The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “unlawfully” approved construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been compared to the Keystone XL, despite concerns that it goes through protected Indigenous land and could threaten the water source of residents in four states.
“I’m heartbroken, disheartened and a little upset that the United States of America did not stand in protecting water, land and cultural rights,” said LaDonna Allard to teleSUR, who owns the land of Sacred Rock where about 50 members of the Lakota Sioux Nation and allies created a spirit camp in protest against the pipeline. Her son is buried there, and she said that it is only a matter of time until the pipeline bursts.
“Would you allow your children to be covered with oil?” asked Allard, adding that she will pray against the “black snake,” a tribal prophecy the group have long warned about. “This is not an Indian issue, this is a people’s issue. Every person in this world needs water to drink. We must fight to protect the water at all costs.”
Only one of the 11 pre-construction notification sites was not approved, said Jennifer Baker, attorney for the Yankton Sioux tribe, because of concerns about its cultural impact. Meanwhile, the majority of the US$3.7 billion pipeline’s path would run through sacred burial and ceremonial grounds.
The Corps told the tribe it could have monitors to ensure their lands remain protected, said Baker, but only gave them a five-day notice to organize all training and equipment. No Native American surveyors were hired and the Corps have failed to continue consultations with the tribe, which they had started in May. The Corps had repeatedly declined requests by the Yankton Sioux for a consultation, and when they accepted they suggested the meeting be held near a dam that devastated a Yankton community in the 1950s.
The Corps also failed to publish a final version of the Environmental Assessment Impact, which Baker said is “more than slap in face (to) the tribe.”
“There’s a lot of outrage,” Baker told teleSUR, “and the tribe feels like the trust responsibility is being completely overlooked by the corps at this point.”
Indian trust responsibility is a federal moral obligation “of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Native American tribes. Based off of historical violations of this responsibility, Baker said tribe members are not surprised with the Corp’s decision.
The “unlawful process,” said Baker, bypassed an executive order and several federal statutes to hold consultations. The tribe will hold a meeting with others affected by the pipeline on Thursday to decide on further action, which Baker said may involve a lawsuit, though she cannot disclose details. Construction is expected to begin Saturday.
Following the announcement of the pipeline’s approval, the Indigenous Environmental Network issued a statement on Tuesday.
“The Corps has a long history of going against the wishes and health of Tribal nations. This decision will not deter the resistance against the dirty Bakken pipeline. This decision merely highlights the necessity for the Corps of Engineers to overhaul the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which has been used by Big Oil to further place our lands, Indigenous rights, water and air at greater risk for disaster. We demand a revocation of this permit and advocate for the rejection of this pipeline.”
Sioux Nation members have criticized the Corps for violating several acts requiring them to evaluate the impacts both on the environment and on the tribe. Besides conducting an environmental survey, the Corps must consult the tribes affected, especially when the land is protected as a historical site.
After finding a Native American archaeological site on part of the pipeline’s path, Iowa revoked its approval of a construction permit late May. Other sites might lie in the rest of the route, which stretches over 1,000 miles.
Expected to transport 450,000 barrels a day across four midwestern states, the pipeline would cross the fragile Ogallala aquifer and the Missouri River twice underground. The aquifer is one of the largest in the world, and the Missouri River is the primary source drinking water for both tribal and non-tribal members in the area. Farming, fishing, wildlife and entire ecosystems are also expected to be threatened by the pipeline.
“Everything that’s going on now is a political movement, it is big money and big oil,” said Allard. “It is not about the law, what is right. It’s about money.”
North Dakota is the second-biggest oil producer in the United States, but the steep drop in oil prices has left 1,000 wells idle and added US$1 billion to the state deficit.