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US Government Intervenes After Judge Denies Standing Rock Sioux Request to Stop Pipeline

Native American "water protectors" stand off against law enforcement over construction of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Twitter/Yes Magazine)

Native American “water protectors” stand off against law enforcement over construction of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Twitter/Yes Magazine)

Minutes after a federal judge on Friday denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to temporarily halt construction of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army said it would not build a contentious portion of the project and three prominent US government agencies issued a joint statement calling on the company building the pipeline to “voluntarily pause” construction.

The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued the joint statement, which said that “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.”

”In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe,” the statement continued. It added that “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects,” and that the government would “invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations” on protecting “tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.”

ABC News reports US District Judge James Boasberg issued a single-page ruling in Washington, DC on Friday that included no explanation of why he was denying the tribe’s request. The Standing Rock Sioux had challenged the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue permits at more than 200 water crossings to Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based corporation building the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline project that would transport crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux’s lawsuit argued that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly consult with the tribe, as required by law. The tribe also argued that the pipeline would pass through and likely desecrate or destroy sacred sites and burial grounds. While the pipeline does not cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, it comes close enough to worry tribal members, environmentalists and others that drinking and agricultural irrigation water for the tribe and millions of others living downstream along the Missouri River could be contaminated in the event of an accident.

Standing Rock Sioux members set up a camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota about a mile from where the pipeline is planned to cross the Missouri River. Tribal members have been joined by Native Americans, environmental and social justice activists from across the country, including members of Black Lives Matter. There are currently around 1,000 people camped at the site. The Spirit Camp Warriors, who call themselves “water protectors,” have been blocking bulldozers and engaging in other acts of nonviolent resistance. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful action, private security guards have unleashed attack dogs and used pepper spray against the Natives. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman reported from the scene that one dog had blood dripping from its nose and mouth.

In the wake of Friday’s court ruling, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal historian, vowed to “continue to stand” and “look for legal resources” while continuing to peacefully protest the pipeline.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple on Thursday ordered 100 National Guard troops to the protest area ahead of Friday’s court ruling. Some Native American leaders said the militarized response reminded them of the many massacres committed by US invaders throughout the centuries-long genocide that began when the first European explorers set foot in the Americas.

“When we first heard about the possibility of the National Guard coming, it was almost trauma response,” Ihanktowan elder Faith Spotted Eagle told Indian Country Today. “A lot of people went numb because the idea of the military came in. To an average non-Native person, that might feel safe. To us, it feels really familiar, and it personally takes me back to the Whitestone Massacre But we know how to handle these situations. We pray. We support and listen to each other, and seek consensus to know that we are safe. We all play a part in deciding what’s best for the people.”

Exactly 153 years to the day before security guards sicced dogs on the Spirit Camp Warriors, US troops under the command of Gen. Alfred Sully slaughtered hundreds of Sioux men, women and children at Whitestone Hill, not far from the site of today’s pipeline protest.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II called the latest standoff “a familiar story in Indian Country.”

“Perhaps only in North Dakota, where oil tycoons wine and dine elected officials, and where the governor… serves as an adviser to the Trump campaign, would state and county governments act as the armed enforcement for corporate interests,” Archambault lamented in an August 24 New York Times editorial. “In recent weeks, the state has militarized my reservation, with road blocks and license-plate checks, low-flying aircraft and racial profiling of Indians. The local sheriff and the pipeline company have both called our protest ‘unlawful,’ and Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency.”

“This is the third time that the Sioux Nation’s lands and resources have been taken without regard for tribal interests,” Archambault wrote in his Times editorial. “The Sioux peoples signed treaties in 1851 and 1868. The government broke them before the ink was dry. When the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1958, it took our riverfront forests, fruit orchards and most fertile farmland to create Lake Oahe. Now the Corps is taking our clean water and sacred places by approving this river crossing. Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.”

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