Dakota Access Laid Bear

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Guest Commentary

Published August 22, 2016

By David Bearshield

A “black poisonous snake” is how Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II has described the Dakota Access Pipeline. The sight of Chairman Archambault being arrested during a non-violent demonstration against this harbinger of environmental catastrophe to the Standing Rock Sioux people was an unwelcome, but possibly necessary reminder, that good words and intentions are meaningless when contradicted by actions that perpetuate the legacy of Manifest Destiny. Since contact, it has always been about the land and the acquisition of resources, irrespective of the human cost. Since contact, for tribal people, it has always been about defending Mother Earth as a life source, and resisting the overwhelming pressure to redefine her as a resource.

On a balmy summer’s day in 2014, as Chairman Archambault looked on, President Obama addressed the people of Standing Rock and pledged, “to keep America the place where no matter who you are and what you look like, or where you come from, you can make it. And that you don’t have to give up your culture to also be part of the American family.” Two years later, on a similar summer’s day, Chairman Archambault was hauled off in handcuffs for defending his people’s culture.

This is the epitome of “Black Snake Moan,” as in real life it’s tribes that are again being held hostage to extractive industries. In an appeal to UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, the Standing Rock Sioux and the International Indian Treaty Council have cited flagrant violations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
GOAL Advisory Council leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse about to hold ceremomy at the Dakota Access site

GOAL Advisory Council leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse about to hold ceremomy at the Dakota Access site,

In the appeal to the UN, the right to health and water, threats against sacred sites, cultural and ceremonial practices, and Treaty Rights are all identified, along with the tribe being denied “free prior and informed consent” that undermines “self-determination.” These are precisely the issues that Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation raised in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that protested the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly bear, and demonstrated how, in its present incarnation, the government’s determination to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from the grizzly is a violation of UNDRIP. Chief Grier, alongside fellow Blackfoot Confederacy leaders Chief Charles Weasel Head and Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman, have been at the forefront to protect the grizzly, and in turn the lands the grizzly protects.

“If they take the grizzly bear off the ESA that opens the protected lands the grizzly bear occupies, be that Indian reservations or public lands,” Blood Councilman, Mike Bruisedhead, warned last summer. “Delisting the grizzly will take that protected area away and open it for big industry to dictate the usage of the land. Without the grizzly bear being protected, big industry will have free access to the last protected areas in both Canada and the US,” he predicted, and information recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has revealed exactly that. “The Dakota Access Pipeline,” asserts Chairman Archambault, “is made from nothing but greed.” That same greed has been exposed as manipulating and driving the federal government’s obsession with delisting the grizzly bear.

It is no coincidence that Chairman Archambault and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe made one of the first official declarations against the delisting and trophy hunting of the sacred grizzly bear, followed by one of the first full tribal council resolutions. The Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) recently called for a Congressional investigation into Big Energy’s role and influence over the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). USFWS engaged oil and gas services giant, Amec Foster Wheeler, to undertake the scientific peer review of its delisting rule. Former Halliburton executive, Jonathan Lewis, was appointed CEO of Amec Foster Wheeler within a month of the proposed delisting rule being published in the Federal Register.

It has been revealed that Matt Hogan, USFWS’s key regional agent in the grizzly delisting effort, has ties to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, the third largest energy company in the world, the largest landowner in Wyoming, and among the highest campaign contributors to Wyoming’s Congressional delegation and Governor Matt Mead. Anadarko is known in Indian Country for its $5.15 billion settlement of one of the largest pollution cases in history, which included $1 billion for the Navajo Nation to address health issues and drinking water contaminated by uranium. Like Anadarko, Dakota Access LLC does not see water as the gift of life.

Should the grizzly be delisted, over two million acres of sacred ancestral homelands will be subject to what OST Vice President Tom Poor Bear calls “a land grab” by corporate energy, livestock, and timber interests. “In USFWS’s proposed delisting rule it acknowledges some 28 prospective mines in the heart of Greater Yellowstone – in our ancestral homelands and where many sacred sites exist in core grizzly habitat,” Poor Bear has declared to Interior Secretary Jewell. If the grizzly is delisted there will be a new pit of “black poisonous snakes,” this time in Greater Yellowstone. After that, it will move to the country of the Blackfeet and Salish-Kootenai, the so-called Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, and what is visited upon Yellowstone will come to the environs of Glacier. “As Indian people, we must continue to fight for the preservation of our water, land and all that affects our traditional way of life,” Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes wrote Chairman Archambault on August 18. That also perfectly articulates the struggle to protect the grizzly and Mother Earth.

David Bearshield is Chairman of GOAL Tribal Coalition, currently one of the largest tribal alliances in North America.

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