(The Crow Creek Riders at the ongoing anti Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Photo credit: Natalie Hand, Lakota Media Project via Red Warrior Camp/Facebook)
Dennis Ward and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION—A U.S. Federal Court judge on Tuesday allowed construction of a controversial four-state, $3.78 billion pipeline to continue in a conflict area the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says contains burial grounds and sacred sites.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)—which is slated to pump Bakken-fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois—is facing fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe fears the pipeline threatens the area’s water supply and sacred sites.
The 1,886 kilometre pipeline passes near the edge of its reservation and under the Missouri River.
Standing Rock has the backing of dozens of other Native American tribes. This has led to the one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in the U.S. over the past century in an area near the pipeline’s path.
While the ruling, handed down by U.S. Federal Court Judge James Boasberg after a hearing in Washington D.C., gave the Sioux a partial victory, it won’t stop pipeline construction in an area that has already seen conflict between Indigenous demonstrators and a private security firm hired by the company leading the construction.
The judge ordered a halt to pipeline construction east Lake Oahe in North Dakota, but the area is already nearing end of development activity.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault said the ruling was a “partial win, partial loss” because the judge allowed construction to continue in an area to the west which contains sacred sites and burial grounds important to the Sioux.
“We are disappointed that the decision doesn’t prevent DAPL from destroying sacred sites as we await the ruling to stop construction all together,” said Archambault in a video statement. “It’s not over, we still have a long way to go.”
Archambault called for calm on both sides.
“Even though this is a disappointment we still have to remain peaceful and respectful,” he said. “I ask that we refrain from using violence, I ask that we refrain from using verbal abuse or physical abuse on anyone. And I ask that for both sides.”
Boasberg allowed construction in an area west of Lake Oahe in Morton County, North Dakota, which saw clashes Saturday between attack dog-handling private security guards and Native American demonstrators trying to stop bulldozers from destroying land found to hold a burial ground and historical sites.
Two Indigenous demonstrators on Tuesday chained themselves to construction equipment in the same area.
A subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer is constructing the pipeline. Energy Transfer did not return a request for comment from APTN.
Tuesday’s ruling was a skirmish in a larger legal battle expected to come to a head on Friday when the same judge is expected to rule on an injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux to stop the pipeline. The tribe was looking to temporarily halt all construction until Friday’s expected ruling.
The tribe is challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to give the operators permits to construct the pipeline which would have the capacity to pump up to 570,000 barrels per day from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.
Standing Rock was a signatory to the April 9, 1868, Treaty of Fort Laramie which established the Great Sioux Reservation covering all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River.
The Sioux-led resistance to the pipeline has become a rallying point in the larger environmental battle over climate change. The Sacred Stone Camp set up on the Standing Rock reservation is expected to grow to about 10,000 people this week ahead of Friday’s expected U.S. Federal Court ruling.
Last Saturday’s confrontation with the private security firm has done little to deter the resolve of the thousands of people who have travelled Standing Rock.
Sophie Watson drove eight hours from Minnesota to be here when the ruling comes down. Watson said she was sickened to see videos of dogs and pepper spray being used against the demonstrators.
Another Indigenous camp supporter who identified himself Quiltman said he came from Oregon to protect the water. He said the camp was “good medicine” and called last Saturday’s actions by the private security guards “cold blooded.”
He said it’s time to turn the tables.
“Our people have always gotten the short end. We can handle it,” he said.
The Sioux tribe’s resistance to the pipeline has also drawn considerable support from Indigenous leaders and grassroots activists from Canada. Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Terry Nelson, from Manitoba, and Grand Council of the Crees Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, from Quebec, recently visited the camp.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Canada’s largest Indigenous organization, also put its support behind Standing Rock’s opposition to the pipeline on Tuesday.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said “no pipeline construction should ever begin” until “Indigenous peoples have provided free, prior and informed consent.”
AFN Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart visited the pipeline resistance camp on behalf of the organization.
“The call of the Standing Rock Sioux has echoed across Turtle Island. Now it is up to us to respond by standing up to defend these precious waters and sacred lands,” said Hart, in the statement.
Canada faces its own looming pipeline conflicts as the regulatory gears begin to turn on the Energy East pipeline which would transport Alberta mined bitumen to an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, NB.
According to reports, the North Dakota portion of the pipeline is 60 per cent completed and 90 per cent finished in South Dakota.