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Audience members listen to President Obama speak during the Tribal Nations Conference in 2012.

Audience members listen to President Obama speak during the Tribal Nations Conference in 2012. (Photo: White House/Pete Souza/cc)

At White House Conference, Tribes Push President to Act on Dakota Access

Annual Tribal Nations Conference sees Indigenous people seeking immediate action from President Obama on Dakota Access Pipeline

Nika Knight Beauchamp

As the final session of the annual Tribal Nations Conference first instituted by President Barack Obama begins Monday, the question of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline will take center stage.

North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has been battling the pipeline's construction for fear that it will contaminate their supply of fresh drinking water and damage tribal sacred sites and cultural artifacts, is "pushing for a much more thorough review process for this pipeline, including a full Environmental Impact Statement and meaningful tribal consultation," the tribe declared before the conference began.

The White House meeting will be the "eighth and final conference for tribal leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes [and] the last opportunity for tribal leaders to express their concerns and issues with the Obama administration," notes the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "More than 300 Native Nations officially stand with Standing Rock, [issuing] tribal resolutions, letters of support, or [sending] tribal delegations [to join]the camp."

Indeed, thousands have joined the Standing Rock Sioux in solidarity, establishing an ever-growing protest camp near the pipeline construction site in North Dakota.

While the Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, and Army Corps of Engineers responded to the growing protests by requesting earlier this month that the corporation behind Dakota Access halt construction to allow for further consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux, the corporation has vowed to press ahead with the pipeline regardless.

Meanwhile, Indigenous people have been pushing President Obama to take further action and issue a definitive statement against the pipeline, though he has not yet done so.

This is despite protests and calls for action from hundreds of tribes and thousands of supporters across North America, including archeologists and historians, and a statement from the U.N. special rapporteur on Indigenous peoples' rights condemning the pipeline approval process and calling on the U.S. to halt construction.

Tribes were, however, heartened Friday when the Obama administration announced a series of government-to-government consultations with tribes across the U.S., with the aim of instituting meaningful tribal input in the decision-making process for energy infrastructure projects such as Dakota Access.

"Along with the ongoing review of this pipeline," said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman David Archambault II, "the Administration has taken a major step forward by initiating consultation on nationwide reform on the protection of tribal interests regarding infrastructure projects. We will continue to advocate for the protection of our water, lands and sacred places, and the necessary respect as Indigenous Peoples."

Watch a livestream of the conference here:

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