There was a discussion at my table last night about whether Indians in North Dakota have gained or lost respect as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. There was no consensus. But what I do know is that important voices are rising in support of Tribal actions (although not so much in support of Tribal agitators), and there is much criticism of North Dakota elected officials by some of those same voices.
I have tried to read every story written about the Dakota Access Pipeline since the day I was at the site of the proposed access to Lake Oahe, August 12, the day after the protest turned real—the day after the first arrests were made. Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune and The Forum’s Amy Dalrymple are reporting the day-to-day news, so it’s pretty easy to keep up with court actions and daily activities.
More important, though, I think, are the thoughtful voices interpreting the daily news in a way we are not accustomed to. Three of them, all contributing to the website www.unheralded.fish, all three non-Indians, seem to be looking through Indian lenses as they share their thoughts on the events alongside the Cannonball River. They are Clay Jenkinson, Tony Bender and Tom Davies.
Davies, on Tribal Respect, on September 14: “I think it is absolute nonsense that none of the hearings relating to Native lands was held on reservation land. That would, of course, have required that the Public Service Commission and its representatives get out of their office and address these people as equals — as they truly are. I listen to all of the harping and Native bashing saying that the tribes should have gone to the Public Service Commission meetings over the past couple of years. That sounds so nice to the white complainers, bashers and the racists among them. But talk about a simple solution to a complex issue: Would the current problems exist if the PSC and any other governmental agency had simply held one or more hearings on the reservations? Is that too much to ask of them? Would it have been so difficult for our governor or his representatives to meet with their Native American equals on Native lands?”
Jenkinson, on Tribal Sovereignty, on September 24: “Non-Indians have a very hard time understanding and recognizing the concept of tribal sovereignty . . . White people generally regard Indian sovereignty the way they do monopoly money — they don’t think of the Crow or the Choctaw or the Navajo as foreign nations within the boundaries of the United States, but they are willing to pretend such a state exists so long as it doesn’t affect anything non-Indians really want or need in Indian country. When Indians actually assert their sovereignty in ways that hold up the “progress of white civilization,” non-Indians become enraged, and their true contempt for Indian lives, tribes, laws and traditions bursts through their usual indifference . . . If the Dakota Access Pipeline Co. or the state of North Dakota or the North Dakota Industrial Commission or the North Dakota Public Service Commission actually respected the tribal sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux, they would not have determined to place an oil pipeline just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, any more than they would have placed the pipeline a mile south of the U.S.-Canadian border through the Red River of the North, which flows south to north into Manitoba.”
And Bender, yesterday, on the purchase of the Cannonball Ranch, by the Dakota Access people: “The purchase of the Cannonball Ranch by Dakota Access Pipeline exposes more of billionaire Kelcy Warren’s Machiavellian relentlessness. He ordered a sacred burial site bulldozed, brought in attack dogs to defend the destruction, and now he thinks he can buy his way out of it. Not so fast. North Dakota has a corporate farming law, supported by 75 percent of North Dakotans who slapped down the state Legislature in a vote last June. Former State Ag Commissioner Sarah Vogel says the purchase violates the law, which is still under attack by the North Dakota Farm Bureau and corporate interests.”
I want to follow up on Bender’s calling our attention to the corporation farming law. I visited briefly yesterday with Sarah Vogel, the attorney and former North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner, who was quoted in the Bismarck Tribune about the company’s seeming violation of the anti-corporation farming law. Sarah’s got her plate full right now and won’t be involved in an action against the company. But she doesn’t have to be. Because that’s Wayne Stenehjem’s job.
Here’s what the North Dakota Century Code’s Chapter 10-06.1-02 says:
Farming or ranching by corporations and limited liability companies prohibited.
All corporations and limited liability companies, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, are prohibited from owning or leasing land used for farming or ranching and from engaging in the business of farming or ranching.
That “except as otherwise provided” phrase means only family-owned corporations can own farmland. The company building the pipeline is a publicly traded company.
Further down in that chapter it says that the county recorder has 30 days after the title to the land is recorded to send a notice to the Attorney General that the company is likely in violation of state law, and that “The attorney general shall commence an action in the district court of the county in which the substantial portion of farmland or ranchland used in violation of this chapter is situated if the attorney general has reason to believe that any person is violating this chapter.”
Well, the Attorney General certainly has reason to believe there’s a violation. It’s been in all the papers. But when a reporter asked the Attorney General’s spokesperson if Stenehjem is going to do anything about it, she said the paperwork had not arrived yet. Good grief.
Somebody in the Attorney General’s office needs to get off their ass Monday morning and drive a couple miles across the river to the Morton County courthouse and get the paper, and slap the law all over Kelcy Warren’s face. “Commence an action.”
I swear, these Dakota Access people are the most in-your-face people I have ever seen in North Dakota. Real assholes. What they pulled earlier this month, moving their machinery in on Labor Day weekend and digging up an area identified as having burial sites was one indication of what kind of people they are. And when that didn’t work, they just went and waved a check for what I suspect was seven or eight million dollars, maybe even ten, and bought the whole damn ranch. Of course they knew it was against the law. Their slick lawyer told them that. But he also told them that once Stenehjem gets through with them, the law gives them a year to get rid of it. By then, they’ll have their pipeline built and won’t need it anymore. How cynical is that? Or Machiavellian, in Bender’s words.
Well, the ball is now in the Attorney General’s court. Let’s see how long he dribbles it around before he decides to shoot. My guess is it’ll be a pretty long game.
FOOTNOTE: Let me add that Dr. Tom Isern, history professor at NDSU, has been providing updates on the cultural and environmental assessment failures on this project on his Facebook page, an invaluable resource. Today, he called attention to this story on DeSmogBlog on conflicts of interest by the company providing the environmental assessment on this project. Earlier he shared a letter signed by more than 1,200 archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and museum workers calling for a new environmental impact statement on the project,following the destruction of burial sites by Dakota Access. Thank you, Tom.