Two weeks after a joint announcement by the Departments of Justice, of the Army, and of the Interior called for the halt of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota, the three agencies invited representatives from all 567 federally recognized tribes to participate in government-to-government consultations on infrastructure decision making.
The agencies sent a letter to tribal offices, informing of their intent to seek tribal input on two questions specifically:
— How can federal agencies better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions, to protect tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights within the existing statutory framework?
— Should the federal agencies propose new legislation altering the statutory framework to promote these goals?
The plan for the initial consultation sessions was announced September 9 when the agencies called for the immediate, yet temporary halting of construction following federal judge James Boasberg’s denial of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction of the DAPL.
The consultation meetings are set to begin with a listening session on October 11, followed by formal tribal consultations scheduled in six regions of the country from October 25 through November 21. A deadline of November 30 has been set for written input.
In the letter to all federally recognized tribes, the agencies highlight the aggressiveness of the schedule for the sessions, but note that the reasoning is due to the subject matter and urgency of the issues.
The letter closes by stating, “We understand that tribal nations’ voices must be heard, in a timely and meaningful way, with regard to Federal decisions that could affect their treaties, homelands, environment, cultural, properties and sacred [places]. We look forward to your input as to how our agencies, and the Federal Government as a whole, can improve Federal decision-making processes that affect tribal lands and resources, and treaty rights to ensure that those decisions are fully consistent with our obligations to tribal nations.”
Following the agencies announcement, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II released the following statement: “The Obama Administration’s call for national reform on this issue is a historic moment. We welcome the Administration’s invitation to all tribes to consult on the process for decision-making on infrastructure projects. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are fighting for our lives, our people and our sacred places because of a failed process for approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not hold meaningful consultation with our tribe before approving construction of this pipeline. They did not conduct a survey of cultural resources. They have not conducted a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“We have already seen the damage caused by a lack of consultation. The ancient burial sites where our Lakota and Dakota ancestors were laid to rest have been destroyed. The desecration of family graves is something that most people could never imagine.
“The Army Corps must conduct a full EIS. Our water, our resources and our lives are at risk because of this pipeline. Our sacred places that we have lost can never be replaced. The Army Corps and all federal agencies have a responsibility to our tribe, and all tribes, to honor the treaties. This invitation is a good start but the government has a lot more to do to permanently protect the millions of people who rely on the Missouri River for water and who are put at serious risk because of this pipeline. They can start by stopping construction until the EIS is complete.