Tribes Push Back as President Donald Trump Revives Unwanted Pipelines
Tribal leaders across the nation are standing united as they push back against unwanted infrastructure projects on their homelands.
The battle is unfortunately a familiar one. For decades, and even centuries, massive dams, sprawling highways, poisonous mines, radioactive nuclear facilities, dangerous military ranges and similar developments have been imposed on tribes by officials in Washington, D.C., often without a full consideration of the impacts on the affected communities.
This time the directive is coming from the highest level of the federal government. On his fourth full day in office, Republican President Donald Trump revived two controversial oil pipelines that no one in Indian Country wanted.
"We knew this day was coming," said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who has been one of the leading voices against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses her family's and her people's ancestral and treaty lands in North Dakota.
Trump's action, which came in the form of a presidential memorandum, does not authorize completion of the controversial project. It instead calls for the "expedited" consideration of the final portion, located less than a half-mile from Standing Rock.
But nowhere in the directive was a requirement for consultation of the tribe or any of the communities affected by the pipeline. Indeed, when Trump was asked if he wanted to speak to the concerns raised by the tribe and its many allies, he shook his head back in forth in silence from his desk in the Oval Office.
Additionally, the new president opened the door for the withdrawal of an environmental review that is supposed to address treaty rights, water resources and other significant issues regarding the final portion near Standing Rock.
“President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a press release. “Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”
Tribal leaders and tribal activists joined Archambault in condemning the White House's actions. They vowed to work together to ensure that the environmental review, which was initiated two days before Trump took office, doesn't get derailed under the new regime in Washington.
“If an oil spill happens, it will not only impact Indian Country but it will impact millions of people who utilize the water for livestock, farming, and recreation,” President Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the U.S., said in a press release. “We hope President Trump understands that Native Americans will always stand to protect our land, water, air and resources given to us by our Creator.”
In pushing Dakota Access forward and in reviving the Keystone XL Pipeline that tribes fought for years to defeat, Trump said construction activities would create a "lot of jobs" for Americans. A separate memorandum would put more people back to work by requiring pipelines to be made with American materials, he asserted.
But Fawn Sharp, the president of the Quinault Nation, said protecting America's natural resources creates far more jobs and more opportunity than oil pipelines. Fears of oil spills and other environmental damage are among the reasons tribes are fighting Dakota Access and Keystone.
"President Trump makes the point that thousands of jobs are created with the construction of these pipelines," said Sharp, who also serves as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter-tribal organization in the U.S. "But he exaggerates the number, neglects to mention that they are temporary jobs and fails to mention that the number of jobs dependent on clean water and healthy lands far outnumber pipeline construction jobs."
Going forward, tribes and activists are planning to lobby the Department of the Army to keep the environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the final portion of Dakota Access alive. Comments are being accepted until February 20 and public meetings are supposed to be held in North Dakota, provided that the Trump administration doesn't rescind a crucial notice that was published in the Federal Register on January 18.
Indian Country is also reaching out to allies on Capitol Hill, although there won't be much support from Republicans. The new leader of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and he supports completion of Dakota Access. He also backs the revival of Keystone.
Key Democrats, on the other hand, are condemning Trump's declaration of war. "Tribes have a right to have a say in any decisions that may impact their health, land, and cultural survival," Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), who has taken part in his share of indigenous resistance efforts, said on Tuesday.
The #NoDAPL movement, a grassroots collective of Native and non-Native allies, isn't slowing down either despite plans to evacuate and clean up Oceti Sakowin, the largest encampment in North Dakota. Key leaders and organizers were in Washington during Trump's inauguration on Friday and for the Women's March on Washington on Saturday to advocate for their water protection efforts. Over a half-million people, including indigenous leaders, participated in the historic march.
“These attacks will not be ignored, our resistance is stronger now than ever before and we are prepared to push back at any reckless decision made by this administration," Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. "If Trump does not pull back from implementing these orders, it will only result in more massive mobilization and civil disobedience on a scale never seen of a newly seated President of the United States.”