The Fight Continues on at Standing Rock
Makia Freeman, Contributor
Standing Rock 2017 will continue to be an issue. The fight of the Native American Indian tribes, environmentalists and the water protectors (protestors) is not over. Although the Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday December 4th, 2016, that it would not be granting the DAPL easement access, there is nothing to stop the oil company from disobeying that and moving forward anyway. After all, the amount they would have to pay in fines in insignificant next to the lost revenue they are experiencing from the delay of the project. The announcement offered temporary relief, but the battle is not over. Some at the camps have stated that the announcement was propaganda to lull people into a false sense of security. You can expect Standing Rock 2017 to be just as newsworthy as Standing Rock 2016. Before going further, however, it is worth revisiting the legal facts of the Standing Rock / DAPL issue, since there was so much emotion, disinformation and confusion surrounding it.
Historical Context of DAPL: Treatment of the American Indians in the Past
First we need to understand the background. In 1851, the Laramie Treaty was struck which outlined the territorial claims of 8 American Indian tribes including the Sioux. However 11 years later in 1862, after many years of broken promises by the US Government (treaty land not honored, food and supplies not delivered as promised), a war raged between members of the Dakota nation and the US military in southern Minnesota. In fact, December 26th marked the 154th anniversary of the largest mass execution in US government history, when 38 Dakota men were publicly hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. Around this time gold and other minerals were discovered on Treaty reservation land, so the US Government took back the land, dug for uranium and poisoned the aquifer and thus the drinking water of the people there (now incidentally the Sioux must pump the Missouri River to make their water drinkable). In 1890, a horrible massacre took place. At the Battle of the Wounded Knee (not a battle but a massacre), white man shot Lakota Sioux women and children and killed their buffalo. History.com describes it as follows:
“The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre … a brutal massacre … in which it’s estimated 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.”
Clearly there has been a lot of mistrust, broken promises, theft, violence and murder in the past. From the American Indian point of view, the DAPL is the black snake they have prophesized about which threatens their livelihood and lives. Those supporting the DAPL have made several claims substantiating why they believe it’s right, fair and legal. Let’s take a closer look at their claims.
Claim: DAPL Does Not Go Through Sioux Treaty Land
This is technically true, but overall very misleading. Yes, the DAPL runs adjacent and parallel to an older 1982 pipeline in the same place. The pipeline passes by a point about 500 feet from Sioux land. Obviously, if some kind of oil spill were to occur, the probability is almost 100% that it would affect American Indian land. How could it not being that close? The Lakota Sioux on pine Ridge used to depend upon the Ogallala Aquifer for their drinking water. But since the uranium contamination, they now pump water from the Missouri River. They have had their drinking water permanently poisoned from resource extraction in the past. Clearly, it’s fair for them to protest a pipeline right next to them with such a potential of disruption and danger to their lives. And if you think that pipelines are “safe”, look at the next claim.
Anther North Dakota spill (not DAPL) that happened near Standing Rock in December 2016. Is any oil safe? Credit: RT.
Claim: Pipelines are Safer to Transfer Oil than Trains and Other Overland Methods
Another technically true but misleading point. Pipelines may be safer than other methods, but they still break and spill. Just in case you think that a domestic American oil spill is an unlikely event, consider this: only around 4 weeks ago another oil pipeline in North Dakota (not the DAPL, but a different one around 150 miles from Standing Rock) spilled into a creek. This happened at Ash Coulee Creek in North Dakota. 176,000 gallons of oil were spilled which contaminated around 5.4 miles of the creek. Oil is a dirty fuel; these kind of accidents are bound to happen. The more a country relies on oil, the more accidents it can expect to have. Did you know the Keystone XL pipeline leaked 12 times in its 1st year of operation?
In fact, there have been thousands of documented oil spills and pipeline breaks (averaging 31,500 barrels per year according to this source) in the USA alone in the last 15 years! That is an astonishing figure and truly goes to show that there is no way “safe” way to transport oil. This doesn’t even include the 100s of undocumented spills that we were not told about …
Claim: The Sioux were Given a Chance to Voice Claims but Didn’t Negotiate
Both the DAPL and the Army Corps of Engineers have been claiming that the Sioux tribe didn’t respond in timely way to their requests for negotiation and consultation. Clearly there was a huge communication breakdown. Whose fault was it? It’s very difficult to determine. The article Everything You Need to Know About Standing Rock summarizes the situation:
“When it all comes down, through, the tribe was not involved in the process. Whose fault that is . . . well, depends on how you look at the world, really. The Corps and DAPL made significant effort, but the tribe also doesn’t have the money, means or special training that the organization’s have. This causes some pretty significant imbalance. One example: After several months of requests for meetings and input, the Tribe asks for clarification on the process all together – keep in mind they had already been getting notifications from DAPL prior to this. When Chairman Archambault got involved – almost a year into the process – he claims that form letters and public meetings don’t meet the obligation of the Corps to consult with tribes. In the final months, there is confusion over the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction and their completion of necessary research and inclusion. During this time Chairman Archambault also asserted that the Army Corp of Engineers “violated its own policy” by not holding an “active and respectful dialogue before decisions are made and actions are taken.””
Claim: No Archeological Evidence DAPL is Going Through Burial Grounds
There are more disputes in this area too, with the DAPL claiming the pipeline doesn’t go through burial grounds. Does this stand up? Unlikely. Right after the tribe submitted burial evidence to the court, the DAPL jumped 25 miles and starting ploughing a new area with bulldozers. Why? To eliminate evidence. Waterkeeper Alliance lawyer Daniel E. Estrie was outraged at Dakota Access LLC for these actions: