Rob Wilson
August 02, 2016

Dakota Access Approved: Resistance Unfolds

Kelsey Hill

With blatant disregard for tribal and environmental health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved the majority of permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project that will transport crude oil through several states and over 200 separate water crossings.

The Corps announced approval of nearly all of the project’s necessary permits last week, despite ongoing vocal and legal opposition from landowners, activists, and tribes of the Dakotas. Requests by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for a full environmental review prior to the permits’ approval were similarly ignored.

Undeterred by months of collective outrage, construction on the project has already begun. Energy Transfer’s spokesperson stated that their goal is to have the pipeline in operation by the end of this year.

For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the pipeline is more than just another show of federal dismissal to tribal sovereignty, but a looming threat to the community’s water supply and their entire way of life. The disheartening news of approval for Dakota Access, however, has not stalled tribal activism against it.

By carrying crude oil through native territory, under the Missouri River, and across waterways significant to tribal peoples, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a high stakes gamble for the lives the Standing Rock Sioux. The simple fact of the matter is that fracking oil and then transporting massive distances is not safe and it threatens wildlife and human water sources. Between 2006 and 2014, there were 8,690 reported incidents of oil and brine spills in North Dakota’s oil industry; the completion of Dakota Access will surely increase this number to record-high levels.

On Wednesday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps through Earthjustice in Washington D.C. The complaint cites a violation of National Historic Preservation Act, as well the Corps’ dismissal of tribal input and culturally significant sites when permitting the project.

“We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”

Proposed by the Texas-based company Energy Transfer, Dakota Access is slated to cost 3.4 billion dollars and stretch 1,164 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. Also called the Bakken pipeline, it will carry 450,000 barrels of fracked oil from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota to Illinois, where it will then be transported to Gulf Coast refineries.

Prioritization of Big Oil over Native American lives is troubling, but it’s not new. “The Corps has a long history of going against the wishes and health of tribal nations” said the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Projected to be built in close proximity to the Standing Rock reservation’s northern border, the pipeline threatens contamination of the Missouri River. Because of this, the tribe launched a campaign called “Rezpect Our Water” several months ago, which has since gained international visibility and celebrity endorsements. The grassroots initiative involved tribal leaders and youth to raise awareness about the potential ramifications of the pipeline.

The ignorance of the Army Corps to the necessary legal and ethical parameters is systemic within federal attitudes toward native lands. It is simply unacceptable that a whole tribe’s way of life be put at risk for the sake of large energy revenues.

What’s worse is that the tax revenues being offered to other counties along the pipeline’s path will not be offered to Sioux County. Meaning, for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, their land will be put at risk while they will see no financial benefit from it.

The fight, as activists and indigenous communities have voiced, is far from over: “this decision,” said the Indigenous Environmental Network, “will not deter resistance against the dirty Bakken pipeline”.

Less than a week following the permits’ approval, there are already reports of vigilante resistance. Around 6am yesterday morning, Iowa news outlets began reporting fires on three separate construction sites along the Dakota Access route in the center of the state.

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty noted that the fires seemed to be intentionally set along the pipeline, targeting the equipment, and caused a million dollars in damage to the machinery. There are no suspects thus far in the ongoing investigation.

This morning, protesters are gathered in Bismarck, North Dakota, on the grounds of Capitol to demand that legislators put a stop to the pipeline’s construction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to acknowledge the push-back of native interest groups, their allies, and environmental agencies when beginning construction; in doing so, they have opened up the door to new and increased forms of counteraction.

When Native Americans are totally discounted from major infrastructure decisions and their safety and ways of life are not prioritized, it shows the unethical framework in which development occurs in this country. Approving the Dakota Access pipeline is a dangerous and irresponsible move on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps. It reflects the devaluation of Native American lives and their ecological sovereignty, something that must perpetually be resisted.