Editor's note: Mary Annette Pember is an independent journalist and former President of the Native American Journalists Association. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- "You sure can't eat oil," Billy Redwing Tayac, chief of the Piscataway Nation, noted in video from the Cowboys and Indians Alliance protest last week in Washington against the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.
Ranchers and farmers have joined forces with tribal communities and created the unified coalition in opposing the construction of the pipeline that would transport tar sands oil through their lands from Canada to Texas.
Despite TransCanada's promises of jobs and money for the Great Plains region, the CIA is loudly voicing opposition to this shortsighted, quick-cash scheme that would poison the environment as well as humans who live there.
It's a simple message really, and one that Native peoples have been repeating for centuries. Whatever we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. It's not because we are closer to nature than others, have spirit animals or look really attractive on horseback that we know this basic fact. Everyone on Earth knows it, too, but they get pressured to ignore it.
There is no escape from the order of nature. We are all subject to the same processes regardless of wealth, position or politics. In the end, there's no way to stave off the simple true-ism that if we poison our land and water, we will sicken and die.
Greed and its childish illusions of invincibility have long driven the uniquely foolhardy mindset that dominates American economics. To speak against it was to be marginalized as being a tree-hugger, a hippie or downright un-American.
Perhaps until now.
At the Protect the Sacred Gathering on the Dakota reservation in South Dakota last year, I witnessed the beginnings of the CIA's current plan of action. I watched and listened as non-Native ranchers, farmers and environmentalists met with tribal folks, perhaps for the first time, creating a common language of love for the land, their families and community.
More than a classic sociology 101 class experiment that draws disparate groups together by introducing a common enemy, the CIA's current Reject and Protect action in Washington represents a consciousness shift among non-Natives.
In the traditional Native worldview, the land, water and wildlife are also members of the community. We care for these relatives as we would care for other members of our families.
As they have learned about this continuity of Native culture and environmental responsibility, the non-Native participants are embracing this philosophy, grateful that someone has finally given them permission to express it.
Interviewed by the coordinators of the Reject and Protect website, Ben Gotchall, fourth-generation Nebraska rancher said, "Historically, cowboys and Indians have been at odds, but no more. The CIA shows our cooperation and working together in mutual respect.
"That shared bond proves that we pipeline fighters are not just a few angry land owners holding out or environmentalists pushing a narrow agenda. We are people from all walks of life and include the people who have been here the longest and know the land best.
"Sadly, they know what it's like to lose their land, to lose the ground that gives a nation its identity. We're proud that they have joined us in this fight. Together this time, we cannot lose."