fbpx
facebook app symbol  twitter  linkedin  instagram 1
 

A group of 26 Native landowners on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota seek to intervene in an ongoing civil dispute between the United States and the Tesoro High Plains Pipeline, alleging that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is not adequately representing their interests in the case. 

The ongoing civil actions concern a pipeline initially built across the Fort Berthold Reservation in the 1950s. While the company initially secured rights of way with many of the allottees in question, as well as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Tribes, most of those rights of way expired in 2013. The MHA signed new rights of way in 2017, but negotiations with the individual allottees in the case fell through, and by 2020, Tesoro supposedly stopped operating the pipeline.

The allottees have issued a statement regarding their interest in the case, stating that the pipeline’s trespasses stretch back to 1993, when the BIA failed to secure new rights of way agreements for Tesoro from the allottees. Subsequent efforts to do so have ignored market rates, throughput, or other “well-established methodology” to ensure later renewals were fair to the allottees, the statement reads. 

Landowners eventually won trespass damages following a private pipeline appraisal in 2020, with damages determined to be approximately $4 million, but a subsequent move by President Joe Biden’s administration to vacate that judgment and allow the Department of Interior to perform their own appraisal led to a “98 percent reduction” in awarded damages. 

Never miss Indian Country’s biggest stories and breaking news. Sign up to get our reporting sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning. 

“The Biden Administration is clearly more concerned with protecting its own image and maintaining its subjective relationship with the powerful Marathon corporation than it is with protecting the interests of individual landowners,” reads a joint statement by the allottees. “ “They want to see this case go away. They have allowed Tesoro to assume the role of victim while it simultaneously continues to suppress and violate our protected civil rights, with the tacit permission and full support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We demand justice and accountability.”

The landowners’ push to intervene in the case caps off a case that has roiled back and forth since 2018, when their initial efforts to seek damages were launched. While those efforts finally bore fruit in 2020, the motion to vacate by President Biden’s administration set off a flurry of appeals and countersuits — including one such suit from Tesoro themselves, which claims the motion to vacate was done unlawfully. 

The back and forth also produced a settlement proposed by the federal government in July 2022 that would have pushed the allottees to waive their claims against the BIA for an alleged breach of trust. That would only benefit the BIA and Tesoro, “exemplifying a conflict of interest” on behalf of the United States, the statement reads. 

None of the subsequent actions since the BIA’s motion to vacate the previous judgment have been to the benefit of the tribal landowners involved, per the allottees' statement. 

“Our interests have been inexcusably severely compromised by our federal trustee. The Bureau of  Indian Affairs has allowed Tesoro to continue to reap exorbitant profits from our lands with no  valid right to do so for over a decade,” the allottees wrote in a joint statement. “The federal government, for whatever reason, makes it a  nightmare for us as private citizens to advocate for our own interests as Indian landowners.”

More Stories Like This

Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot
30 Tribal Leaders are Pressuring President Biden to Take a Stance Against Enbridge Line 5
Feds Announce $18M for Tribally-Led Clean Energy Projects
USDA invests $500M into Renewed Wildfire Prevention Efforts, Alliances
Puyallup Tribe Prevails in Lawsuit Against Electron Hydro LLC

Native Perspective.  Native Voices.  Native News. 

We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers.  We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

 
About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Author: Chez OxendineEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Chesley Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is an Oklahoma-based reporter for Native News Online and its sister publication, Tribal Business News. His journalism has been featured in the Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Native Oklahoma Magazine, and elsewhere.