Day 43: Tribal Rights and Pipelines

Trump has ordered construction to proceed on the final length of DAPL.

DAY 43 ACTION: Learn about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the tribal issues it raises.


A young girl protests the Dakota Access Pipeline in Phoenix, Arizona on September 10, 2016. Credit: Phoenix New Times.

Mni Wiconi (Lakota for “water is life”)

On this day in 1871, Congress enacted the Indian Appropriation Act, ending the practice of recognizing Indian tribes as sovereign nations. The law stated the U.S. would honor earlier treaties. But although the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 had established an extensive Sioux reservation in the Dakotas, over the years Congress stripped most of the land out of this reservation.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (or DAPL) would transport crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota to Illinois, running under the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and Lake Oahe. This route runs within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, through land taken by Congress from the tribe in 1958.

Most of the DAPL has been built, but the tribe is fighting the final length. They worry a pipeline spill could contaminate the Missouri River, their source of drinking water. The pipeline’s route was changed because of a similar concern for Bismarck’s drinking water supply.

The DAPL also runs through important cultural and burial sites for Standing Rock and other nations. Under federal law, the Tribes must be consulted on projects that impact their ancestral lands; they argue the consultation was insufficient.

The Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over just 37 miles of the 1100-mile pipeline, or where the pipeline passes over or under streams, rivers, and federal dams. States permit the rest. Last January, North Dakota approved its portion of the pipeline. In July, the Corps determined it could approve a crossing at the federal dam in Lake Oahe without an environmental study. After months of protests and other agencies contesting the decision, the Obama Administration refused to issue the Oahe approval and suggested it would do an environmental review.

The protests had begun in April 2016, when LaDonna Brave Bull Allard established a camp between the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. The ‘water protectors’ grew to include members of 300 Tribes in what has been called the largest North American Tribal gathering in 100 years.

But in January, Trump reversed course and directed construction to proceed. In late February, the protest camps were forcibly cleared.

The Standing Rock Sioux and other nations have filed several legal actions, and on February 14, they asked a court to vacate the Trump approval. But the timing of court action is unclear.

Today’s Action: Learn about Tribal treaty rights and the stand the Standing Rock Sioux have taken against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Get updates on social media with #IStandWithStandingRock.

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