Dakota Access Pipeline Discredits Tribal Sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Originally published in Issue 6, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (November 17, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue. 

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline—a $3.8 billion oil pipeline running 1,172 miles through North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Iowa—have been gaining traction since the summer and becoming more intense.

On Oct. 27, hundreds of activists occupied land along the pipeline’s proposed route. They argued that it belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota under an 1851 treaty with the U.S. government and has not been properly honored. Police responded with rubber bullets, pepper spray, water cannons and also arrested 141 activists.

Since being proposed in 2014, the Dakota Access Pipeline has been very controversial. The Standing Rock Sioux has two major concerns. First, the pipeline would cross right under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s main source of drinking water.

It’s not a matter of if the pipeline leaks; it’s a matter of when. Pipelines are known to leak.

The Center for Biological Diversity in Austin, Texas did an analysis in 2014 of the records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which has a database of U.S. pipeline incidents that are classified as “significant,” including death or injury, damages over $50,000, more than five barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid released or where liquid exploded or burned.

The Center for Biological Diversity reports that since 1986, there have been 8,700 significant incidents in the U.S., which results in more than 300 spills a year.

The Standing Rock Sioux’s other main concern is that the pipeline would run through sacred sites and burial places with construction and bulldozing destroying them. This goes

back to the 1851 treaty because although the land does not technically belong to the tribe, they argue it was unjustly taken from them.

Most importantly, the U.S. government did not consult the Standing Rock Sioux, when under federal law—they should have.

Journalist Aura Bogado, who has been following the Dakota Access Pipeline closely, says the core of the dispute is tribal sovereignty, the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within U.S. borders.

Ultimately, the U.S. government is suppose to have a “government-to- government” relationship with native tribes.

In an interview with Vox, Bogado refers to the U.S. government not consulting with the Standing Rock Sioux as “environmental racism.”

“The historical emissions produced by white colonists have greatly contributed to climate change, leaving indigenous peoples and people of color—that is, the very people who didn’t contribute to global warming much at all—most vulnerable,” said Bogado.

The pipeline crossing the tribe’s main water source is solely affecting the 8,250 people living on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which is of course making

the indigenous people most vulnerable like Bogado said.

“If you live in a city, look up your closest landfill,” Bogado told Vox. “Chances are that landfill, and all the health and environmental concerns that stem from it, is in a neighborhood of color.”


The proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline travels southeast through North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Iowa. Photo courtesy of Energy Transfer, LLC

Advocates of the Dakota Access Pipeline say that the estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil that lies in the Bakken Formation, an underground deposit where North Dakota and Montana meet Canada, would greatly benefit the U.S. economy.

Constructing the pipeline would add 8,000 to 12,000 jobs and make the U.S. less dependent on the Middle East for oil.

However, opponents argue this is not the answer and the U.S. should be looking for alternative and renewable sources of energy.

Over 389,000 people agree and have signed the petition on credoaction.com

to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The controversy has gained the attention of activists, environmentalists, celebrities such as Shailene Woodley, who was arrested at a protest, and politicians Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

The fight has been invading social media as well. The hashtag #NoDAPL has been trending and many people have been “checking in” at the reservation to show their support.

Dakota Access LLC, the company behind the pipeline, plans to tunnel under Lake Oahe within the next few weeks, despite President Obama recently

saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who approved the pipeline, is looking for alternate routes. Dakota Access LLC plans to finish the pipeline by the end of 2016.

Additionally, Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in November of last year and many believe the Dakota Access Pipeline is the Keystone XL argument all over again, so maybe the pipeline can be stopped.

With 70 other oil pipelines across the U.S.- Canadian border, does the U.S. really need another one?


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