On September 20, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I am here because oil companies are causing the deliberate destruction of our sacred places and burials,” said Archambault, according to a report on Indian Country Today’s website. “Dakota Access wants to build an oil pipeline under the river that is the source of our nation’s drinking water. This pipeline threatens our communities, the river and the earth. Our nation is working to protect our waters and our sacred places for the benefit of our children not yet born.”
The Standing Rock tribe’s struggle to protect water against a possible environmental disaster from the Dakota Access pipeline has become the cause célèbre in Indian country and around the world. Images of Indian riders on horseback approaching a line of sheriff’s deputies guarding the pipeline construction site near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, have galvanized support for the Sacred Stone Camp that has grown near the northern tip of the reservation.
“Thousands have gathered peacefully in Standing Rock in solidarity against the pipeline,” said Archambault, in a statement issued after his appearance at the UN in Switzerland. “And yet many water protectors have been threatened and even injured by the pipeline’s security officers. One child was bitten and injured by a guard dog. We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is under the aegis of a Texas-based outfit called Energy Transfer. Slated for completion in the “fourth quarter of 2016,” according to the corporation’s website, the 1,172-mile pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil patches in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.
Apart from the environmental threat posed by a 30-inch oil pipeline running under the Missouri River, the Standing Rock tribe has objected to the destruction of cultural areas and burial sites in the construction zone. On these issues, the tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; but the federal court decided that the Corps had approved the pipeline project in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.
However, after the court ruling, on Sept. 9, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement, which acknowledged “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally.”
The joint statement continued: “The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved – including the pipeline company and its workers – deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
The federal departments also proposed a “serious discussion” between the tribes and federal government – “government-to-government consultations” – on reforming the process of approving pipeline and other infrastructure projects, while protecting “tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.” Such a discussion would consider congressional legislation to respect tribal interests in these matters.
The struggle to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (#NoDAPL) has involved nonviolent direct action by Standing Rock tribal members, and Indian and non-Indian allies. The continual assaults on Indian Country by multinational corporations probing politically-weak territories for their energy and extraction projects have been going on for a long time.
I’m reminded of the Black Hills Alliance, which organized Indians, ranchers and environmentalists in a successful effort to beat back the energy corporations scheming to develop coal- and uranium-mining projects in western South Dakota. The survival gatherings in 1979 and 1980 tapped into the growing anti-nuclear movement and brought people power to bear against the virtually unlimited resources of the energy exploiters.
And I also would link the water protection movement at Standing Rock with the efforts to stop sulfide mining in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. PolyMet Mining is proceeding apace to build the first copper-nickel mine in the state, which poses a threat to ground and surface waters Up North – and imperils the subsistence rights of Ojibwe bands across the treaty ceded territory.
We’re all in this together.