Feds Step In, and the Big Win May Be for All Tribes Facing Pipelines

The Department of Justice promised “meaningful tribal input” on pipeline decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.
Standing Rock

Sacred Stones camp. Photo by Sarah van Gelder.

A dramatic day at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe occupation ended in a temporary victory for the tribe in its battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. But the biggest win might be in what this could mean for future projects nationwide that put tribes up against pipelines.

Immediately after Friday’s decision by the U.S. District Court to deny the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for an injunction to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Obama Administration swooped in to temporarily stop construction bordering Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. “Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” said a joint announcement of three federal agencies—U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, and Army Corps of Engineers.

The government is also asking the pipeline company to voluntarily pause all construction within 20 miles of the lake pending a thorough review of the permits, which they pledged would be conducted “expeditiously.”

“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. 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.”

The agencies went on to suggest that serious re-examination might be on the way to reform how U.S. law treats tribal land in general.

They promised “meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights” and “government-to-government consultations” this fall.

The federal agencies also seemed to acknowledged the key role that the current peaceful occupation at Standing Rock has played. Thousands have gathered there since April to protest the pipeline construction on the banks of the Missouri River.

“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites,” the statement said. “We fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely.  We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence,” the statement said.

“The Departments of Justice and the Interior will continue to deploy resources to North Dakota to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety.”