by Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
CANNONBALL, N.D. — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sought a preliminary injunction to stop the construction of a $3.7billion pipeline until their lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is heard. The judge, James A. Boasberg of United States District Court, wanted more time to determine whether the Corps failed to follow federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, in its environmental review of the pipeline project. A ruling on the injunction is expected September 9.
The pipeline spans over 1,100 miles over four states and is the first to bring Bakken shale in North Dakota directly to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Dakota Access is the group of firms behind the pipeline, which is led by Energy Transfer Partners. Supporters of the pipeline say this will be a more cost-effective way to transport the shale to the Gulf and assert it is safer than using roads and railways.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been protesting the construction since April in order to protect their burial sites, sacred land, and the Tribe’s main water supply. There are now three distinct camps, the original Sacred Stone Spirit camp, the main Seven Council camp on the north side of the Cannonball River, and the Rosebud camp across the river. The main camp was established last spring to fight the construction of the pipeline that is expected to travel under the Missouri River on treaty lands a half of a mile from the Standing Rock reservation. Other Tribes and Nations have joined the camp in solidarity to protect the water and advocate for treaty rights. Accounts of the number of people at the camps vary from 1,000 to 3,000 over the last few weeks. A part of the camp traveled to Washington, D.C. to fill the court room and demonstrate outside the courthouse.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have confirmed that Energy Transfer Partners does not have a written easement to build the pipeline on Corps property. In July the Corps issued Section 408 permission, which allows the easement to be written, but the easement itself is still under review. The Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency objected to the Corps permission. Corps spokesman Larry Janis discussed current construction saying, “They can’t build the project by accessing corps property from west to east across Lake Oahe.” The lack of an easement became clear in the federal district court case. “Everybody thought they had it, this is really important information,” said attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, one of four attorneys volunteering their legal services to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and individuals that may get arrested in the protests.
Amnesty International and United Nations observers have been making visits to the camp. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the International Treaty Council have appealed to the United Nations by submitting an urgent action communication to four U.N. human rights special rapporteurs on the grounds that the tribe’s water supply is directly threatened by construction of the pipeline. The appeal states, “We specifically request that the United States Government impose an immediate moratorium on all pipeline construction until the treaty rights and human rights of the Standing Rock Tribe can be ensured and their free, prior and informed consent is obtained.” The Dakota Access pipeline allegedly violates the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples including the “right to health, right to water and subsistence, threats against sacred sites including burial grounds, Treaty Rights, cultural and ceremonial practices, free prior and informed consent, traditional lands and resources including water, productive capacity of the environment, and self-determination.”
The appeal also asserts environmental racism in the Corps’ decision to relocate the pipeline from north of Bismarck due to concerns of the impact on the city’s water supply without concern for the impact on the Tribe’s main water supply. The Corp has also issued permits to dig through burial grounds that are protected by protocols established by the National Historic Preservation Act that the Tribe alleges are not being followed.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency which allows for resources to be mobilized through the State Emergency Operations Plan and helps state and local agencies with more funding for public safety. Some residents are questioning the use of resources to protect Energy Transfer Partners. North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers and other agencies are manning a police barricade that stops and reroutes those going to the reservation but gives access to those north of the reservation. Private security has also been employed, including the recent use of dogs and pepper spray.
In addition to easement issues and potential human rights violations, residents in other states impacted by the pipeline have also filed suit. In Iowa, farmers are suing the government asserting that Dakota Access LLC is illegally using eminent domain to gain rights of way onto their land.
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