by SCOTT WILLIAMS
One hundred and forty years after the battle of Little Bighorn, the same broken treaties the U.S. government has perpetuated against the Native Americans for centuries have fueled the next big fight for the Natives: the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is a story all too familiar to the Native Americans, but instead of breaking laws and treaties in search of gold, the government now repeats its offenses in search of oil.
In January 2015, a company called Dakota Access used loopholes in legislation to bypass normal procedures to install a 1,172 mile-long pipeline through North and South Dakota, Iowa, and into Illinois. The pipeline would pump 570,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to meet up with existing pipelines in Patoka, Illinois. Aside from the environmental threats, there is another reason the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting to stop it — the government’s continuation of its history of broken promises.
On Aug. 5, desperate to prevent history from repeating itself, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe filed a preliminary injunction against the United States Army Corps of Engineers, declaring that the corps “has taken actions in violation of multiple federal statutes that authorize the pipeline.” The injunction claims that the pipeline would “damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the tribe.”
Just minutes before his arrest, the director of Southern California’s chapter of the American Indian Movement, known as Greywolf, said, “Someone said this is the last Indian war, and I believe them. If we don’t win here, we pretty much don’t win anywhere. This has a lot to do with protecting sacred sites, protecting tribal sovereignty, and the rights of indigenous people.” He went on to say that he is not at all surprised to see the pipeline still being built, citing that the United States government’s word is not worth anything: “What treaties have they ever honored?”
The Standing Rock Sioux claim that the construction would violate the “stop, look, and listen” procedure under the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires agencies to step back from a situation and consider any effects of the procedure on historic, cultural, and sacred sites. The act also requires that “consultation must occur regarding sites with religious and cultural significance to Indians even if they occur on ancestral or ceded land.”
In addition to violating the National Historic Preservation Act, the tribe claims the construction of the pipeline also violates the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of any pollutant into waters of the U.S. without a permit. The company has circumnavigated this act in particular by treating the pipeline as a series of small and isolated projects. This allows exemption from the environmental review that the Clean Water Act, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act, requires.
The preliminary injunction claims the Rivers and Harbors Act is also being violated. The federal act declares that the excavation, filling, or any alteration or modification to the course, location, condition, or capacity of any navigable waters is illegal without the proper permit. The injunction also declares that the company operated under a flawed consultation process by evaluating the land before notifying the tribe and sending the tribe a form letter. The tribe responded the next day. The company waited a year before responding. In a final effort, the injunction states that construction of the pipeline will cause irreparable harm to the tribe, its sacred lands, and its only source of water.
So after five centuries of broken promises; five centuries of massacres and betrayals; five centuries of small pox blankets, concentration camps, relocation, and disrespect; the United States government and businesses are still trying to destroy the Natives that have spent their entire lives on the receiving end of such crimes. Yet, in spite of all of this, the rich and abundant spirit of these people has not wavered in the slightest. They have been enslaved and assimilated by the Spanish and survived; they have saved the English settlers who went back on their word and survived; they have been packed into camps and pushed across the country and survived; they have reluctantly given up their land only to have the land they were given taken away time after time and survived; and they will survive this pipeline. This only goes to prove that no matter what the government does to the Native Americans, it will only be in vain, and a lesson can be learned from such peaceful resilience.