“So, first thing to understand that what’s taking place there is the—everybody else acknowledging what some of us have known for a long time, which is that frontline communities, and particularly indigenous people, have been in the forefront of this climate fight. They were in the Keystone fight, and now clearly in the Dakotas. They’re holding the line against something that threatens not only their reservation, but threatens the whole planet. We do not—we cannot pump more oil. We’ve got to stop opening up new reserves.”
– Bill McKibben, September 30, 2016
Bypassing the hysterical anti-fossil fuel tirades which seemingly characterize the majority of the non-Indian pipeline protesters, there are some seemingly plausible claims about the legality and safety of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and its route.
Regarding safety, it is relevant to remember that the crude oil which this one-thousand-mile pipeline will transport is now being carried in railroad tank cars, which are relatively more susceptible to spills and will be supplanted. It should also be noted that the proposed crossing of the Missouri River already has eight pipelines which cross the Missouri upstream from this site and that the pipeline will be buried 100 feet under the riverbed.
The emotional factor raised by the “water-protector” protesters is that its crossing is close to the freshwater intake for the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. However, as of May 31, the Army Corps of Engineers will have moved this drought-threatened shallow water intake seventy miles further south on the Missouri River. Ironically this new intake will be near a railroad trestle which also carries a different pipeline.
Turning to the violation of property rights question, the pipeline does not cross the present-day Standing Rock reservation but crosses what the Tribe describes as “ancestral, unceded treaty” lands. These lands were part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which expressly states that all Indian land may not exclude railroads, roads, and utility access.
So even though the Tribe has not recognized the Supreme Court ruling regarding the subsequent “taking” of some reservation land after the Treaty, the Treaty still supports the current pipeline transit.
The pipeline company has tried to accommodate most North Dakota landowners’ demands by agreeing to 17 route changes. State and Federal agencies have held many hearings on the proposed route that the Standing Rock Tribe has not chosen to attend.
Instead the Reservation has partnered with the radical environmental group Earth Justice to pursue further legal redress in court, escalating the conflict into an ill-behaved non-resident army of protesters and a national spectacle.
The Trump administration is now in process to issue the remaining permits to finish the pipeline, thwarting the keep-it-in-the-ground movement. In any case, saving the planet is hardly the first concern of the indigenous people in this instance.
The content for this article is based on an online interview and postings by longtime North Dakota blogger Rob Port.