Lakota People's Law Project
Leaders from four Lakota nations are speaking with one voice against a massive proposed uptick in the amount of oil the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) will carry. They’re asking for a public hearing from the North Dakota Public Service Commission and encouraging allies to join the call.
The leaders, including the heads of three tribes, say that now, just as when the pipeline was originally constructed, they have not been adequately informed of or consulted on the plans by the pipeline’s operators.
“My main concern with DAPL is that they've basically disregarded Indian input,” stated Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, located downstream from Standing Rock. “The water comes down through here, our territory, so we have to make sure that the water is clean and stays clean.”
A prominent figure during the protests at the Standing Rock Reservation on the border of North and South Dakota in late 2016 and early 2017, Chase Iron Eyes was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and incitement of a riot during a nonviolent direct action. Those charges have since been dropped.
“Now we have a situation where it's basically a different pipeline,” said Iron Eyes, who serves as lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and public relations director for Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner. “They’re trying to pretend like they don’t owe us legal and regulatory oversight. It’s time to stand again with Standing Rock.”
The protest camps at Standing Rock inspired what Iron Eyes termed an unprecedented gathering of tribes. In the deep freeze of winter, tens of thousands of allies from across the globe, including a cadre of U.S. military veterans, joined tribal representatives in protesting the pipeline’s passage across unceded treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation.
The protests made international headlines as demonstrators poured into makeshift camps and onto the front lines of a standoff with police and private security teams. Many suffered injuries and more than 700 people were arrested before the pipeline’s construction ultimately went forward. Now, as its operators plan to build new pumping stations and increase oil flow from nearly 600,000 barrels per day to more than 1.1 million, tribal leaders are asking for the public to support them once again.
Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock tribal member who founded Sacred Stone Camp during the protests in 2016, said, “We are asking everybody to comment by Aug. 9 to the Public Service Commission of North Dakota to request a public hearing.”
Aug. 9 is the date the Commission set as its deadline for public feedback before it announces whether or not it will hold a hearing.
“This isn’t benefiting Standing Rock, our brother and sister tribes just south of us, and it’s not even benefiting the American people,” said Standing Rock Tribal Councilman Charles Walker. “It’s going towards corporations.”
Standing Rock protestors rallied around the Lakota phrase “Mni Wiconi”—water is life—and referred to themselves as “water protectors” during the stand against the pipeline’s construction. Oglala President Bear Runner traveled from his home at Pine Ridge to join the camps then, and he said that, going forward, protest should be expected whenever a pipeline threatens Lakota lands and water.
“We have to hold the United States government accountable, and we have to assert our authority,” he said. “We need to assert our sovereignty, and that's what the government needs to expect every time they come to us.”
Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier, another prominent figure during the protests, told the Lakota People’s Law Project that he has serious safety concerns about any increase to the pipeline’s oil flow. “We don't know if the pipeline is capable of handling [it], and I haven't seen any documents to justify that,” he said.
Research from the Lakota People’s Law Project say questions about the pipeline’s safety are legitimate. In the short time since Dakota Access became operational, it is known to have leaked 11 times, spilling 6,132 gallons of oil. The three companies responsible for it, Phillips 66, Energy Transfer Partners, and Sunoco, are together responsible for 69 leaks releasing a total of 222,474 gallons during the same period.
The group also has concerns about DAPL’s potential climate impacts. “Assuming 95 percent of the oil transported through DAPL is eventually combusted, the expansion project will result in 97,886,550 more tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of building 23 new coal-fired power plants on top of DAPL’s existing carbon footprint,” according to a post on the Lakota People’s Law Project website.
Standing Rock tribal member Phyllis Young, who works with the Lakota People’s Law Project, helped organize the Oceti Sakowin camp in 2016. She said it is imperative that allies stand with the Lakota once again to ensure transparency, environmental justice, and the safety of those who live downstream from the pipeline. “People who have shared in our struggle," she requested, "[please] petition for a hearing on this expansion.”
Any person wishing to join the tribal officials in calling for the public hearing can submit a comment directly to the North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Brian Kroshus via the Lakota People’s Law Project website: https://www.lakotalaw.org/dapl-hearing.
The Lakota People's Law Project operates under the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, a nonprofit law and policy center.