Native American tribes trying to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline received some good news last Friday. A U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. ordered Energy Transfer Partners to halt construction on the pipeline, located 20 miles east and west of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, while the court reviews the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's emergency appeal of the project.
The injunction comes after more than a year of protests and appeals by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation sits about a mile away from the intended route of the pipeline in North Dakota. The pipeline is projected to cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, and the tribe says it would put their water at risk. Tribal leaders also argue that the pipeline's route doesn't take into account cultural artifacts and ancient burial sites that are located in its path.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault III reminded supporters, however, that the stay is only meant to give the court time to consider the tribe's emergency appeal against the pipeline's route.
"This is a temporary administrative injunction and is meant to maintain status quo while the court decides what to do with the Tribe's motion," he said in a statement. "The Tribe appreciates this brief reprieve from pipeline construction and will continue to oppose this project, which will severely jeopardize its water and cultural resources." He added that the tribe is still committed to ensuring the safety of its resources. "We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline."
The 2-1 vote in favor of halting the pipeline came only days after a similar decision by the Departments of Justice, Interior Affairs and Army to delay any further work in disputed areas until the Army "can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site." At the heart of the dispute is whether the approved path of the pipeline conforms with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The tribe also feels some of the construction would destroy sites that would normally be safeguarded under the National Historic Preservation Act, such as those the Sioux maintain were destroyed by bulldozers over the Labor Day weekend.
Standing Rock Sioux: More than 10,000 protesters
Clashes between Native American protesters and supporters, and the company's security guards over the Labor Day weekend, inflamed tension on both sides. But it has also increased popular support for the tribe's effort to stop the pipeline.
More than 10,000 protesters and supporters are now encamped at the protest site outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, including many non-natives who traveled from cities across the continent to show their solidarity with the tribe.
Iowa claims eminent domain for pipeline
Meanwhile in Iowa, residents are suing to stop their land from being seized under eminent domain. In June, the Iowa Utilities Commission granted eminent domain status to the pipeline project, which gives Dakota Access, an Energy Partners subsidiary, the power to seize private land for "public good."
Fifteen ranchers affected by the decision plan to debunk that statement in court. The group believes they can prove that the land grab isn't in the public good, and at least one nonprofit is backing their argument. Bold Iowa's Director Ed Fallon is using the potential worsening of the climate as evidence that Americans won't be better off if the pipeline is allowed to go through.The group has been appealing to local residents through its website, while reminding potential enlistees that protesters should "participate only in the most dignified manner. After all, we are the conservatives, standing up for a safe and secure future for our families."
On Saturday, more than 140 protesters turned out in Sandusky, Iowa, to demonstrate against the pipeline. At least 40 were arrested for trespassing onto the utility easement, including five juveniles. The sheriff's office was informed ahead of time that it would be a passive protest, and that demonstrators would be volunteering for arrest.
Pipeline company: Legal right-of-way has been obtained
Energy Transfer Partners released a statement disputing claims by Native American groups that their objections have not been given adequate consideration.
"Nearly the entire Dakota Access pipeline route is across private land," the company's Chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren said in defense of the project. He pointed out the land abutting Lake Oahe that is under dispute isn't owned or controlled by the tribe.
"Despite this, we worked to meet with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leaders on multiple occasions in the past two years," Warren said in a statement published by the North Dakota TV station, Valley News Live. He pointed out that despite the controversy, "the right of way for the entire pipeline has been obtained" and that all four states that the pipeline is due to cross -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois," have issued "favorable certificates, permits and approvals for construction."
But as the Standing Rock Sioux pointed out, ownership and control of land aren't always the defining issue when it comes to the preservation of ancient cultural sites. The same can be said for water sources that are considered the life blood of its community's way of life.
"The bottom line for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is and will always be protecting our lands, people, water, and sacred sites from the devastation of this pipeline. Our fight isn’t over until there is permanent protection of our people and resources from the pipeline," the tribe stated.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.