Mary Annette Pember
For the first time in NCAI history, a leader from the Army Corps of Engineers addressed the gathering. Major General Donald “Ed” Jackson, Commander General of the Corps, gave an overview of the Corps role in infrastructure projects.

A Call To Obama And Feds To Halt DAPL At NCAI Consultation

Mary Annette Pember

Phoenix, AZ — On Sunday, October 9, the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction to stop construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline near the reservation. Within hours, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) began shipping in more equipment and workers to resume construction on private land.

Within two days of the ruling, however, the U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior and the Army issued the following statement about the decision in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

“The Army continues to review issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members and hopes to conclude its ongoing review soon. In the interim, the Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe. We repeat our request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

In response to the court ruling and reports of Energy Transfer Partner’s actions, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “Not surprisingly, Energy Transfer Partners has ignored the Obama Administration’s call to voluntarily halt construction and continues to desecrate our sacred places. They have proven time and time again that they are more interested in money than the health and well being of the 17 million people who get their drinking water from the Missouri River. They have bulldozed over the burials of our Lakota and Dakota ancestors and have no regard for the sanctity of these places.”

“President Obama has the power to change the fate of the water users who stand to lose clean water. We need him to take action now. Our lives are at risk and the places we hold sacred are at risk. Millions have stood with us in opposition to this pipeline and he must heed their call,” he added.

Brian Cladoosby, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) rightfully described this as a defining moment for Indian country during his speech at the NCAI’s annual conference being held in Phoenix this week. The pipeline opposition at Standing Rock has focused the world’s attention on the long-standing tendency for federal agencies to disregard or view tribal input or consultation on infrastructure projects as a mere formality.

Chairman Archambault delivered a speech to several hundred NCAI delegates yesterday in which he underscored this troubling fact. “Too often tribes are invited to speak to low level agency representatives during the consultation process in infrastructure projects. We pour our hearts out to them as we share what’s important to us,” he said. “When these officials go back to Washington to share our concerns, our message is lost. We need to be in that room with the decision makers.”

Archambault took the opportunity to provide a timeline and overview of the events leading up to the current situation at Standing Rock regarding opposition to the DAPL. He discussed what went wrong with the consultation process with the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency overseeing permits for the DAPL.

In February 2015, the tribe was invited to consult with the Corps on Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Section 106 requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties; the process includes consultation with Indian tribes about the impact of project on their lands. According to Archambault, the tribe was presented with already completed plans for the pipeline. In contrast, he noted that other federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) share early notification of projects before embarking on construction.

“Tribes should be at the steering level of such infrastructure projects,” Archambault said. “This has been a vehicle for change in policy reform. The change is coming as a result of all of us coming together and standing together. It shows what unity and prayer can do; this wouldn’t be happening without all 322 tribal nations that have publicly stood together with us.”

He cautioned that he hopes that policy reform doesn’t come at the expense of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “I would hate for these changes in policy to go through at our sacrifice.” He reminded the crowd that the focus for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is and has always been the Missouri River and its water.

“Our focus is on the river. Everybody wants to shift us away from that, the administration and other interests. They want to focus on the permitting and consultation process or on police brutality and as a result we start to lose track of our main focus. It is about the water, clean water for our people,” he said.

“As long as they haven’t yet dug under the river, we still have a chance to save our water,” Archambault added. “We are using our sovereignty to protect our water. I can’t predict the future but I know that we will do whatever we can to protect our future generations.” Archambault invited supporters to send letters to President Obama demanding that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement and deny permits until that process is completed.

For the first time in NCAI history, a leader from the Army Corps of Engineers addressed the gathering. Major General Donald “Ed” Jackson, Commander General of the Corps, gave an overview of the Corps role in infrastructure projects.

Larry Roberts, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, told ICTMN this will have a lasting impact on the process. “We have a number of federal agencies from across the government working closely with tribes to see how we can improve the process as it concerns these horizontal infrastructure projects (such as DAPL). I don’t know that we have before seen federal agencies come together collectively to consult with Indian country in this way.”

On Tuesday, October 11, representatives from the Departments of Justice, Interior and Army conducted the first in a series of promised tribal listening and consultation sessions regarding federal infrastructure decision-making. Federal representatives included Tracy Toulou of the Office of Tribal Justice of the Department of Justice, Roberts and Mike Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Tracy Canard-Goodluck, White House Council on Native American Affairs, and several representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tribal leaders lined up on either side of the Phoenix Convention Center ballroom, many giving impassioned speeches about the lack of federal consultation in various infrastructure projects that have negatively affected their communities.

Ken Hall, tribal council member of the Three Affiliated Tribes asked the representatives, “How many more injustices do we have to endure before you listen to us?”

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