Original Environmentalists Protest Short Sighted Economic Policies of the United States


Published August 27, 2016

WASHINGTON – The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed 1,100-mile pipeline that will be used to carry over a half-million barrels of crude oil per day from northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois, across four states.

Since 2014, after first learning about this project, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has actively opposed the permitting and construction of this pipeline, voicing their concerns to the company, the federal government, the United States Congress and the State of North Dakota. Finally, the tribe filed litigation in federal court in the District of Columbia to challenge the actions of the Corps of Engineers regarding the Dakota Access pipeline.

A Dakota Access Pipeline background sheet provided by the Standing Rock Tribe, reported that initially, Dakota Access considered two possible routes of construction: a northern route near Bismarck, and the southern route taking the pipeline to the border of the Standing Rock reservation.  The company selected the southern route because the route to the north would be near the city of Bismarck and could jeopardize residents’ drinking water.

The statement went onto report that “the initial environmental assessment, the maps utilized by Dakota Access—and reviewed and incorporated by the Army Corps—did not indicate that the Tribe’s lands were within one half mile of the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe [on the Missouri River].”  In fact, the statement went on to say, “the company’s initial draft environmental assessment of December 9, 2015 actually omitted the very existence of the tribe on all maps and any analysis.

The Tribe specifically met with numerous federal agencies to discuss the harm imposed by the pipeline, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

But to no avail. On July 25, 2016, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers granted authorization to the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, less than half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

On their website detailing the Dakota Access Pipeline project, Energy Transfer promises, “We will listen to and address questions from the community, landowners, and other interested stakeholders about the project.”

President Obama with children at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014

President Obama with children at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014.

When President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in June 2014, he told the tribe, “I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a President who’d change that — a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.”

But that respect and partnership has not materialized. Barely more than 2 years after President Obama’s visit, the children and youth of Standing Rock felt compelled to run from Cannonball, ND to Washington, DC in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the dangers of this pipeline and bring a message to President Obama.

“If the Dakota Access Pipeline is built through the Missouri River, it risks our health and our water. This summer, we’re running for our lives.”

But after running for 2,200 miles, they were only able to meet with Army Corps officials, and returned to the reservation on August 10.

DAPL 824

On Wednesday afternoon, August 24, 2016, many of those youth returned along with an estimated 350 people and stood outside of the Federal District Court in Washington, DC to once again protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters came from the Sioux, Seneca, Navajo, Cherokee, and many other tribes from throughout Indian Country, including approximately 30 members of the Cheyenne River Sioux who rode a bus for 31 hours from their reservation in South Dakota to attend the protest.

June and Valita Little Shield and Lavay Hayes (Cheyenne River Sioux)

June and Valita Little Shield and Lavay Hayes
(Cheyenne River Sioux)

Cherry Creek, located on the Cheyenne River Reservation, is south of Standing Rock but along the same river that the pipeline will cross. Tribal members and residents, June and Valtina Little Shield, rode the bus to DC because they said, “That water does run through our reservation and we don’t want that too.”

“I have grand-kids that fish, and we eat the fish. We water our horses; our kids go swimming down there.  I live about 135 yards from the river. We use the river a lot.”

The protest on Wednesday went on for several hours and included many native speakers, singers, dancers, youth, elders, and leaders. Also present were numbers of non-natives; seasoned activists, environmentalists, and other concerned parties, organizations, and citizens. At the end of the protest, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault, exited from the court and shared with the protesters what had taken place inside.

The judge, James E. Boarsberge, said he will not render a decision on the lawsuit brought by the Standing Rock against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access, LLC until September 9, 2016.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II addresses #NoDAPL supporters outside federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. Native News Online photo by Mark Charles.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II addresses #NoDAPL supporters outside federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

One day after the protest, Lawrence O’Donnell, on his MSNBC show “The Final Word,” spoke about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the horrific history of injustice of that the United States of America has against Native Americans. He honored the Standing Rock Sioux, and other tribes, for standing up in opposition of this pipeline and identified Native Americans as this country’s “original environmentalists.” He went on to say that “for hundreds of years they [Native Americans] were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain, a prairie, or a river could be a sacred place.”

NoDAPL Tshirt

In contrast, one of the many promises that Energy Transfer makes regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline is the short term and temporary economic boost, they say, this project will bring to the local communities.

“The project will bring significant economic benefits to the region that it transverses. During the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, goods and services will be procured from local businesses along the entire route. The spending for goods and services will generate significant sales tax revenue for local economies. The project’s estimated 10,000 temporary employees will be staying at local hotels, eating in restaurants, and shopping in stores. Additionally, the use of local professional services such as engineering, real estate, legal, and skilled trades such as surveying and construction, will generate income tax revenues.”

But those short sighted, temporary, economic advantages do not offer much hope for many Native people and youth as our cultural and environmental values are frequently more concerned about the lives and needs of our children and grandchildren, generations down the road.

Levi Winnie (Seneca), who traveled from New York to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux and many other tribes, said, “We have to look out for our future generations. We’re not here just for us. We’re here for our grandkids’, [their] grandkids’, [and their] grandkids.”

Kim Sierra of the Tuscarora Nation, located in North Carolina, when asked what she would like to say to the broader United States regarding caring for the environment responded:

“Respect our land and respect our water. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and no amount of money that they’re going to be making is going to replace that. Their children won’t be able to eat oil, they won’t be able to grow anything from it. This matters for us, as much as it does for them and their future. The money is not worth it.”

*Background on Dakota Access Pipeline provided by StandingRock.org


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