U.S. Halts Dakota Access Construction, Offers ‘Government-to-Government’ Dialogue with Standing Rock Sioux
In a surprise announcement Friday afternoon, the Obama Administration called for a “voluntary” construction hold on a 40-mile section of the fiercely-disputed Dakota Access pipeline, just hours after U.S. Judge James Boasberg refused the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s call for an emergency restraining order against the project.
The U.S. also committed to “government-to-government consultations” with Native American tribes this fall to explore better methods of “considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects” under existing statutes or new legislation.
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“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act,” the Departments of Justice, Interior, and the Army declared in a joint statement. “However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”
So “the Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” the statement affirmed. “The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved—including the pipeline company and its workers—deserves a clear and timely resolution.
“In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
The Standing Rock Sioux were ecstatic at what it described as a “stunning” decision.
“Our hearts are full. This an historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for tribes across the nation,” said tribal council chair Dave Archambault II.
“The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises, and today the federal government said national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.”
Earlier Friday, Boasberg wrote that the court “does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance to the Standing Rock Sioux,” but concluded the tribe had failed to show “it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the court could issue.” That was after Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, began bulldozing the community’s sacred sites last Saturday—less than 24 hours after the tribe filed a court document detailing the 27 graves, 16 stone rings, 19 effigies, and other artifacts found there. By Sunday, all of those sites had been destroyed or harmed, according to court filings.”
Mekasi Camp Horinek of the Ponca Nation, coordinator of Bold Oklahoma, said the company “leapfrogged about 10 miles from where they were to go to those culturally significant sites and destroy them.”
Vox backgrounded the Dakota Access dispute with a Q&A with Grist environmental justice reporter Aura Bogado, who focused on a continuing fight for tribal sovereignty “which is just as important as the environmental hazard,” but “is getting lost in the pipeline story.”
“Too many people tend to think of tribal sovereignty as something that’s allocated, which can be given or taken away depending on the circumstance,” Bogado explained. “But it’s not. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s tribal sovereignty, which essentially precedes colonization, is permanent, and it’s recognized (as opposed to granted) by the federal government.”