Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders are joined by ranchers, farmers, and community members in a peaceful protest against the oil pipeline.
An ongoing battle over an oil pipeline in North Dakota is reaching new levels this week as protesters have interrupted construction and drawn national attention to a series of environmental justice issues facing a Native American tribe in the region.
Leaders of the Lakota tribe, who have been working against the Dakota Access Pipeline for over two years, have been joined by ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, and other tribes to protest a project they say is not just a tribal issue, not just a water issue, but a threat to the rights, health, and safety of the land and people.
Those claims lie at the center of a legal battle launched in July, when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the tribe was not properly consulted before the Army Corps approved the pipeline. The pipeline passes within half a mile of the reservation, through burial sites and sacred landmarks, and crosses the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, which provide the tribe’s drinking water. John Eagle Sr, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal historic preservation officer, summed up the case for Indian Country Today:
We have worked for two years to block this access based on Section 106 of the Federal Historical Preservation Act that states tribes can attach cultural and religious significance to a site. Army Corps of Engineers is in direct violation of this law. ACOE did not conduct public hearings. They did not include any Tribes that may have cultural ties to the area to join the consultation.
On top of that, they protesters claim the plans made by Dakota Access (owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners) “omitted the existence of the tribe on all maps and analysis, in violation of environmental justice policies,” and also failed to mention in their permit application how close the pipeline would be to the tribe’s drinking water, according to Indian Country Today.
The pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day fracked from production areas in North Dakota to a distribution center in Illinois, traversing land deeded to the Lakota people by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The pipeline would also cross 209 rivers, creeks, and tributaries, including the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation.
Energy Transfer Partners says the $3.8 billion pipeline would allow “domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer, and environmentally responsible manner,” and reduce the strain on truck and rail transportation. By enabling more efficient domestic oil extraction and transport, it would decrease the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil.
Though the developers of the pipeline have agreed to stall construction near the reservation, work continues in other parts of the state. On Monday, the developers of the pipeline sued Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II and other protesters for interfering with the project. The Bismarck Tribune reports about 28 arrests so far. Among the protesters arrested have been Archambault and Standing Rock Tribal Representative Dana Yellow Fat. For now, construction remains stalled until a federal hearing in Washington, D.C., on August 24.
Meanwhile, hundreds of tents and cars line Highway 1806 leading to the construction site near the border between North and South Dakota. Around 800 people have gathered—some on horseback, some burning sage or beating drums, some serving food or speaking into megaphones—to block workers’ access to the site. The number of protesters is growing, and tribal leaders are optimistic. The Standing Rock Sioux have been resisting the pipeline since they learned of its proposal in 2014, and seek now to hold off construction through winter, when they hope to win a legal order to revoke the project’s permit.