Protesting at Dakota Access pipeline construction site, August 17, 2016. Photo by Red Dawn Foster
Published August 31, 2016
WASHINGTON – On August 29, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) sent a letter to President Obama and Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) expressing the organizations official position on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“NCAI respectfully requests that the Administration halt the Dakota Access Pipeline’s easement to drill under Lake Oahe until the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s waters and sacred places are protected,” stated Jacqueline Pata (Tlingit), executive director, National Congress of American Indians.
In her letter, Pata acknowledges the long history of the federal governments granting construction of hazardous projects through tribal lands, waters and cultural sites without including the tribes in the decision-making process.
According to the NCAI, the Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and did not honor its federal trust responsibility to the tribe.
“The issue of federal trust responsibility to tribes is something NCAI is very concerned about. The National Historic Preservation Act, section 106, clearly were not followed, and is historically often ignored. The state of North Dakota hired their own private archaeologists and worked only with their own state agencies, rather than the federal government and ignored federal laws. The tribes weren’t involved or consulted in the decision making. The tribes are the only ones that know where the burial sites and sacred sites are located,” explained Denise Desiderio, NCAI Policy Director.
The issue of non-consultation with tribal governments by state governments and private corporations is occurring across Indian Country. “It is the duty of Congress to be very involved in oversight, in order to make sure the state governments are following federal laws. They (the federal government) should be carrying out oversight to make sure the laws are followed in the manner they were intended”, said Ms. Desiderio. The National Congress of American Indians clearly feels that it is incumbent upon the Obama administration to insure that the trust responsibility to tribes is upheld. “We do find this situation strange, since President Obama recently visited the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and commented publicly about their situation. He is very aware of the many problems the tribe faces,” said Desiderio. “We are calling on his administration to take a stand. The federal government and tribal governments should be co-equals as sovereign governments.”
The level of support from other tribal nations for the Standing Rock Sioux is unprecedented. “We have received 184 letter of support so far from different tribes, and 75 resolutions have been passed so far by various tribal governments over this issue. This proves the power of our tribal strength when we all stand together–unified,” said Desiderio.
The NCAI will support the Standing Rock Sioux tribes decision regarding any appeals to the ruling expected by September 9. They plan to continue their work on congressional and administrative levels in order to support all the tribes.