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Nez Perce Leaders Arrested In Protest Over Oil Sands 'Megaload'

The national debate over oil development took an unusual turn on an Idaho highway early Tuesday morning. For two hours, members of the Nez Perce Tribe blocked the passage of a giant water evaporator headed for the oil sands of Alberta, Canada.

More than a hundred tribal members and environmental activists drummed and chanted as they stretched across the highway at the border of the Nez Perce reservation in northern Idaho. They were there to stop a 255-foot long, two-lane-wide shipment they say is illegal. Oregon-based shipper Omega Morgan decided to move the so-called “megaload” through a protected area of Idaho over objections from the U.S. Forest Service.

Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe, was among more than a dozen people arrested.

“I don't look at this as a symbolic issue,” Whitman said. “Otherwise, we'd just issue a press statement, put up a few signs and just let it go. No. We've run out of time and initiatives. So that leaves us with disobedience, civil disobedience.”

The “megaload” is scheduled to travel across Nez Perce ancestral land and a Wild and Scenic Corridor in the coming days. The Nez Perce Tribe plans to ask for an injunction from a federal judge this week.