President Obama with children at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014
Published September 10, 2016
WASHINGTON— First the bad news: On Friday, Federal District Judge James E. Baosberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for injunction to halt the Dakota Access pipeline construction.
Now the good news: Minutes later the Obama administration intervened with the release of a three-agency statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Department of the Army and the U.S. Department of the Interior that called for a stop to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline while also calling for national reform to “ensure meaningful tribal input” on infrastructure projects.
It is safe to say three federal agencies do not collaborate on pausing a major oil pipeline without the intervention of the president of the United States in a state where the governor, its two U.S. senators (one of whom sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs) and the state’s only Congressman all support the pipeline.
President Obama’s intervention came less than 48 hours after he was asked about the Standing Rock situation at a press conference in Laos where it was quite obvious he was not fully up to speed on what was happening at Standing Rock.
The president visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014.
In the joint release, the Justice Department stressed that “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, remain.” As a result, the release says, the Army will not authorize construction of the 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.”
Reaction to the Presidential Intervention
Tribal leaders and elected officials reacted to the White House intervention late Friday afternoon.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II:
“Our hearts are full, this an historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for tribes across the nation. Today, three federal agencies announced the significant decision to respect tribal sovereignty and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Army Corps land.”
“Our voices have been heard. The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.”
“I want to take a moment and reflect on this historic moment in Indian Country.“ But I know that our work is not done. We need to to permanently protect our sacred sites and our water. There are areas on the construction route that do not fall within federal jurisdiction, so we will continue to fight.”
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier:
“Throughout this process we have demanded that the federal government uphold its trust responsibilities to the Great Sioux Nation. Today’s actions by the Department of Justice give me great hope that we can finally begin a dialogue so that the views and culture of tribal peoples will be heard. Even as our site protectors were indiscriminately pepper-sprayed and bitten while non-violently protesting the irrevocable destruction of our burial grounds and sacred sites, they never gave up or lost hope. We thank them for their commitment to protecting our sacred land and valuable resources.”
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye:
“Last week Vice President Jonathan Nez and I traveled to Cannon Ball, N.D., to see firsthand the situation that is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline. The position the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is taking to halt the pipeline is one that is common to every Native American tribe. We all must consistently work to protect our land, our natural resources and especially our water. Today, we are glad to hear that the federal government has stepped in to halt the construction of the pipeline especially after the District Court ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux. We look forward to the requested government-to-government consultation this fall.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker:
“It’s disappointing that a federal court declined to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which may have severe negative impacts on the Standing Rock Sioux’s main water source, ancient burial sites and other sacred areas. We are grateful this administration, through cooperation with the Department of Justice, Department of the Army and Department of the Interior, have intervened to do what is right in this matter – defend the rights of a sovereign tribal nation to intervene in commercial practices that may harm the Standing Rock people and will most certainly harm the land and sacred sites they have occupied since time immemorial.
We once again congratulate President Obama on his proactive stance toward protecting the people and resources of Indian Country. We also want to recognize the Standing Rock people and Natives from all over the United States who have joined in solidarity for months to halt this dangerous pipeline. We admire their strength and their resolve. The Cherokee Nation will continue to stand with Standing Rock.”
U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico):
“After the disturbing use of violence to control protesters in North Dakota, I’m pleased that the administration has halted part of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and committed to deploy federal resources to ensure Tribal members may exercise their free speech rights. I hope the company will honor that request while a reevaluation occurs and commit to respecting the rights of Tribal members and others to peacefully protest. It’s unfortunate that it took violence and the endangerment of sacred burial grounds to get to this point. I also welcome the administration’s decision to invite Tribes to a formal government-to-government consultation about steps that can be taken to protect sacred lands, resources and treaty rights. Our nation has a long and terrible history of environmental and cultural injustices against Native Americans. As the senator representing 23 sovereign tribes and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I believe a formal conversation is long past due. I will continue working to ensure we keep our promise to Native communities to include them as meaningful participants in the planning of projects that affect tribal lands and livelihood.”
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico):
“I commend the administration for responding to the significant concerns from tribal communities across the nation regarding the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and the abusive treatment of protestors. Halting the project will allow for the due consideration of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights. I will explore ways to improve the tribal consultation process for projects like this one so voices and expertise from Native communities are successfully included.”
Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz
Congressman Dr. Rual Ruiz (D-California, 36th Congressional Distict):
“This week, I called for a full, investigative report by the GAO into any noncompliance with federal policies that require consultation with tribes before proposed development and construction on or near tribal land. I also urged the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend construction until a full Environmental Impact Study had been released. Today, I am pleased that the Departments of Interior, Justice, and the Army have agreed to conduct a full review of whether or not the federal government is meaningfully consulting with tribes before proceeding on projects that could effect tribal lands. Over the next few months, these departments will be looking into the policies currently in place and whether or not tribes have enough input into decisions that impact their health, sacred lands, and cultural preservation. They will also determine if there are any new legislation that should be proposed to Congress to remedy existing policies. I welcome this review and I look forward to advocating to ensure federal policies are respecting tribal sovereignty.”