Published July 28, 2016
WAGNER, SOUTH DAKOTA – The Yankton Sioux Tribe was shocked and outraged by Monday’s announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) had issued a “verification letter” regarding pre-construction notifications for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed pipeline is slated to be constructed through aboriginal and treaty territory of the Ihanktonwan Oyate, or Yankton Sioux Tribe.
On Monday, July 26, 2016, tribal officials learned that the Corps had issued a letter determining that construction of the proposed pipeline at 10 different sites under the Corps’ jurisdiction in South Dakota is authorized by a Nationwide Permit Dakota Access received in 2012. The Yankton Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Officer was notified that construction at the 10 approved South Dakota sites for the unlawful project will begin in five days. The Tribe’s leadership is astonished by this development, as formal consultation regarding the project, which is required by federal law, has not even commenced.
Federal laws including the National Historic Preservation Act and Executive Order 13007 require federal agencies like the Corps to engage in meaningful consultation with Indian tribes that would be affected by a federal undertaking such as approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Faith Spotted Eagle, Chair of the Treaty Committee, expressed disgust at the repeat of Army Corps relinquishment of trust responsibility, as has repeatedly happened historically, most notably with the destruction of Oceti Sakowin River communities.
“Whether it’s this year, next year or fifty years from now, our tribal people will prevail in protecting Mother Earth from corporate privatization of Native lands. We are patient, we will never give up,” state Spotted Eagle.
On May 18, 2016, members of the Tribe’s Business and Claims Committee, Treaty Steering Committee, and invited guests met with Colonel Henderson and others from the Corps in a pre-consultation meeting to establish groundwork that will ensure the Corps complies with and respects the Tribe’s right to meaningful consultation moving forward in the consultation process.
The Tribe will not permit the Corps to merely pay lip service to the Tribe as it and other federal agencies have historically done with tribes in the past. The Tribe has provided the Corps with Tribally-adopted Consultation Protocols that will govern the consultation process for this and future federal undertakings. No consultation has yet occurred, but a formal consultation meeting will be held in the near future.
Yankton Sioux Tribal leadership believes that the Corps’ action in taking this major step to advance the project without legally-mandated consultation with the Tribe is unacceptable and a violation of federal law. The rights, health, and welfare of the Tribe are at stake and must be protected for the sake of future generations. Also at risk are untold numbers of burials and cultural sites, many of which have not been identified due to Dakota Access’ failure to utilize Tribal experts in its cultural survey process. The Corps’ finding of no adverse effect on significant cultural resources is wholly unsupported and in fact contradicted by information the Corps itself has reviewed and evidently disregarded. The majority of the land the pipeline would cross in South Dakota has been federally adjudicated to be aboriginal territory of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.
The failure of the Corps to fulfill its trust obligations to the Tribe and its duties under the law is not being taken lightly. “We are on a warpath,” declared Business and Claims Committee Member Jason Cooke. “We as a nation are very outraged and disappointed with the Corps and their decision and lack of consultation with our people.” The Tribe plans to take whatever measures necessary to protect its interests in this unlawful process.
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