Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II vowed to continue fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) after a three-judge panel on Sunday October 9 denied the tribe’s request for an injunction that would have stopped the pipeline’s progress through treaty-protected, sacred burial grounds.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not backing down from this fight,” said Archambault in a statement after the decision came down at 4 p.m. “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.”
In a two-page ruling, U.S. District Court judges Janice Rogers Brown, Thomas B. Griffith and Cornelia T.L. Pillard acknowledged the “narrow and stringent standard” that formed their legal parameters and noted that key permits allowing the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River are still pending. It also gave a nod to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, noting it “was intended to mediate precisely the disparate perspectives involved in a case such as this one.”
The ruling came down as Native leaders gathered in Phoenix for the 73rd Annual Convention & Marketplace of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), as members participated in a Department of Interior water consultation with tribes at the Phoenix Convention Center. There was an audible gasp of disappointment from the 150 or more attendees at the consultation as NCAI President Brian Cladoosby announced that the court had denied Standing Rock’s appeal of an initial denial on September 9.
The panel had heard arguments on October 5.
While disappointed, Cladoosby expressed some hope for closer study of the consultation process in general.
“But they left I think a window open for our trustee the federal government to really examine the 106 process and make sure that their consultation process is adequate for projects like this one that affects tribes at this level,” he told ICTMN.
The consultation had followed a day-long National Water Summit hosted by the Intertribal Council of Arizona and the Native American Rights Fund. Presenters from federal, tribal and state organizations and agencies had shared information about current Indian water rights settlements, implementation processes, economic development and protecting tribal water quality from climate change and the impact of drought. The decision to engage tribes in consultations regarding federal processes surrounding negotiation and reviewing Indian water rights settlements and potential improvements to the process had been motivated partially by the controversy in Standing Rock, Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Thousands of water protectors have gathered in camps near the Standing Rock reservation in support of keeping the DAPL away from Lake Oahe, the tribe’s source of drinking water.
“This ruling puts 17 million people who rely on the Missouri River at serious risk,” said Archambault in the statement. “And, already, the Dakota Access Pipeline has led to the desecration of our sacred sites when the company bulldozed over the burials of our Lakota and Dakota ancestors. This is not the end of this fight. We will continue to explore all lawful options to protect our people, our water, our land, and our sacred places.”
The U.S. Department of Justice and other agencies reiterated their request for a work stoppage within a 20-mile buffer zone around Lake Oahe, but with the denial of the injunction, compliance on the part of Energy Transfer Partners is once again voluntary, the Bismarck Tribune reported after the decision.
“The federal government recognizes what is at stake and has asked DAPL to halt construction,” said Archambault in the tribe’s statement. “We hope that they will comply with that request.”
“We call on Dakota Access to heed the government’s request to stand down around Lake Oahe,” added Jan Hasselman, lead attorney from Earthjustice, which is representing the tribe. “Continuing construction before the decision is made would be a tragedy given what we know about the importance of this area.”
The justices noted that other permits are still pending, and that the pipeline can’t proceed until those issues are resolved.
“But ours is not the final word,” they wrote. “A necessary easement still awaits government approval—a decision Corps’ counsel predicts is likely weeks away; meanwhile, Intervenor DAPL has rights of access to the limited portion of pipeline corridor not yet cleared—where the Tribe alleges additional historic sites are at risk. We can only hope the spirit of Section 106 may yet prevail.”