TONY J BENDER — Feds Ask For Halt To DAPL Construction Near Lake Oahe

This is Tony J Bender’s report that appears in today’s Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and Wishek (N.D.) Star.

In a stunning pushback against U.S. District Judge James Boasberg’s decision Friday to deny an injunction to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, the Departments of Justice and Interior were joined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to override that decision.

“Construction of the privately owned pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” read a joint statement. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The Sacred Stone Camp at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers erupted into cheers and whoops when the decision was announced on the heels of the first ruling.

Organizers warned afterward that this was not a victory, but progress.

“The movement won’t end here; there’s still work to be done,” said Paula Antoine, who helped lead the successful fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It is the largest gathering of Native Americans since Little Big Horn and that has state officials nervous. Law enforcement was notably visible in the area, including a Bureau of Indian Affairs military-style command center.

A day earlier, Gov. Jack Dalrymple activated the National Guard. Guardsmen relieved law enforcement, south of Mandan. A hundred other Guardsmen remain on standby. State Highway 6 had been blocked to all but residential traffic since a State of Emergency declaration issued Aug. 19 by Dalrymple. It is now a traffic checkpoint.

Shortly after the announcement at the camp, activists took a scheduled protest to the Capitol grounds in Bismarck. They were met by a line of 40 North Dakota Highway Patrolmen. Instead of a confrontation, protesters went down the line of officers, shaking hands.

There have been 38 arrests in the five-month protest, mostly for trespassing and some disorderly conduct. Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II is among those issued citations. While Archambault and other leaders have pleaded for peace, a small faction have chosen more aggressive tactics that recently included attaching their bodies to backhoes and spray painting slogans on bulldozers.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for her participation in vandalism Sept. 4, after pipeline bulldozers dug up ground that tribal archeologist Tim Mentz said in court documents contained sacred burial sites.

Stein’s specific offense? Spray painting, “I approve this message,” on the blade of a bulldozer in reference to various slogans like “No DAPL,” and “Water is Life” painted elsewhere on the machine.

Supporters were divided in opinion on the vandalism. Some thought the actions were relatively harmless and brought more awareness to the issue.

Darrel Mesteh, Kiyaska from Pine Ridge, called provocateurs grandstanders and “knuckleheads.” A veteran and former police officer, who once arrested the late American Indian Movement founder Russell Means, Mesteh said 90 percent of the camp is populated by peace-minded protectors. However, AIM, which has a militant history, has a presence in the camps.

The Standing Rock Nation enjoys a special relationship with the White House. President Barack Obama and the first lady visited Cannonball in 2014. Obama said he was moved to tears by the stories of hardships he heard. Back at the White House, he discussed education and job training for Native American youth with his staff.

“I deal with a lot of bad stuff in this job,” Obama said. “It is not very often where I get choked up, so they knew I was serious about this.”

Tribal officials and 20 Standing Rock students later traveled to Washington to meet with the president.

Kathryn White Cloud, a Dakota Sioux from Manitoba, was not surprised by Obama’s intervention. She said the president was simply fulfilling his pledge. “He spoke directly to the youth at Standing Rock,” she said. “He promised them a better future.”

While serving in an academic role at the University of Illinois, White Cloud met Obama before he was president. Kathryn and her sister, Lisa, said they joined the protest because, as grandmothers, they have a sacred duty to ensure life for future generations.

While state and federal officials say the pipeline has been properly planned and permitted, opponents say the pipeline intentionally dodged a full environmental assessment, that the project was fast-tracked. The pipeline would travel 90 feet under the Missouri River on its way to Pataka, Ill., and from there to Nederland, Texas.

“We have a long history of working with Army Corps of Engineers, a long history of them not being truthful, and a long history of them destroying land,” said LaDonna Bravebull Allard, Sacred Stone camp director. “The Army Corps has never been truthful with the tribes, so we must always be cautious of whatever they say.”

Opponents claim the location of the pipeline had much to do with political vulnerabilities. A route north of Bismarck was briefly considered but abandoned because of population density and the complications of getting so many easements. Meanwhile, in Iowa, farmers are fighting DAPL’s controversial use of eminent domain, pitting private landowners against a privately-owned company, in court.

Tribal leaders have been criticized for not attending Public Service Commission hearings. While the meetings apparently met public notice guidelines for publication in official county papers, some argue they should have been placed in tribal newspapers as well, and that with a project of this scope, the PSC dropped the ball by not initiating outreach.

Required archeology studies were contracted by DAPL. However, rumors of human remains at the site did bring out state archeologists. None were found. Mentz only recently received permission from the landowner to see the site.

DAPL closely follows the path of the Northern Border Pipeline (natural gas), built between 1990-91. Skeptics say any archeological discoveries should have been made long ago.

A skirmish between 300 marchers and private pipeline security forces broke out Sept. 2, when DAPL workers moved bulldozers 12 miles or more and leveled the site marchers believed was hallowed ground. The perceived maliciousness of the act shifted some public opinion. Some equated it to leveling a community cemetery.

“Normally grading a site like this for utilities or a highway would result in relatively shallow grading and berms on one side of the right of way of around two feet,” Mentz wrote in a Sept. 4 petition in U.S. District Court for a restraining order. “Here, it appears that DAPL dug substantially deeper than normal, as I saw berms of 8 to 10 feet on both sides of the right of way. In my experience, this is unusual.” A two-mile swath, 150 feet wide was bulldozed.

Images of protesters battling with attack dogs spread around the world.

Sympathizers saw the incident as a deliberate provocation and a trap, with mace and dogs awaiting those who stormed the fence. A company helicopter circling overhead monitored the slow, deliberate two-mile march of men, women and children in 90-degree weather, lending credence to the “ambush theory.”

The report from the Morton Count Sheriff’s Department based its accounts of assaults on security personnel accounts. “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said.

In a test of First Amendment rights, Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman, who documented the incident, was charged with trespassing.

Video of the incident shows protesters in a standoff with 14 security personnel and six attack dogs. Having been maced, protesters, some on horses, fought back when the dogs were set upon them.

Activists wondered if charges would be filed against DAPL for destroying an archeologically significant site. Others said the attack dogs constituted use of a deadly weapon and excessive force.

Keith Rowan, owner of Pro Dog Security in Grand Forks, said, “It reminded me of the civil rights movement back in the ’60s. I didn’t think it was appropriate.”*

Jonni Joyce, a dog trainer from Martin, S.D., added, “It looked like was a bunch of alligators at the end of leashes being put on the Native Americans.”**

Radio talk shows painted vastly different pictures of the situation — lawbreaking, dangerous tree-hugging radicals vs. those of an oppressed people standing up prayerfully in defense of Mother Earth and their ancestors.

Activists say they understand the need for oil, but Darrel Mesteh said that place is nowhere near the river. It’s aimed at millions downstream, he said, noting that just 0.37 percent of the earth’s water is suitable for drinking.

Pipeline proponents swear by pipeline technology. However, a break in the Poplar Pipeline spilled 500,000 gallons of Bakken crude, contaminating the Yellowstone River in Montana. In 2011, the same pipeline spilled 63,000 gallons into the river.

The pipeline route takes it across the Mississippi River downstream. The river flows into the ocean at New Orleans. Gulf fisheries are still reeling from the 2010 Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where about 4 million barrels spilled into the ocean in 87 days. Dakota Access, with a capacity of more than 500 barrels per day, could spill nearly as much in a week.

The Baaken oil boom made North Dakota the top oil producer in the country. Plus, it has helped reduce imports from the Persian Gulf to 16 percent. The boom created jobs and a statewide spending spree that included property tax cuts across the state. Mestah believes the oil also created corruption and a state government that sticks up for Big Oil instead of its citizens.

Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, saw shares of company’s stock drop 3.6 percent Friday.

On Sept. 8, the Yankton Sioux Tribe filed a new lawsuit against the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging their decisions to authorize DAPL, a suit similar to the failed Standing Rock argument. The tribe claims the Corps bypassed the actual consultation process.

The DAPL protest, which began April 1 has evolved into a movement that has Washington’s attention. The Obama administration’s statement said, “This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations.”

The mission for most at the Sacred Stone Camp seems to be stopping the pipeline outright. There is quiet resolve. Ivan Looking Horse of the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, said, “That pipeline is not going anywhere.”

After the announcement, the wind picked up and carried the cheers and whoops to the far corners of the camp. Then foreboding skies opened and it rained, scattering smiling campers to their tents and tipis. One Native American later called it The Water Spirit’s gift of healing.

* Grand Forks Herald ** Democracy Now!

2 thoughts on “TONY J BENDER — Feds Ask For Halt To DAPL Construction Near Lake Oahe”

  • Kathrin Volochenko September 14, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Superb as always Tony, your factual reporting and insights are so valuable to all. Many thanks.

  • Andy Rodrigues September 14, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks for keeping this on the front burner Tony!


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