In North Dakota protest, new exposure for tribal issues


For over two weeks, hundreds of people have been camped out in protest near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, halting construction of what would be a 1,170-mile oil pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken to connect with other pipelines in Illinois, but tribal members say it would threaten both their water supply and ancestral burial grounds. The protests, which have now drawn thousands of participants, are the latest event in a long history of battles between Native American communities, on one side and extractive industry and the federal government on the other. One thing that makes the current protests different from those in the past: Images from social media are reaching a broad audience and a public that is more apt to rally around climate change issues following the high-profile fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline last year.

In this case, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, represented by the national nonprofit Earthjustice, sued the Army Corps of Engineers, who issued permits to Energy Transfer Partners to build the pipeline. Earthjustice and the tribe say the permits violate the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Rivers and Harbors Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The pipeline would not cross directly over reservation land, but it would traverse ancestral land. It would also be built beneath Lake Oahe, a dammed portion of the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for the tribe and also holds spiritual significance. The tribe is concerned that oil spills could taint the water and that the construction would disturb significant tribal sites. The tribe claims in an Aug. 4 motion for injunction that the government did not adequately consult with the tribe before granting a permit to begin construction, which is required by the NHPA.


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