Published December 15, 2016
WASHINGTON— The surreal meeting on Friday, December 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C. was a direct result of frontline water protectors, tribal leaders, spiritual leaders and elders, the camps at Standing Rock, and allies all across the world praying and participating in non-violent direct actions for the successful denial of the Dakota Access Pipeline easement and the repeated tribal requests for an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”).
At a meeting coordinated by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, tribal representatives from the leadership of the Cheyenne River, Oglala, Standing Rock, and Yankton Sioux Tribes met at the Department of the Interior with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps, and the Department of Interior to discuss next steps for agency review of the Dakota Access easement request. Lowry Crook, Deputy Assistant of the Army for Civil Works, explained to the group that a scoping meeting for the EIS would be held with interested tribes shortly and that a notice for the EIS would appear in the Federal Register, mandating its completion. Crook told the tribal representatives that the Army is working “expeditiously” on the next steps in the process under the National Environmental Policy Act, “which will include opportunities for tribal input.” The tribes present strongly asserted the need for the EIS to assess the entire pipeline, rather than just a small portion of the route.
Tribal representatives expressed a strong desire to hold the scoping meeting in the Dakotas. Whether that will happen remains to be seen and will continue to be pursued. The Yankton Sioux Tribe requested to be a “cooperating agency” to oversee and participate in the development of the EIS. Tribes are also requesting consultation on the reissuance of Nationwide Permit 12.
Extended heated discussion dwelled on the need to remove the oppressive law enforcement presence surrounding the Standing Rock camps, which have proven to be a flashpoint for violence. Officials present stated that they will strive to meet that request. Tribal officials continued to press for an investigation into the extreme violence inflicted on water protectors over the past several months. Federal officials may visit the site in a few days if it is feasible, as time is short for the end of their political appointments.
Following the meeting, a Corps official confirmed that the Corps is not raising the water level at Lake Oahe, stating that “we are dropping reservoir levels by 1.5 feet between now and March 1st to create additional flood storage capacity for spring runoff as part of normal winter reservoir operations.” This issue was raised in order to address fears voiced at the Standing Rock camps that the water was being raised.
Earlier that day, individuals representing the Yankton, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Oglala Sioux Tribes testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) at a thematic hearing. While the hearing was of a general nature, testimony focused primarily on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the human rights violations that have occurred in conjunction with both approval of the pipeline and related law enforcement actions.
The United States was also represented at the IACHR hearing, providing testimony through six federal officials including Director Tracy Toulou, Office of Tribal Justice; Chip Smith, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army; and Valerie Hauser, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. U.S. testimony acknowledged inadequacies in federal government consultation with tribes regarding infrastructure projects, and focused largely on assertions that the agencies are working on complying with the law and with the requirement of free, prior and informed consent. Little or no substantive information was provided to show if and how this is actually happening.
The IACHR Commissioners were receptive to the tribes’ pleas and concerns, encouraging tribal leaders to continue their pursuit of justice for the alleged human rights violations.
Following the IACHR hearing, the tribal delegation visited the office of Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders met with the group and asked for input and recommendations to address challenges faced by Native communities. The Senator said they would be working with another Congressional Representative to further study the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory and rights under that treaty. Tribal officials invited him to make a visit to the Dakotas on an information gathering visit with the tribes.
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