The fast-tracking of the Dakota Access Pipeline is another example of the federal government granting the construction of potentially hazardous projects near or through tribal lands, waters and cultural places without including the tribe in the decision-making process.
In 1967, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began construction on its Tellico Dam and Reservoir project. Once operational, the dam would convert the Little Tennessee River from a shallow, fast-moving stream, to a deep reservoir approximately 30 miles in length. It would also back water up onto 16, 500 acres of previously dry land. The Cherokee Indians brought a case against the TVA claiming that completion of the project would result in the flooding of lands considered sacred. The Cherokee Tribe alleged that the TVA had violated the National Historic Provision Act (NHPA), among other laws. The court dismissed the case citing the provision in the Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill that authorized completion of the project in spite of any other laws which might prohibit it. Sequoyah v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 620 F.2d 1159 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 953 (1980). The dam inundated the land of historic tribal communities of the Overhill Cherokee.
In the 1980’s a series of laws bolstered tribal sovereignty through the ability of tribes to maintain control over federal resources. Despite these laws the federal government has acted in ways that continue to threaten tribal self-determination. Vine Deloria, Jr has asserted that a form of cultural imperialism has taken over from territorial conquest. Imperialism, here, is referring to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization. Historically according to Vine Deloria, Jr, the doctrines of discovery and trust have been linked. As long as any government lays claim to Indian lands based on the doctrine of discovery, then that government willingly assumes a role as protectorate of Indigenous nations. In striving for self-determination as indigenous peoples we naturally come in conflict with governments and corporations. The government has a federal trust responsibility to protect or enhance tribal assets (including fiscal, natural, human, and cultural resources) through policy decisions and management actions. These actions must benefit tribes and respect tribal wishes. It’s imperative that tribes be included in the decision-making process until a time when the federal government can be trusted to uphold its role as protectorate of Indigenous nations.
The current proposed route of the 1,168 mile long crude oil pipeline, which will transport nearly 470,000 barrels of oil each day across four states, crosses under Lake Oahe, just a half mile up from the Standing Rock Reservation. The pipeline could cause harm to the Tribe’s cultural, water, and natural resources. The tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arguing that they were not adequately consulted before granting Energy Transfer Partners fast track approval. A federal appeals court ruled to officially halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to give the court more time as it assessed concerns that the pipeline could destroy sacred sites and burial grounds.
"I know that many of you have come together across tribes and across the country to support the community at Standing Rock," said President Obama. "And together, you're making your voices heard." The remarks were made in his address at the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. These words coming from the highest office in the nation is rhetoric in light of the continued aggression by the government toward our sovereign nations.
For several weeks many of the 567 tribes have joined thousands of others – the site of Oceti Sakowin Camp - and gathered to protect the land from this new threat to our sovereignty. "We are a movement that has brought unity to Indian Country," Dave Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Tribe, told NBC News. "And we have heightened the awareness to all Americans of the ongoing injustices against indigenous peoples."On October 9th The tribe’s request for an injunction was denied “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not backing down from this fight,” said Archambault in a statement after the decision was delivered “We are guided by prayer, and we will continue to fight for our people. We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”
Donna Ennis is the Community Center Manager for Fond du Lac Reservation where she is also a respected tribal elder. She is working on her Master’s degree in Tribal Administration and Governance at the University of Minnesota Duluth.