Oil and Water Don’t Mix: Why the ACLU Is Standing Up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

On December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing by refusing to give Energy Transfer Partners permission to build a portion of the nearly 1,200-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The corps’ decision to perform an environmental impact assessment and explore alternative routes for the pipeline fulfilled the U.S.'s treaty obligations with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which vigorously protested the pipeline out of a credible fear that it could rupture and destroy its water supply, as well as acted in accordance with this nation's environmental protection laws. It was a big win for the tribe and its supporters.

But it didn’t last long.

Days after President Trump took office, he issued a memorandum and an executive order asking the corps to expedite its consideration of the company’s application for an easement to start construction. Soon after, the corps withdrew its call for the environmental study, and Energy Transfer Partners began drilling the next day. The reversal was a slap in the face of the tribe and its treaty rights with the United States. Quickly, the Standing Rock Sioux asked the courts to intervene and stop the pipeline so its impact on the environment could be assessed.

The courts are now the Standing Rock Sioux’s last hope to get the pipeline routed around its land.

That’s why this week the ACLU signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief with 34 Indian tribes and other organizations in support of a case filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers. The tribe’s lawsuit seeks to halt further drilling and construction of the pipeline until the corps conducts a proper environmental impact statement consistent with federal statutes, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the federal government’s responsibility to protect the tribe’s rights and sovereignty under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. 

The federal government has once again betrayed the Standing Rock Sioux.

As outlined in our brief, the pipeline should be halted immediately consistent with the Standing Rock Sioux’s treaty rights as well as to prevent, for good, any chance a pipeline leak or rupture could despoil the tribe’s land and water. Energy Transfer Partners, however, claims that the chance of a rupture in the river is low, but there are three responses to that claim.

First, the chance of a rupture isn’t that low. In July 2015, the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force issued a comprehensive report of pipeline failures. The study found “hundreds” of pipeline ruptures “that have occurred throughout the U.S. pipeline system.”

The report cites many examples of ruptures over the last few years. In May 2015, a pipeline failed off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, releasing 105,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. A few months earlier, another pipeline spill released 42,000 gallons of oil underneath the Yellowstone River. Two years earlier, a pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, releasing 134,000 gallons. In July 2010, a pipeline break released 840,000 gallons of oil, fouling 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Second, the possibility of a rupture — whether low or not — must be considered together with the consequences of a rupture.  Even a “moderate” release of oil into the Missouri River would have profound and devastating consequences, a subject that the company’s press releases ignore.

Lastly, it is fair to ask: Who would suffer the most by a rupture? The immediate victims of a rupture of the pipeline would be the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, now that the pipeline has been moved into their watershed. But the degradation of the water would also impact some 18 million people downstream who depend on water from the Missouri River.

Since 1974, it’s been the ACLU’s national policy to support Native Americans’ right to a tribal land base and its natural resources as well as support tribes who press their treaty rights with the U.S. government. Under treaties the Standing Rock Sioux made with the U.S. government as well as under federal statutes, the tribe has the right to protect its land, its heritage, and its water from contamination by a possible pipeline rupture. The treatment of the Standing Rock Sioux by Energy Transfer Partners and all levels of government compel us to help the tribe as they fight to stop the pipeline construction from proceeding so that a simple environmental impact assessment can be conducted.

The federal government has once again betrayed the Standing Rock Sioux and made a mockery of its obligations to the tribe while jeopardizing the drinking water of over 18 million Americans. We hope our brief helps convince the courts that a great injustice is taking place on federal land just north of the Standing Rock Sioux’s territory and that it should be stopped immediately.

Stephen L. Pevar’s book, “The Rights of Indians and Tribes” (Oxford 2012), is available here.
 

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Namenlose

To the previous commenter: the views you express here indicate that you lack an understanding of both history and current policy.

Despite what any law says to the contrary, the so called "welfare" of Native American groups is lacking severely at best. Common conditions include lack of access to public facilities, decent schools, and decent quality health care. Not so dissimilar to many other minority groups, but more pronounced. Federal money is (as usual) going to the wrong place. The "federal support" comes in the form of such extreme incompetence as the BIA. I will leave you to a Google search on that one, as it is a rant of its own.

In regards to taxes: Native Americans, (excepting the very small population who work on the reservations themselves), pay federal income tax. There is no "exemption" for being Indian.

"None of the asserted tribes possess any of the attributes of being a ‘sovereign nation:’"

1) The constitution was written in part by a man named Thomas Jefferson. He was fundamental in expanding the US onto Native American land, especially in the form of the Louisiana purchase. He bought that land from the French, (who had no claim to it to begin with), and told the tribes occupying the land to either assimilate, or be wiped out. Furthermore, this is the same document that conveniently glosses over slavery until the thirteenth amendment, and did not "recognize" women as eligible voters until 1919. The constitution was written by white, slave owning, imperialist men.

The US bans them from printing currency or maintaining a military.

As to the question of whether they "own" the land: they were removed from it in the first place by the use of force, and it became "property" of the US government.

Indian Reservations were LEGALLY recognized as foreign nations on numerous occasions. There have historically been hundreds of instances where these exact same treaties were broken, and their land “re-purposed”.

Technically, no, they are not “sovereign nations”. That is our fault.

TL;DR: You original point is invalid. Furthermore, even if it were, there has been a history of treating Native Americans unconstitutionally, in ways such as theft of land and genocide.

Given the above, I don’t think welfare is that great a concern. Think of it as us paying them back for all the land we stole. And, given that was the entire country, it may take a while.

Anonymous

We came to America and conveniently called its indigenous people "savages" so that we would assuage our guilt at killing the majority of them off so we could steal their land. Then, we "gave" them parcels of land we called reservations. NOW, just because some VERY WHITE citizens in ANOTHER AREA THROUGH WHICH THE PIPELINE COULD PASS decided they didn't want to further trash their already compromised environment, they said they'd rather it go through the Indian's parcel of land. THE NATIVE INDIANS HAVE ALWAYS RESPECTED THE ENVIRONMENT. THEY DON'T WANT TO GET "DUMPED ON" BY THE WHITES. They want that BIT OF LAND they have to be clean, and its water safe.
HAVE WE NOT DONE ENOUGH TO THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF THIS LAND??????
I SAY, "LEAVE THEIR PARCEL OF LAND ALONE. LET WHAT WE "GAVE" THEM REMAIN CLEAN. That is ALL they have after we STOLE THIS ENTIRE COUNTRY from them, MURDERING THEM OFF IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THAT HEINOUS GOAL.
Let the whites, who have caused massive pollution; climate change; and global warming have the pipeline cut through their already fouled environment.
I majored in the SCIENCES, so do not even try to say global warming does not exist-------until YOU earn YOUR Science Degree, Magna Cum Laude, with a 3.98 average.
GIVE THE INDIANS A BREAK FOR A CHANGE; LEAVE THAT CLEAN PARCEL OF LAND CLEAN. WE OWE THEM FAR MORE, so do this one thing for them, FOR GOD'S SAKE!!
AND, SPEAKING OF GOD, if individuals choose to ruin the bit of land and water to which we assigned these Indians, every one of the thieves will one DAY IN THE END TIME STAND BEFORE GOD AND BE JUDGED. MAKE NO MISTAKE.

FedUp with fool...

I can't believe anybody has the gall to claim these tribes are on government welfare . This is THEIR LAND. ALL OF IT IS THEIRS. The last time I check I don't remember reading where a European came over here on a boat during the 14 hundred and cut them out a check and purchased it out right. They were murdered for it. White folks murdered them over their own land and for those not killed .. they gave them the poorest pieces of land to live on. Every piece of land stolen from them was taken by white folks because GOLD was found on it. They may have a billion dollars awarded to them by the Feds but how can a government pay them with money that already belongs to them. The gold and land the US government stole from them under that Laramie treaty is worth more than a billion dollars that's why they won't touch that blood money . Leave these people alone. I find it hard to believe with so much federal land the Government had to go running a pipe land through the land that belongs to them.

Anonymous

Yes, the White treatment of American Indians was arrogant and haughty. But to say that a Native American tribe owns all of the USA is like saying China owns all of Asia or France owns all of Europe. I am OK with American Indian reservations not paying property taxes and I am OK with Indian reservations only allowing Native Americans to live on reservations, it is their house.

With stealing American Indian or Native American territory-is it because wars were used to take land from them or is it that the Whites were better @ being greedy ? When American Indians or Native Americans wanted territory, they used wars to get it from a neighboring tribe. In some cases, American Indian or Native American tribes would kill a neighboring tribes men in a war and then take the women and girls as their wives. Quanah Parker was the last Comanche chief-his mom was kidnapped when she was 9 years old and forced to become a Comanche chief's wife.

I’ve found with Native Americans or American Indians is that many times when they talk of ‘stolen land’ what they imply is ‘you did what I wanted to do.’ There was greed & arrogance on both the Whites & Native American sides. Yes, this nations treatment of American Indians was arrogant & wars were used to take land from American Indians. Truth about greed is that Whites were just better in greed. Before the Whites, American Indians when they wanted land be it living grounds, hunting grounds, burial grounds & fishing waters got it from other tribes by wars. When the Whites came, they wanted the same things & more be they metals such as iron, gold, silver, copper & bronze.

Truth is that when people get advanced & complicated in their technologies, the more they want. People are just potentially greedy. If American Indian tribes (esp. tribes like the Sioux, Comanches, Apaches, Aztecs, etc.) had better weapons & capabilities, they would have been conquering other places in the world & imposing their laws on others. Whites ( I’m not White) had better military capability or capacity, but when it comes to thinking, they’re the same. People are the same everywhere-Whites, Blacks, American Indians, etc. That doesn’t excuse fact this nation’s treatment of American Indians was arrogant but when you have the view of ‘you did what I wanted to do’ then you’re no better than what you say to be against.

European treatment of American Indians was arrogant, only that Native Americans treated eachother arrogantly. We don't know how many Indian or Native American tribes were killed to extincition by other Native American tribes in wars. When it came to Indians fighting wars with other tribes, Indian tribes would kill a neighboring tribes men in a war & then take the women and girls as wives.

In these cases, the defeated tribe did not even get a reservation to live on or often no treaty (not even a bad 1) by the winning tribe, they were killed off & the ethnic cleaning rapes. Yes, the reservations given by Whites was the Whites getting the better lands (with gold, iron, etc.) while the Indians got the sometimes not so good lands and we have had broken treaties such as Tears Trail. But @least with reservations or even a bad treaty, you have a fighting chance.

to say a Native American tribe (for eg. Cherokees) own the entire USA (or the North American continent) is like saying that China owns all of Asia because they're Chinese. American Indian or Native American tribes are distinct. You define let's say Cherokee territory by where they lived, raised their families, buried their dead, hunted for food and waters where they fished.

With was land stolen from Native Americans or American Indians? Wars were used by Whites to take lands from American Indians, only this topic is more complex and complicated. Yes, you have Europeans taking territory from Native Americans who were the original owners, who always had the territory without taking it from other tribes, so that would be stealing from original owners.

In some cases, Europeans took away Native American conquests such as los conquistadores conquest of the Aztecs and Incas would be taking away Native American conquests. Los conquistadores would not be the original owners, only the Aztecs and Incas would also not be the original owners as Aztecs and Incas got their lands conquering other Indian tribes before they were conquered, so that could be called taking American Indian conquests. Of course, the Spanish and Portuguese in conquering Iberoamerica & colonization did things for Spain and Portugal's (Brazil being a Portuguese colony) interests against that of Native Americans. In this case, it would be Europeans stealing American Indian conquests.

With territory, in some cases you have Native American tribes voluntarily abandoning a territory, because they found it of no use. If a territory is abandoned, then it would not be stealing if some1 else (Native American or White) settles on the territory as it's whoever wants it and arrives there first, gets it.

In some cases you had virgin territory in the Americas-lands which were not even touched. If a land had never been lived on (or even known about), then whoever finds it and settles there gets the territory (be they White or Native American). Here it would not be taking Native American lands.

With Solutrians or Solutrians-is it possible there were Europeans who immigrated to the Americas during the Ice Age? As they have found DNA mummied remains of Whites in the Americas and as some Native American art depicts people with light skin, it's possible that individual Whites could have immigrated to the Americas during the Ice Age, though it would be a small #. Solutrians or Solutreans would not own all of the Americas just as Cherokees would not own all of the USA. That also wouldn't change the fact that treatment of Native Americans or American Indians was sometimes arrogant, but it's possible individual Europeans or Solutrians could have immigrated to the Americas during the Ice Age.

Angel&Johnston 2020

Tax payer dollars going to OIL SUBSIDIES = Corporate Welfare

Hard working people paying higher tax rates than billionaires = welfare for the Oligarchy.

Anonymous

Enough is enough .....As a Native and a American. We as a people was put here to protect Grandmother Earth an her Children... Not to use up her natural resources She is a circle,you break that circle. She dies then we slowly die. What don't you get. We are going to last forever. Get real and listen what we are trying to tell you..If.we don't.stop We an our children an their children have NO FUTURE can't drink oil Government isn't for the People it always been about BIG MONEY

Mary

Anonymous..... Your a idiot.I am European descent and what my ancestors did to first people was,is disgusting. We keep stealing their land,thier children and hurting thier hearts. I stand with Standing Rock and always will.Mni Wiconi

Anonymous

I support = rights for all ethnic groups-White, Black, American Indian, Asian, etc. Blacks and Native Americans deserve to be treated fairly. If a Black man or a Native American man got more punishment than a White man for committing the same crime with same circumstances, then that is wrong & must be solved. If a Black man or an American Indian man was discriminated against in a job, then that must be solved. But it gets old to hear the same topics. I have read comments by Whites raising the fact that they treat Blacks, American Indians & other groups fairly & that it’s wrong to condemn them for past wrongs which happened long ago, such as slavery. I believe it’s wrong to condemn people for past wrongs & what matters is that they are fair. But there are Blacks, American Indians who condemn Whites no matter how fair a White person is. This condemning is wrong. If a White person treats a Black, American Indian, etc. fairly, then don’t make an issue. American Indian groups have been arrogant, haughty & complain too much than try to solve problems impacting them today.

I’ve found with Native Americans or American Indians is that many times when they talk of ‘stolen land’ what they imply is ‘you did what I wanted to do.’ There was greed & arrogance on both the Whites & Native American sides. Yes, this nations treatment of American Indians was arrogant & wars were used to take land from American Indians. Truth about greed is that Whites were just better in greed. Before the Whites, American Indians when they wanted land be it living grounds, hunting grounds, burial grounds & fishing waters got it from other tribes by wars. When the Whites came, they wanted the same things & more be they metals such as iron, gold, silver, copper & bronze.

Truth is that when people get advanced & complicated in their technologies, the more they want. People are just potentially greedy. If American Indian tribes (esp. tribes like the Sioux, Comanches, Apaches, Aztecs, etc.) had better weapons & capabilities, they would have been conquering other places in the world & imposing their laws on others. Whites ( I’m not White) had better military capability or capacity, but when it comes to thinking, they’re the same. People are the same everywhere-Whites, Blacks, American Indians, etc. That doesn’t excuse fact this nation’s treatment of American Indians was arrogant but when you have the view of ‘you did what I wanted to do’ then you’re no better than what you say to be against.

Anonymous

Mary, you're that European treatment of American Indians or Native Americans was arrogant & haughty, but let's not have the Noble Savage theory. I'm not White and while I wouldn't want to live during time of colonization, I wouldn't want to live during time of Native Americans, incl. human sacrifices, among some tribes. Before the Whites stole the territory, Native Americans got their lands by wars, which in some cases, involved killing the neighboring tribes men and kidnapping the women and girls as wives. I wouldn't want to live during the times an Indian tribe such as let's say Comanches killed their neighbors and then took the women and girls as wives.

It’s likely the Native Americans who Christopher Columbus discovered were not the original people. We know the history from 1492 in that both the Tainos and Caribs were fighting each other for land, but we don’t know what the history was before 1492, as we don’t know who was there in 1482, 1472, etc. We don’t know how long the Caribs and Tainos or Arawaks were there, how much of the land was originally theirs and whether there were other tribes living there before who were killed or expelled ? It’s possible that in 1462, there were other Natives living there before the Caribs and Tainos drove them out either by war or threat of war-after that the territory fighting left was between the Caribs and Tainos. If this is true, then the Tainos and Canibs would not be the original inhabitants, the original inhabitants would be those who were there before them.

Before continuing, will say that I am OK with American Indian reservations not paying property taxes and I am OK with Indian reservations only allowing Native Americans to live on reservations, it is their house. With stealing American Indian or Native American territory-is it because wars were used to take land from them or is the main meaing of this that the Whites were better @ being greedy ? When American Indians or Native Americans wanted territory, they used wars to get it from a neighboring tribe. In some cases, American Indian or Native American tribes would kill a neighboring tribes men in a war and then take the women and girls as their wives. Quanah Parker was the last Comanche chief-his mom was kidnapped when she was 9 years old and forced to become a Comanche chief's wife.

I’ve found with Native Americans or American Indians is that many times when they talk of ‘stolen land’ what they imply is ‘you did what I wanted to do.’ There was greed & arrogance on both the Whites & Native American sides. Yes, this nations treatment of American Indians was arrogant & wars were used to take land from American Indians. Truth about greed is that Whites were just better in greed. Before the Whites, American Indians when they wanted land be it living grounds, hunting grounds, burial grounds & fishing waters got it from other tribes by wars. When the Whites came, they wanted the same things & more be they metals such as iron, gold, silver, copper & bronze.

Truth is that when people get advanced & complicated in their technologies, the more they want. People are just potentially greedy. If American Indian tribes (esp. tribes like the Sioux, Comanches, Apaches, Aztecs, etc.) had better weapons & capabilities, they would have been conquering other places in the world & imposing their laws on others. Whites ( I’m not White) had better military capability or capacity, but when it comes to thinking, they’re the same. People are the same everywhere-Whites, Blacks, American Indians, etc. That doesn’t excuse fact this nation’s treatment of American Indians was arrogant but when you have the view of ‘you did what I wanted to do’ then you’re no better than what you say to be against.

Patrick Durusau

Glad to hear of the ACLU intervening but re-routing DAPL isn't a solution, that kicks the pollution down the road a bit. Activists should seek more effective means of stopping DAPL.

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