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A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the North Dakota Capitol on Thursday. (Photo: AP)

US Government Steps In After Judge Rules Against Standing Rock Sioux

Federal judge denies tribe's request for injunction, but federal agencies issue statement pausing pipeline construction

Deirdre Fulton

This story may be updated.

A series of "game-changing" developments impacting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) battle on Friday afternoon were testament to the power of organizing.

Striking a blow to the vibrant, Indigenous-led resistance movement that has sprung up against the four-state oil pipeline, a federal judge on Friday denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's attempt to halt its construction.

Shortly afterward, however, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement indicating that "important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding [DAPL] specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain."

As a result, the statement read, construction on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe—which straddles North and South Dakota—will be halted until the Corps "can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws." 

"In the interim," the agencies continued, "we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe."

The statement continued:

Furthermore, 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 on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.

"The joint statement by the DOJ and other agencies makes it clear that the process used to approve this pipeline's construction was insufficient and did not fully take into account the environmental impact or the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native peoples," said Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance and a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.

"Tribes from across Indian Country have drawn the line here with the largest show of unity and grassroots power in our history," said LeBlanc. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who on Thursday proposed legislation that would prevent the Army Corps from approving the pipeline until the agency has completed an environmental impact statement, also praised the agencies' decision:

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, the Standing Rock Sioux had challenged the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners' $3.8 billion pipeline, saying that the project violates federal laws—including the Clean Water Act and National Historic Preservation Act—and would endanger both water supplies and ancient sacred sites.

But in his decision (pdf), U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., said "the Tribe has not carried its burden to demonstrate that the Court could prevent damage to important cultural resources by enjoining the Corps' DAPL-related permitting."

He ordered the parties to appear for a status conference on Sept. 16.

Still, those who have voiced their opposition to the controversial project said they'd fight on. 

In the lead-up to the ruling, tribal chairman David Archambault II declared: "Regardless of the court's decision today, we will continue to be united and peaceful in our opposition to the pipeline. Our ultimate goal is permanent protection of our sacred sites and our water. We must continue to have faith and believe in the strength of our prayers and not do anything in violence. We must believe in the creator and good things will come."

Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit in July on behalf of the tribe, said in the days before the ruling that it would be challenged.

A press conference and protest will take place at the North Dakota Capitol starting at 3pm local time on Friday. Solidarity events are planned nationwide next week.

Updates are being shared under the hashtags #NoDAPL, #RezpectOurWater, and #StandWithStandingRock.


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