Sunday, September 11, 2016

Native Americans Score Huge Victory as Government Shuts Down Pipeline Project

In one of the most amazing yet under-reported stories in recent history, native tribes from across the country gathered in South Dakota in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It has become the largest Native protest in American history.

Still, there has been considerably less discussion and coverage of this huge story than there has been for the controversial stance by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on refusing to stand for the national anthem as a form of protest against police brutality and the role that the use of excess force has had in the deaths of a number of black men throughout the country in recent years.

This is a major story, however, and it has ramifications for Americans beyond just this particular Native tribe, or Native tribes in general. And the protest just received a major victory following what appeared to be a significant setback.

In a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Judge James Boasberg found that there were not adequate grounds to intervene and shut down construction of the Dakota pipeline, which comes very close to Native land, and which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe suggests they were not adequately consulted and warned of the potential environmental risks and dangers involved. Boasberg spoke sympathetic words towards Native, citing them as a special case and acknolwedging a history of abuse towards Native, although ultimately, he found insufficient evidence to suspect construction of the pipeline:

"Aware of the indignities visited upon the tribe over the last centuries, the court scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care, Having done so, the court must nonetheless conclude that the tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here." 

A conference in this particular case is scheduled for this Friday.

However, other branches of government stepped in this case and forced at least a temporary suspension of the construction of the pipeline. The Departments of Justice, Department of the Interior, and the Army all got involved and used their sway to at least temporarily call a halt to the project, and suggested that there needed to be a "nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects."

Representative of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe described this intervention by the federal government to at least temporarily block construction on the pipeline a "game changer." They elaborated their position in a statement, parts of which included the following:

"The federal court ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe today, but in a stunning move, three federal agencies have blocked the pipeline at Lake Oahe, pending a thorough review and reconsideration of the process," the tribe said in a statement on its Facebook page  

"This federal statement is a game changer for the tribe, and we are acting immediately on our legal options, including filing an appeal and a temporary injunction to force [Dakota Access] to stop construction," the statement continued.  Lake Oahe is environmentally and culturally important to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the pipeline would cross under the lake, which is just upstream from the tribe's reservation, according to the tribe's complaint in the lawsuit.  

"The tribe relies on the waters of Lake Oahe for drinking water, irrigation, fishing and recreation and to carry out cultural and religious practices. The public water supply for the tribe, which provides drinking water for thousands of people, is located a few miles downstream of the proposed pipeline crossing route."  

"Additionally, the cultural and religious significance of these waters cannot be overstated," the tribe states in its court complaint. 

"Construction of the pipeline ... and building and burying the pipeline would destroy burial grounds, sacred sites and historically significant areas on either side of Lake Oahe," the complaint states.

Yet, the government did step in and, at least temporarily, stopped construction on the pipeline.

Natives had been protesting peacefully, and more and more tribes from across the country were getting involved, showing up for these protests on land rights. They had been demonstrating peacefully, yet corporations had literally set vicious dogs on them to attack, in a scene that reminded me, personally, a little of the peaceful Civil Rights protesters being attacked by police K-9's in the Deep South during the days of Jim Crow segregation. There were pictures of dogs with obvious evidence of blood on their mouths from the chucks that they had taken out of protesters, quite literally!

So much for the right of the people to peaceably assemble and protest.

Come what may, however, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II said that no matter what happens, and no matter what the ruling, protestors of the pipeline needed to remain peaceful.

"We call upon all water protectors to greet any decision with peace and order. Even if the outcome of the court’s ruling is not in our favor, we will continue to explore every lawful option and fight against the construction of the pipeline, Any act of violence hurts our cause and is not welcome here."

It seems to me that the Native people are taking the lead and trying to awaken us, the wider modern American society, of the dire importance of respecting the land, and not mindlessly, blindly overdeveloping, always in the name of profit and allegedly for progress. They had a lifestyle that was far more sustainable than the society that essentially overpowered them and almost wiped them out into the brink of irrelevance by cramming them into reservations.

Here is proof that they are not only still here, but that many of them are fighting the good fight, and doing so by taking the higher ground. Once again, it feels like we have a chance to do the right thing as a country, but we need to reverse our traditional course regarding Native tribes. We need to listen to them, to pay attention and try to grasp the wider issues at stake here. This is indeed about corporations profiting at any cost and without any regard to who they hurt, and this is also about Natives being given some voice in determining their own fate on their own lands. We need to do right by them once and for all.

For a long time now, we have heard of the dangers of this pipeline, although many politicians, including some prominent members of the Obama administration, seemed on the fence about. For now, the Obama administration did do the right thing by calling a halt to it. But this project needs to be terminated, and Native right respected. We have a chance to give them not only a voice in the quality of their own lives on their own lands, but even a chance to have their voices once again resonate, and remind us of the need for restrain and sustainability. We are running out of chances to let some greater wisdom prevail, but this is definitely one of them.

Government Steps In After Judge Denies Tribe's Request to Stop Pipeline By Catherine Thorbecke, Sep 9, 2016:

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