’s, got Neil Young to get Willie to come. We put it together in 40 days! We worked every day of the week to make this happen, including taking out the corn crop to create a parking lot. We talked about a possible repeat this year; but it was too difficult as we were organizing for the Public Service Commission (hereafter, PCS). 

Tanderup Farm fields, locale for Cowboy-Indian Alliance “Harvest the Hope” concert

What were the results of that concert?

ART TANDERUP  It was awesome. I’m a retired schoolteacher, and that’s the biggest classroom I’ve ever had. Thankfully, Jane’s a great organizer and had that day timed out to the minute. Nebraska bands played short sets, and speakers shared information. We had around 8,600 people here – and our county only has 6,000 people in it!

NWNL  With that much support, why do I only see anti-KSL signs put up by you, Jeanne Crumley and her teenager’s friends?

ART TANDERUP  Sadly, there is so much support in Nebraska for this pipeline because everybody thinks it will help our gas prices. They don’t understand it all will be exported. They only believe what big oil and politicians tell them.

HELEN TANDERUP  They believe proponents who say, “It’s the safest pipeline ever. It’s much safer than transporting it via rail.”

NWNL  Yet, the speed of those “train bombs” makes any derailment a disaster. OK, back to more optimistic events: How does your Willie Nelson concert compare to the 1960’s Woodstock that people say was just a hippie event?

Oil tankers speeding through Steele City Neb, a Keystone Pumping site in the Little Blue River Basin

Our September 2014, the Cowboy Indian Alliance sponsored this “ Harvest the Hope” concert on our farm on the KXL pipeline’s proposed route and just above the Ogallala Aquifer here in Nebraska’s eastern sandhills. Head-lined by Willie and Neil, this all-day event started with press conferences. The bands played from 10 am to 6:30 pm for about 8,600 attendees to raise awareness of the dangers of the KXL pipeline carrying tar sands oil. 


We had many Native American speeches and ceremonies on stage between events. Half the security team were Native Americans. One performer, Frank Waln, is famous Native American hip hop artist from Rosebud. MTV came to tape him for a special.

Those who listen to country western all the time say it was awesome performance. Between acts we had a big screen showing videos about the tar sands dangers. Speakers addressed tar sands’ impacts on our Native American relatives. It was a day of education – with some great music. 

NWNL   Did those messages spread beyond the attendees?

ART TANDERUP  There was heavy media coverage.  New York Times and Rolling Stone were here with other national, regional, state and local media. It was phenomenal! Some people that dubbed it “Cornstalk” – with obvious reference to Woodstock. And while Woodstock was 1970’s good movement, this music fest had the specific purpose of bringing attention to Keystone XL. I think it fulfilled those goals. 

In the middle of October, Helen and I spoke at California’s Environmental Media Awards. We were the last speakers on the agenda. John Quigley and I spoke and showed a short video of the concert. As we were waiting in the large greenroom, people talked with us, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said he was for Keystone, and asked why we are against it. We said, “It’s about the water and protecting the Ogallala, America’s largest freshwater aquifer.” He then turned to one of his assistants and said, “Check into that.” Within the last year, he’s been talking about renewable energy all the time. He’s even said, “We need to get off fossil fuels.”  Did we make an impact? If so, it’s wonderful.

NWNL  Sometimes you can’t trace a change of heart. It can be subtle and nuanced. And who knew a pipeline decision could be swayed by corn?

Sacred Ponca Harvest corn

 Our first crop was about 4 acres of corn, planted November 2013.  We had a Ponca Trail of Tears spirit camp here. Some Oklahoma Ponca came, despite a very wintry November with 6-7” of snow. It was cold and wet. A few stayed for 4 days. We’d go into the teepee, sit around that fire (as warm as could be), and talk about how to stop KXL. Mika C. Hornig from the Oklahoma tribe talked about this farm being a native Ponca area, part of their roaming, hunting and fishing grounds. He talked about corn being more sacred to the Ponca than tobacco. 

Mika talked about losing their corn before the move to Oklahoma – and the need to bring it back for two reasons. They want to regenerate that healthy seed to feed their people and to block the Keystone pipeline by planting it in the path. Because it’s a sacred, religious item to them, ground where corn was planted would become sacred. The pipeline should respect of sacred grounds. So, we planted it.

NWNL  Playing “devil’s advocate,” TransCanada could say, “That corn was planted after our route was planned to stage an event that would cause us problems.:” And even if they accept that your land is sacred, won’t they just move their route a bit further away?

HELEN TANDERUP  If they want it bad enough, they may do that.

ART TANDERUP  That’s probably true.  Some of our Tribal friends think KXL may just try to bore under our ground, like boring underneath a highway. We stage peaceful actions and are a kind of a thorn in their side. These seeds represent resistance.

NWNL  You’re also strengthening your community. My next question concerns those constituencies. I see support for you on Facebook from Bold Nebraska,, Sierra Club and other constituencies, including farmers and Native Americans.  

Main Street of Neligh Neb (Antelope County)

Bold Nebraska is probably the most important “tribe” here, because Jane Kleeb, its head, has helped farmers, ranchers and Native Americans on this route. Bold Nebraska built that resistance and connected us to, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, NRDC, and other environmental groups that have helped us. Jane’s skills are in bringing together broad groups of people, from the most far-right to those more on the left.

We have a diverse group, as well as Native Americans and so forth, and we’re all working for the same goal. We have differences on other things, but we’re working towards the same goal. The most important thing is one individual and one group were formed that glued us together and kept us together. Without Jane and Bold Nebraska, that pipeline would be pumping tar sand crud through our farm today. Other groups have been important. There’s been great financial assistance. Two weeks ago, the gals were here. We are a big family. Many farmers and ranchers say, “If standing up for clean water and clean air is being an extreme environmentalist, then I guess I’m an extreme environmentalist.”


NWNL  I’ve never done this, but I’m going to ask a political question straight out. Can this movement override the current political divide in this country?

ART TANDERUP  I think it does, to some degree. Most Republicans are basically lock, stock, and barrel for this. But we know there is a grass-roots level that overrides that, since I think at least 60% of the 90 landowners who refused TransCanada’s easements are strong Republicans. The issue of having clean water and clean air and protecting property rights are issues far above the political arena here.

NWNL  There are many environmental issues in the US and the world that need a model of resistance. Do you think your KXL protest can be a model for other groups?

“Stop KXL” signs posted by 350.0rg, BOLD Nebraska, Sierra Club, Audubon, etc.

Absolutely. Keystone is the turning point in environmental issues with its exceptional grass roots organizing and unique cooperation between Native Americans, farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists who’ve all come together.


ART TANDERUP  Models were developed and expanded at Standing Rock. Many people significantly involved in Standing Rock are also involved in the Keystone battle. Our “relatives” at Yankton, Rosebud and Crow Creek and those heavily involved in Keystone 1 were the first on the line at Standing Rock.

NWNL  What have you learned since the pipeline resistance at Standing Rock against DAPL [the 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) underground, shale-oil Dakota Access Pipeline, aka the Bakken Pipeline]? Are there lessons learned? Is there a different emphasis?

ART TANDERUP  I think good and bad things were learned. We’ve seen law enforcement abuses. I was at Standing Rock in November with John Quigley, working on the People Art Project. We, our peaceful friends and Native relatives there for the duration share horror stories.

Sign promoting wind as a constructive, climate-friendly alternative to oil

You’d have to experience them yourself to realize the horror of helicopters 100 feet above your head, photographing your putting flags in the ground, circling and circling and circling around you…. Armed militia, just a few feet away across the river, hid in the grass and bushes, kept jumping up with M16’s….  Lights were shining down on you at night, constantly intimidating your presence…. Those were their tactics. 

Our Nebraska State Patrol state plane helped and trained them for a considerable amount of time. I think the real reason Nebraska went was to train people for when Keystone came. There was no traditional “State of Emergency.” It wasn’t like traditional emergencies due to floods, hurricanes and natural disasters. It wasn’t that type of mutual aid being extended. North Dakota requested law enforcement to help intimidate and put down people.

HELEN TANDERUP  The upsetting aspect of Standing Rock was tribes’ resistance was prayerful, not violent. Then militants arrived, intimidating those praying and making them fear for their lives.

ART TANDERUP  I don’t know that strength of those there. Our friend Mika C., there for several months, has PTSD from being hauled in during prayer. He was thrown in a dog kennel in a parking garage and kept there overnight.

HELEN TANDERUP  Lights at night shone on the camp regularly, going ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round.

ART TANDERUP  We went twice, but not for long durations. I don’t know if I could have handled being there long-term. Psychologically, it gets at you… They sprayed stuff over the people, the dogs. It was terrible.

People say that if the Keystone pipeline goes in, we’ll have a Standing Rock here. I answer that we’re peaceful in Nebraska and people who come will be peaceful.  People have said they’ll be here because it’s important to protect the water. The KXL route crosses so many Nebraska rivers and streams and comes close to so many wells since we’re blessed with the Ogallala Aquifer. Our soil is porous sand. If there’s a leak, those KXL chemicals will go right into the aquifer.  

NWNL  I understand that those wells lead down to the aquifer.

ART TANDERUP  Exactly. Our soil is porous; so, with a leak, KXL chemicals will go right into that aquifer.

NWNL  What positive lessons were learned from DAPL and its successes?

ART TANDERUP  Probably the greatest lesson was its organizing. Early on, KXL formed the Cowboy Indian Alliance with farmers, ranchers and Native Americans. Tribes came from all over the world – even vicious enemies came together for a common cause. Plains tribes came together. 

Cowboy-Indian Alliance sign noting the threat of an “evil black snake” to arrive

It was forecast that this black snake would come; it would be good, and it would be evil. Current spiritual leaders have interpreted that black snake to be these pipelines. That brought people together. At Standing Rock, the 7 Generations were represented with a “horn:” an area with 7 teepees for 7 tribes and 7 generations. A sacred fire burned there the whole time, as well as another sacred fire near the entrance.

In late August, we took a pickup load of supplies and firewood. I returned in November with another load of wood and supplies. I had friends in different places, including the area of the “horn” of 7 teepees for the 7 tribes and the 7 generations, with the sacred fire in the middle.

We met with some of the “headsmen” – representatives for each tribe, responsible to ensure the fire was tended. They allocated half of my firewood to the sacred fire since I was bringing the spirit of the Cowboy Indian Alliance to them. The rest went to a kitchen and friends’ teepees.  Then Neil Young and Daryl Hannah came. Neil grabbed his guitar and started playing, strolling through the camp at dusk.

There was much coordination, but also there was too much infighting. Different groups had different approaches. Some wanted to be violent; some just wanted to pray. I think the lesson was that through peaceful actions and prayer, these pipelines can be halted. 

Poster in “Energy Barn” in York County, Neb. built in 2013 by “pipeline fighters.”


ART TANDERUP  Another crucial and positive element of DAPL was that Native American youth came. Many grew up on the reservation with no purpose in life, nothing to live for. Suicide rates, drugs and alcohol are high. Their culture is being destroyed. But here they had a chance to gather. Now they have a purpose in life: to help save the water, protect the earth, protect the culture.

Without realizing it, they found meaning to life, something to live for, something to do. That’s one of the most powerful impacts of Standing Rock. Now those youth are riding horses all over to different actions. They’re going to Washington, D.C and speaking everywhere. They may sit around and smoke a little pot at night, but we met with these kids in a little tent with 30 people squeezed in. We talked about what we’re doing, and they chose a medicine wheel as an image for November 15th as a day of action. We said, “Okay, we need 500 people.”

They plastered all the porta-johns and kitchens with fliers, as well as in the kitchens asking everyone meet at the horn and pray around the fire. They went through camp gathering people. Some crossed the river to Rosebud side. They went through camp after prayer. They gathered 1,000 people.

Wayawa Tipi for Native American youth at Santee School in York County Neb.

The medicine wheel we created was 300 feet across. John and I went to a Bismarck fabric store to get four colors for each quadrant. First, we had a prayer ceremony. There were so many people, we basically doubled our outlined quadrants. It was awesome. Then we had another ceremony back at the “horn” again.  

NWNL  They’ll always remember it.

ART TANDERUP  Yes. Those in helicopters probably have great pictures of us. Police presence was significant, yet we did absolutely nothing unlawful. To me, it was a lesson of hope and effort to turn around that culture’s youth by giving them a meaning to life and purpose. That to me is the most important thing that happened there.

When they finally put out the sacred fires, the message was, “Take the fire in your heart and go out and change the world.” That message is a powerful lesson.

NWNL  So today, how are you continuing to incorporate the youth in this critical time?  

ART TANDERUP  It is a critical time. Last Wednesday, at the O’Neill, Nebraska, public hearing, young people came and spoke. Some brought their children and had them speak. Young people brought their kids here when we planted corn. The message is getting out that this is the future – and the future is with the children and their grandchildren.

NWNL  How do you encourage that?  Are there parents who are concerned about their children being involved in resistance. How do you reach uninvolved youth?

Youth, such as these teens Saline County, south of Neligh, can help resistance efforts

We haven’t discussed that. We’ve been in this struggle for a while, and sadly, it’s old people who are still on our farms and ranches. The kids leave, to a large degree, and very few have come back. But there were many young the O’Neill meeting the other day. We need to tap into this and develop a strategy.

HELEN TANDERUP  Well, we need to show we’re interested in the kids, and that can be contagious. Our kids had nothing but us, so they’re very closely involved. Yesterday we helped our 3-year-old granddaughter with her speech for a hearing in Norfolk in 2 weeks.

NWNL Wow. I told you about the Troester’s 5-year-old son’s message he gave me for the US President. That afternoon, I’d fled from tornadoes racing down from Lynch along a storm wall. Under green skies, I found a restaurant in a strong cinder-block building, entered and ordered a juicy Nebraska steak and glass of wine, saying “I’m not from here and tornadoes really upset me.” 

A woman with her children at the next table asked where I was from.  I responded, “New York City, and I don’t do tornedos well.” She asked why I was here. Hedging the KXL reason, I said, “I’m here to document rivers.” That’s great… ,”she quickly responded and then asked, “…and the pipeline?” I took a chance and answered, “Yes.”  The five-year-old then spurted out a tiny, very concise summary of why the KXL is bad!

Now, Art, how long has it taken you, so far, to explain KXL?! Hah!

Jennifer Troester & her son Barret who worries about KXL tar sands oil leaks

After Barrett’s 53-second summation, he asked, “Are you going to send it to President Trump?  He was an adorable 5-year-old with bangs, wearing a shirt that says 52, because it’s his favorite quarterback. I thought to myself, “ I can go home now.  That’s all the documentation I need.” 

Well, I stayed and here I am in a much longer discussion with your two! But those 3- and 5-year-olds are more concisely articulate than we adults!

ART TANDERUP  Exactly. They can make a big impact.


NWNL  I understand all your neighbors are against your unique protests against the KXL.  

ART TANDERUP  We must go 8 miles in one direction and 7 in the other to find someone like us who won’t allow KXL to cross their property. Some neighbors who’ve signed have new tractors. Some have paid off loans and debt.

NWNL  Some of that motivation is understandable. When young, I saw that happen in NJ, as farmers sold off land to developers to pay their children’s college fees. It’s hard to criticize. Is there anything that could change your neighbors’ point of view regarding KXL’s pipeline? What if one of them said, “Give me one point to consider. I will listen to it carefully and consider changing my thoughts.” What would your strongest anti-KXL point be?

ART TANDERUP  The most important point is about the water. If that pipeline leaks and seeps into the Ogallala Aquifer, it can never be cleaned up. That water supply is essentially important to all of us. It’s our livelihood. We must protect it. 

Many buy the KXL folks’ propaganda that their pipeline will never leak.  Head in the sand, they say, “Oh, if it leaks, it’ll leak someplace else. It won’t leak here.”

I say, “Do you know KXL will have a 50’-wide permanent easement – forever! on your farm? Already, oil’s not worth much of anything. But water will be worth more than oil, and then KXL can access any place on your farm’s 50-foot easement, drill wells, and pull up all our water.

HELEN TANDERUP  And dig again….

ART TANDERUP  They can steal our water, export it and sell it.

NWNL  It would be legal.  It wouldn’t be stealing, per se.

HELEN TANDERUP  Right, because it’s on their property.

ART TANDERUP  With today’s water rules, if I didn’t have an irrigation well and wanted to put one in, I’d have a heck of a time getting a permit. That’s because they’re trying to protect the Ogallala Aquifer and not pump too much out. However, if I need to drill a well for human consumption, rather than for irrigating crops, there’s no question, that could get drilled.  

An Elkhorn River Basin tributary creek fed by Ogallala Springs

NWNL  Every state has different water laws. The Texas “Right of Capture” rules say all you need is the rights to the spot where you dig down. Once down into the ground, you can go any direction –under your neighbor’s property to suck out that water, or whatever. That’s easy access! Even fracking technology can go laterally in Texas. Do Nebraska water laws allow you to tap underground and across into other people’s resources?

ART TANDERUP  Not that I’m aware of. But I can go anyplace on this farm, stick in a well, and get water because I’m connected to the Ogallala. It’s everywhere here. We don’t need to go laterally. But in the eastern part of the state, it might be necessary. They have trouble getting water along their “Keystone 1” pipeline. If they have irrigation, they might need 2 wells to water all their crops. Plus, where would they drill those wells? 

My well is right next to my pivot point irrigation because I can drill any place on this farm and get water. But east of here, they need to find a “pocket” of water. They might drill all kinds of test wells before they find that spot of water; and it might be quite a bit deeper than here. Our irrigation well’s only 120’ deep. There’s a lot of water in that sandy ground.

NWNL  Given strong opposition and costly buyouts, why does TransCanada want this route, when they could go further east in Canada, and then create a route south, parallel to the easements they already have?  

ART TANDERUP  TransCanada says it would cost more because it’s 100 miles further, but as you say, they already have easements, and they wouldn’t have to do the buyouts. They’ve already torn the trees down around the easements.  

But –  that goes to a theory that I and many others have. They want to have a pipe that accesses our Ogallala Aquifer. That is why they want this route.

Ogallala spring in Sandhills Prairie meadow - deep, deep blue water

But the KXL folks say, “Oh no, no, no, no, no.”

ART TANDERUP  One older gentleman, a neighbor of Jeanne Crumley, was hounded and hounded and hounded by KXL to sign. He finally sat down with them and said, “Okay, what kind of deal can you give me? 

When they asked what he wanted, he said, “I want a guarantee that that 50-foot easement will never hold a pipeline for water. The representative said, “Well, we’re done talking.”  He even said that in the York landowners’ meeting.

But, he didn’t have a recording of this conversation. It’s their word against his word. Most of us in this area think water is the real reason why they want this shortcut,  because that would be a moneymaker forever. If they have access to fresh good water, they’ll make big bucks.

NWNL  Would they bottle it?  Ross Perot, a wealthy Texan, planned to do that in the Texas Panhandle and pipe it to Dallas. But as he was buying up land all over the Panhandle to exercise Texas right-of-capture, he figured the piping was much too expensive, and dropped the project.

ART TANDERUP  Well, if KXL gets this pipeline in, they’ll use their tar sands profits to fund putting in a new pipe in for water. They may put in oil and water pipes at the same time and have both pumping. Don’t you see?  They don’t need to pipe water to Canada yet. They could pump Nebraska’s water to the coast where there’s a serious drought – or haul it in bulk to China.

NWNL  It’s expensive to move water.

ART TANDERUP  Yes, but consider, what do you pay for a little bottle of water right now, versus a gallon of gasoline? In some cases, you pay more for water in little bottles than gasoline.

Who knows? It could be shipped to the coast via the Nebraska Interstate to Union Pacific Railroad lines. They could set up a bottling plants and ship it east and west. Water’s going to be more valuable than oil — and more important than oil because you can’t drink oil.  We’ve got to have water if we’re going to stay alive.

Steele City Neb., pumping station where KXL would tie into original Keystone pipeline


NWNL  If there’s a leak into the Ogallala, how far might it reach? Has that been studied? Could it be contained within a square mile, or could leaking oil flow all the way to Texas?

HELEN TANDERUP  It depends on when the leak is found and how big it is.

ART TANDERUP  There’s no way to clean up oil once it’s in the aquifer since it is basically a giant sponge of sand and gravel. There’s no big hollowed-out river underneath, like some people think. It does move – very slowly. Back when agriculture was not being smart, they started irrigating in the sandhills. It took them a few years to figure out that the nitrogen they put on their fields was getting into that aquifer.

Our water’s perfect, except for that nitrogen. We have a filtration system to remove the nitrogen. But you can’t filter out benzene – a problem west of O’Neill in West Atkinson. There they started farming land never farmed; and the nitrogen they used got down into the water. That has been tracked and has been slowly moving down since the mid-‘70s.

Basically, that follows the Elkhorn River here. There’s less development on the south of the Elkhorn River, so they don’t have our problem; but it’s moved down. We’ve learned not to put nitrogen on our crops in just 1 or 2 applications. Instead, I put 7 applications of very small amounts on throughout the year, “spoon-feeding” it so it doesn’t get into that water and is very time-consuming.

The wide, braided Elkhorn River, tributary to Missouri River, at Neligh

You’ll notice that TransCanada wants to run this pipeline through the middle of farmers’ fields, rather than by the road. One reason is that roads provide security for us in finding any pipeline leaks. But if a leak was out in the middle of our property, we might know it was there.

If it goes through the middle of our field, we’d need to provide security for terrorism, because people could down through fields, and if there’s a leak, it won’t be seen. The Freeman SD pipeline had pinhole leaks for several years. Thousands of gallons of crap got into that soil. If it leaks like that here and gets into our water, they’ll say, “Oh gee, these farmers can pump that out through their irrigation wells and clean up these minor leaks going into the water.”

NWNL But the tar sands will clog your irrigation wells and pipes. I learned from a 5-year-old in his 53-second explanation: “Tar sand oil will clog up the system.”

ART TANDERUP  If the tar sands get in there, yes. But chemicals will be more dangerous because they infiltrate faster into the water. Tar sands will get there, but more slowly. Chemicals will get into the water, and these irrigation wells haven’t yet pumped all the nitrogen out of the water yet. Every year, we must figure in how much nitrate is in the water and going on our crops.

NWNL  I understand that the Public Service Committee/ PSC reviewed the KXL plan and made its decision mid-August, but it didn’t comment on safety elements involved. Why was its only comment on the route?

ART TANDERUP  In 2015 we were getting the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional, when President Obama stopped it. TransCanada knows if it tried that route again, we’d take them back to the Supreme Court, and they’d lose. So, they’re aiming their efforts at the Public Service Commission/PSC.

NWNL  But PSC can’t comment on safety.  

ART TANDERUP  The federal government says a state can’t enact its own safety rules over this pipeline, including whether the pipe’s thick enough, since you must use a thicker pipe in Nebraska. Another issue is whether their pumping station has adequate safety valves.

NWNL  Is that an EPA consideration?

ART TANDERUP  It’s probably in the pipeline safety hazard rule.

NWNL  So no comments on safety come from the federal government?

ART TANDERUP  Right. I think people were misinformed in Nebraska. This legislature’s law  said safety is taken care of by the federal government. 

Holt County’s Sandhills Prairie farmland with wells pumping up Ogallala water

But the Nebraska legislature should be able to deal with all kinds of safety issues, including porous soils and a pipeline’s distance from a well or a residence. Our house is in a “kill zone” if the pipeline goes in. If it were to leak or explode out here, we’d be in a kill zone.  Those are things the state should regulate, but they say they can’t deal with safety..

NWNL  But PSC can address potential impacts on natural resources, other than safety.

ART TANDERUP  Yes. Our sand, the Ogallala Aquifer, our rivers and our streams are natural resources, so our concerns focus on KXL’s impact on the sand. Will it tear up our soil structure?

NWNL  Ahh, I’ve seen Jeanne Crumly’s pickle jars filled with layers of local sand, documenting how they’ll be disturbed if pipeline construction is allowed. So how can you minimize the impacts if KXL goes through your field?

Jeanne Crumly’s pickle jar demonstration of sandy, powdery types of local soils

When exposed, this sand here will blow like snow. We’ll have sand drifts.

NWNL  So how can you minimize that impact of hard-won soil blowing away?

HELEN TANDERUP  You can’t. You shouldn’t even be digging it.

ART TANDERUP  I’ve been no-tilling for 13 years now. But KXL would take my topsoil, my worms and all my microorganisms and shove them off to the side, destroy all my soil structure. They say they’ll bring it back, just like it was.

HELEN TANDERUP  They can’t. It’s taken 13 years to do that. Plus, heat from friction of tar sands going through the pipe will affect the ability of those earthworms to come back again.

Jeanne Crumly holding the powder-y soil in the Antelope County Draw ash vein


NWNL  Will KXL appropriately address its economic and social impacts?

ART TANDERUP  They say they’ll pay a property tax, like the personal property tax I pay on a piece of farm equipment [that decreases in value with time]. Let’s say they pay $100 in Year #1. By Year #7, it would be 1/7 of the total amount. By Year #8, they’d pay absolutely nothing. They’d be responsible for only 7 years, despite their pipeline easement being in perpetuity. However, we pay our property taxes forever.

NWNL  So then there’d be a strip of land here used freely by KXL, but you’d pay property taxes. Will they pay any taxes?

ART TANDERUP  They will pay property taxes on the pipe that’s in the ground, pipe pumping stations, their 10 acres forever, and any personal property they have. And after 7 years, they’ll owe no property taxes on that pipe.

NWNL  Taxes on their equipment would come in, but only for 7 years.

HELEN TANDERUP  They also claim many jobs will be created, but people are coming in from Canada to take those jobs.

ART TANDERUP  There won’t be one job here for us. Right now, one guy takes care of Keystone 1 across the state of Nebraska. They also have people employed in Omaha trying to get Keystone XL put in. But probably once it’s built, they’ll have one guy who’ll take care of this pipe, and that’ll be it. They’ll have two permanent jobs in Nebraska.

NWNL What about social impacts if the pipeline is built?

ART TANDERUP  I’m extremely concerned the “man camp” that will be north of O’Neill.  Everybody talks about that.

NWNL  Yes, I spoke with a policeman in O’Neill about the man camp, I believe 8-10 miles north of O’Neill. Art, for people outside of Nebraska and my neighbors in New York City on the 59th floor, could you explain what a man camp is?

ART TANDERUP  It’s kind of a biased, age-old term. “Man camps” are their own small towns, set up when a big construction company comes in with a big project and provides housing for all its workers. They have cafeteria-type situations, laundry facilities, gas facilities, and everything except a bar. Some will have alcohol, some won’t. Basically, it becomes a small village with separate sections for their women workers.

Salty Dog Saloon, Steele City, near pump station where KXL would join original Keystone

Looking at the history of man camps, what follows them is sex-trafficking, drug dealers, and of course, alcohol-related problems. There are many social problems at these man camps. After working all day, men come back in the evening, to eat, sleep, wash their clothes, watch TV and play video games. No other services are provided there, despite these employees being there for four months.

One thing that has historically happened with man camps has been terrible abuse of Native women, disappearance of Native women with the sex-trafficking, and so forth. And there’s a casino on the Yankton Sioux reservation.

NWNL  There’s also one with the Santee Sioux. I’ve read the publicity about the man camps in the Bakken oilfields. Has that helped mitigate some man camp issues?

ART TANDERUP  Well, TransCanada says this’ll be a “safe” man camp. They’ll have some security guards. But if you talk to the people up at the ethanol plant, there were all kinds of social problems with those workers that affected young women in the community and included drinking, drugs and such. 

There’ll be negative impacts with pipeline workers probably in every community up and down this route. On weekends and time off, they’ll go into town, have a good meal and probably drink a lot of beer, raise hell and do all kinds of things. Who knows what’ll happen?

NWNL  Regarding another social impact, do you feel KXL issues have created a division between neighbors here.

ART TANDERUP  Helen grew up with many neighbors around here, as did her parents and grandparents. They were all friends and neighbors. But soon after we moved back, this pipeline issue came through and divided the community. Everybody knows where we stand; and so, we have neighbors that won’t say hi to us in church, or anyplace. There are people who say nasty things to us. Yet, a lot of people say, “We’re with you.”

HELEN TANDERUP  It’s put families against families, and it’s so with relatives and friends.

ART TANDERUP  It’s torn families apart, and the outcome doesn’t matter, because the damage is already done. The community is split.

The Neligh News office on Main Street

The local newspaper is trying to discredit us regarding jobs and the economic impact on northeast Nebraska. It claims that when “Keystone 1” was built, it had a $10 million impact on Norfolk, Nebraska, and still having an impact today. There is one guy who lives there!  

NWNL  Phew! How much trouble would an easement impose on you?

ART TANDERUP  Well, we can’t build anything on that 50’ wide permanent easement. I can’t even plant trees. If they come in and take our trees down, we won’t be able to replant them there, or build out there. We basically can’t do anything on that easement except farm over the top. And – if we damage that pipe, it’ll be our fault.

NWNL   With all these negatives, why does Nebraska Chamber of Commerce support KXL?

ART TANDERUP  It anticipates a large economic impact for the state and many jobs coming into the state. Plus, most farmers on the current “Keystone 1” route love it. However, TransCanada was nicer to them than they are to us. 

HELEN TANDERUP  And KXL lied to those on “Keystone 1” route, saying that pipeline would only carry regular oil. But it’s used for tar sands oil. To this day, very few of them know what’s in it.

NWNL  What could change the minds of the Chamber of Commerce and other KXL supporters who erroneously think KXL will bring more fuel here? How do you convey this pipeline will be non-stop, carrying tar sands oil from Canada, directly to the Gulf of Mexico, where it’ll be processed and exported. 

Oil processing & tankers in Port Fourchon on Gulf of Mexico, like Port Arthur TX

Right, there’ll be no benefits en route. Plus, if Keystone gets 1 pipeline in, I worry they’ll want 2 more next to it. They can get 3 pipelines in that 50-foot-wide ditch.  

NWNL  I can understand your neighbors are busy and have little time to learn about these issues. But I don’t understand the Chamber of Commerce being unaware of these facts.

ART TANDERUP  Our Chamber of Commerce basically promotes big business and big money. 

HELEN TANDERUP  They want big money and ignore local people and their lives.

ART TANDERUP  They think by bringing in more business, jobs and money, everything will grow, and we’ll have trickle-down economics. We’re not a friend of the Chamber of Commerce.  

NWNL  KXL claims that if the pipeline comes through Nebraska, U.S. gross domestic product will increase by $3.4 billion, and local economy by $8 billion.

ART TANDERUP  But the pipeline starts in Canada and ends in Port Arthur, Texas, which is totally owned by Saudi Arabia. It’s as if Port Arthur is outside of this country. It has special regulations to avoid taxes.


NWNL  Helen, you grew up here. What does this farm mean to you? 

HELEN TANDERUP  It means a lot. My ancestors developed it with sweat and tears during the Depression. It was a family affair – we each did things to make it go. I don’t want a foreign corporation like Keystone to tear it up with a pipeline that could cause a possible problem.

NWNL  It seems this farm is your whole life – your soul. I’m sorry for you and your family.  You’re the second person here in Neligh who has shared tears with me this week. Jeanne Crumley too was crying at her table yesterday.

HELEN TANDERUP  My grandfather built the house. My parents lived here. I grew up in this house. It’s not fancy, but it’s home.

Home of Helen and Art Tanderup in Neligh Nebraska, Antelope County

We’ve always said that we don’t have a problem if the county wants to make a super-highway out here and needs 20 more feet. We wouldn’t like it but would benefit many. But for a foreign corporation to steal our land, and potentially damage our aquifer….

HELEN TANDERUP  This won’t benefit us. They’ll tear up trees my ancestors planted on this land when Nebraska was a barren ground. They helped grass grow and created windbreaks that kept the sand from blowing away. They were good stewards. Art has done very well supporting all my family created. Our farming practices have helped the land. We don’t want it destroyed by something that becomes a liability for us and our community.

ART TANDERUP  If KXL happens, we may not stay here, because we’re in a “kill zone.” If that thing blows up, it will destroy more than just vegetation. It could kill people. We’re getting old, but we worry about our kids, our grandkids and their grandkids. Since the entire farm is in a kill zone, if the pipeline exploded here, it would destroy everything out over 1,000’ on either side of the pipe, given its size and the pressure within it. That would include vegetation, human life, animal life and whatever might be within its scope. 

HELEN TANDERUP  We’re extremely worried because they want to put a bend in that pipe here. With so much pressure at a bend, it would wear it out fast and become a high-consequence area.  There are 3 more bends in the next few miles after this, so it’s very dangerous.

ART TANDERUP  In the house, we’re 600’ from the route. An explosion would probably break windows and come in. It’s absolutely scary.  


NWNL  You have hope, and you grasp its power to bring people here together. How can those who don’t live here and aren’t personally affected, help you?

ART TANDERUP  Since we first started raising awareness, we’ve seen increasing interest. Many have said, “We’re behind you, and we’ll help, we’ll bring bulldozers, we’ll be there.” Groups and organizations vow that if the PSC okays KXL, there’ll be more lawsuits. It will be challenged in Nebraska and could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. My guess is it will focus on eminent domain.

NWNL  They say it could be a landmark decision on eminent domain, with more restrictions, making it a better law. That would be a credit to all of you who’ve pushed hard on this issue. Such an amazing success would affect many in this country.

ART TANDERUP  But the traditional context for eminent domain didn’t face today’s issues.

NWNL Right. Eminent domain started as railroads and electric lines were being planned. The Tulsa Law Review piece on eminent domain helped me grasp its history. There were no objections to the wording, its breadth, or lack of specificity. Apparently, few knew then what was even here in the middle of the country. Few paid attention; and to some extent, that’s still so.

Farm neighboring that of the Tanderups, Neligh Neb.

Definitely.  We’re here in “the sticks.”

NWNL  And I thought I grew up in “the sticks” in western New Jersey’s dairy country! I’ve come here twice this year, and friends from New York and California ask me, “Why Nebraska? Where is it? You’re going out West?” I explain that Nebraska isn’t “The West” – it’s the center of the US, it’s beautiful; and it’s a “breadbasket” for our country, like California. I speak of Nebraska’s ways and the values of its farmer-ranchers.

Getting off the plane in Omaha, I saw an airport poster, saying “This is no flyover city!” From my perspective, Nebraska could be “Crossover Country” since so many rivers cross over this state into the Missouri River. It’s not empty!

HELEN TANDERUP  Like our crop art, Nebraska represents the heartland of the States. Now, Nebraska is at the forefront , as we create this pipeline fight. We really feel we can stop KXL.

Sign in Eppley Airfield, Omaha Nebraska, Heartland of the US


NWNL  DAPL protests and reactions came too late. They made some progress and publicized many issues; but it was only a start. But your KXL protest faced the core issue before it bubbled up, faced it legally and took lessons from DAPL on starting early. Again, Native Americans are involved. – not waiting until Keystone digs up topsoil, destroying their sacred items. They learned to be involved legally and to educate the public.

ART TANDERUP  Now, we have Domina Law representing us. It’s an outstanding law firm.

NWNL  I hear Domina wants this to go to court to finally address US eminent domain problems, particularly as previously applied to Native American lands. This could help compensate for our mistakes seven generations ago.

ART TANDERUP  I feel “worth less than 2 cents” when I visit our native relatives and they say, “We’ll help you get your land back.” I respond, “My God, our ancestors stole your land.”

NWNL  I understand – it’s hard for me also. I too apologize and question my right to tape an interview, despite their willingness and having signed a release.

ART TANDERUP  Before KXL, we had a few Native American friends; but now we have many. Many good things are happening due to this “black snake.” Maybe this is the 7th-generation healing.  

HELEN TANDERUP  Regarding Native Americans, when I was growing up, there was bigotry. Considering my sheltered life here on the farm, it could seem strange that I worked in Omaha with African Americans, and fight against a pipeline with Native Americans. I grew up with a mindset that they were the enemy.

ART TANDERUP  Ironically, the community college where Helen worked in Omaha is where Chief Standing Bear said, “If you cut me, I bleed. I’m a man.” 

NWNL  Growing up in New Jersey farmland and living in Connecticut suburbs and coastal California, I never met Native Americans. But with my NWNL project, I quickly became immersed in their issues. I’ve been privileged to meet Native American environmental leaders and watershed protectors, especially in the Columbia and Mississippi River Basins. 

Rebecca Miles, in Idaho – the youngest and the first female Executive Director of the Nez Perce Tribe

When the Nez Perce were moved out of their territory on the Columbia River, Chief Joseph was told, “You’ll always have the same amounts of salmon you have had. That won’t change.” But it did. Despite being confronted by our large hydro-dams, the Nez Perce and other Native Americans just worked hard to create fish hatcheries and negotiate to save salmon migrations.

ART TANDERUP  In Nebraska they have also had  fights over their treaty rights, including Fort Laramie and these pipelines.

HELEN TANDERUP  KXL didn’t even consider the treaties when surveying for S Dakota permits. But the treaties are considered Supreme Law.

Helen and Art Tanderup with books and maps on their dinner table


NWNL  For 11 years, as I’ve pursued this NWNL project, I keep asking, “What is the solution?  Where is the hope?” The answers I hear are, “It’s got to start grass roots.” So, fighting the KXL had to start in your dining room. From here, actions have occurred so the government can step in and regulate the laws. In my visually oriented mind, it’s bottom-up, then top-down; and finally, both ends meet.


NWNL  It’s not going to be a smooth route for you for a couple of years probably.

HELEN TANDERUP  Especially when facing greedy people who like money.

NWNL  And when facing profit-driven industries. I gather Koch Industry is involved.

ART TANDERUP  Yes, they buy the representatives. What will they do with all that money?  

NWNL  Well, one example is The Metropolitan Museum in New York now has newer, bigger fountains at its entrance. The lovely old fountains worked perfectly well; but were replaced and renamed “The Koch Brothers Fountains.”

HELEN TANDERUP  Of course – name recognition, self-promotion, ego!

NWNL  Helen and Art, thank you both for being so generous with your time and  your dedication to protecting Nebraska land and waters. Good luck, I know you won’t give up!  and thank you.  

Helen and Art Tanderup in their field of Ponca Harvest Corn

Posted by NWNL on January 29, 2024.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.