The most consistent argument made by North Dakota regulators and the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline against the protest actions of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies is that the Tribe entered the pipeline approval process too late. They should have made their feelings known earlier in the process.
In mid-November, just a couple weeks ago, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) CEO Kelcy Warren told reporters “I really wish, for the Standing Rock Sioux, that they had engaged in discussions way before they did. I don’t think we would have been having this discussion if they did. We could have changed the route. It could have been done, but it’s too late.”
Well, let’s see now.
A recently released tape recording of a meeting between the Standing Rock Tribal Council and ETP representatives reveals the Tribe went on record opposed to the pipeline crossing as early as 2012, and told the company, unequivocally, in September of 2014, more than two years ago, that they opposed the pipeline’s proposed crossing of the Missouri River near their reservation boundary. Told the company face to face.
On September 30, 2014, ETP Vice President for Engineering Chuck Frey, and Tammy Ibach, with a local public relations firm representing ETP, met with the tribe to “detail the project and answer questions,” in Frey’s words.
Ibach, who, led off the presentation after introductions with the words “We brought lunch,” told the Tribal Council members the pipeline was going to be routed 1,500 feet north of the Standing Rock Reservation boundary.
To which Standing Rock Tribal chairman Chairman Dave Archambault II replied “We recognize our treaty boundaries from 1851 and 1868, and because of that we oppose the pipeline. We have a standing resolution passed in 2012 that opposes the pipeline within that treaty boundary. This is something that the tribe is not supporting. We’ll listen to your presentation and then ask our Tribal Historic Preservation Officer to help remind your company of the federal laws that include Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.”
That’s how the meeting started. Archambault could not have been more clear. “We oppose the pipeline.” Warren’s statement this month, more than two years later, was totally disingenuous. And no one in the media, that I can find, called him on it.
The Tribal Council, at that September 30, 2014 meeting, listened to Frey for about 15 minutes and heard him say “2,500 feet is the closest we will come to the current tribal boundary.” As opposed to Ibach’s statement a few minutes earlier that the distance was 1,500 feet. No matter. The tribe insisted for much of an hour, with a tape recorder running, that they would oppose the pipeline at that location. If you want, you can go listen to the meeting by clicking here.
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Waste Win Young told the company reps that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) allows the Tribe to assign historic significance to areas threatened by development regardless of whether projects are on tribal land or not. She acknowledged that the proposed route was already home to the Northern Border Pipeline, but the Northern Border Pipeline was built in 1981. It was not until 1992, when amendments to the NHPA were approved, that the tribes were given the right to consult on these projects. The Tribe had no legal say in that pipeline route. I wasn’t aware that Section 106 applies to land off the reservation, but Young says it does, and she’s the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer, so I have to assume she knows what she’s talking about.
So I’d have to guess that statements by regulators and the pipeline company that the tribe never offered any complaints about the Northern Border Pipeline are also disingenuous—the tribe says it was never consulted because the pipeline builders were not required to do that at that time.
In the September 30, 2014 meeting, the Tribal Council was polite but firm in their conviction that they would oppose the pipeline. But Young also said the tribe would ask they be consulted on the route, “because we know where our significant sites are.” Young said “This is on treaty land. If we know your route, we can help you identify important sites.”
Remember, this was two years ago, and more than a full year before construction of the pipeline started.
Young also said she believed the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would cross the Missouri River directly under a village site. Young continued, “There is an island that gets exposed when the Oahe Reservoir level drops. That island is part of a larger village that is presently inundated. There are human remains, artifacts, pottery shells, and tools throughout the entire channel. Across the Missouri River on the eastern shore there are Dakota camps.”
Young went on to explain the historical significance of the area on the east side of the Missouri as well.
She concluded her presentation saying “For us to officially endorse or accept a proposal that would negatively impact our cultural sites, our prayer sites, our duties and responsibilities as stewards of the land, would be unacceptable, and goes against the very interest of our office in identifying and preserving what we have left here for our people, our children. Thank you for coming, but the risks are too great for our children.”
A discussion followed between Tribal Council members and the company’s representatives about new and existing cultural resources surveys. Would the Tribe be allowed to participate in the company’s surveys? Frey replied that he didn’t know but would get back to the Council. “We’ve gotten the public information the state has and we’re trying to overlay that with our maps and have that shown as points to avoid,” Frey said. “Would the tribe share its knowledge with us? Do you have maps?”
Frey was told that the tribe “doesn’t put that out publicly, but would share it privately.” He told the Council the company would be willing to re-route the pipeline if the contractors come in contact with some artifacts.
Tribal Council member Avis Little Eagle told the group that earlier in the week, the Standing Rock Tribal Water Contract Board had passed a resolution to oppose the pipeline.
Little Eagle said the Tribe monitors the waters on the reservation, and has intakes on the river for water for Tribal consumption. She said a major concern of her board was contamination of the water.
“They all leak, no matter what, every oil pipeline leaks, and we’re going to end up contaminating our water,” Little Eagle told the company’s representatives.
At the conclusion of Little Eagle’s remarks, Chairman Archambault pointed out that the Tribal Council already had passed a resolution opposing it. Remember, this is 2014.
Tribal elder Phyllis Young concluded the meeting. Here are her remarks.
“We have survived incredible odds. You must know that we are Sitting Bull’s people. You must know who we are. And we sit on a previous military fort, and we have survived that. And we have rebuilt on what was taken from us. We survived Wounded Knee, a massacre. We are survivors. We are fighters. And we are protectors of our land.
“We realize we are in a national sacrifice area. We have always been. The Black Hills are part of our territory. National sacrifice so America could take the largest gold mine and take all the gold from our people. We have about five billion dollars in the (national) treasury that we did not take for payment of that gold. We’re a national sacrifice area.
“We were the number one military zone. They nationalized our airspace to protect our country. And in my lifetime, a national sacrifice area to build the dams so that there could be hydropower and revenue in the national interest for this country. And taking my home, flooding it, in the middle of a cold winter, I know what it is to be homeless, I know what it is to be hungry in this great land of plenty, where we lived in the richest riverbed in the world.
“So it’s nothing for you to come and say you want to do this, we want to be friends with you. But in Section 106, what the National Historic Preservation Office has addressed is ancestral territory. It was very astute for you to go around the northern boundary of Standing Rock as we see it in modern times. But this is treaty territory. Those are ancestral lands. So you are bound by Section 106, by the laws of this country, to adhere to those laws that are federal laws for the protection of our people.
“We are not stupid people, we are not ignorant people. Do not underestimate the people of Standing Rock. We know what’s going on, and we know what belongs to us, and we know what we have to keep for our children and our grandchildren. In statute we are also keepers of the river to the east bank. That’s statutory. And the Army corps of Engineers, in all their underhandedness, and their control, they think they have of this river–this is our territory.
“You mentioned nothing about the water. You don’t want to infringe on Native lands, but our water is our single last property that we have for our people, and water is life. Mni Wiconi.
“How do you separate it? How are you going to separate the oil from the water when it’s contaminated? How are you going to do that? Only the creator can do that. Maybe in your higher technology you think you can. But this is our property, this is our homeland. And we will do whatever we have to do to stop this pipeline.
“We will put on our best warriors in the front. We are the vanguard. We are Hunkpapa Lakota. That means the horn of the buffalo. That’s who we are. We are the protectors of our nation. The Seven Council Fires. Know who we are.
“We will put forward our young people, our young warriors, who understand the weasel words, now, of the English language, who know that one word can mean seven things. We understand the forked tongue that our grandfathers talked about. We know about talking out of both sides of your mouth, smiling with one side of your face. We know all the tricks of the wasichu world. Our young people have mastered it. I have mastered your language. I can speak eloquently in the English language my grandmother taught me. I also have the collective memory of the damages that have occurred to my people. And I will never submit to any pipeline to go through my homeland.”
And the meeting ended. I don’t know whether they ate Tammy’s lunch or not.