The Army Corps of Engineers informed the Standing Rock Sioux today that they must vacate the camp where they have stood up to the federal government by December 5 or be arrested and prosecuted for trespassing.
For months, the Standing Rock Sioux have been blocking the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which cuts through their tribal lands. The federal government has harassed them, using water cannon, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, and other forms of low-level violence. Protestors from across the country have joined them in solidarity.
The most comprehensive report on the dispute appears in the Washington Post, describing the long history of treaties broken by the U.S. government.
In the Dakota language, the word “oahe” signifies “a place to stand on.”
And that’s what the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies in the environmental and activist movements say they are doing: using Lake Oahe in North Dakota as a place to take a stand by setting up camps and obstructing roads to block the controversial $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline.
Their confrontations with police — who have responded with water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets — have steered attention to the 1,170-mile-long oil pipeline project and its owner, Energy Transfer Partners. But the real source of Native Americans’ grievance stretches back more than a century, to the original government incursions on their tribal lands. And those earlier disputes over their rights to the land, like the one over the Dakota Access pipeline, pitted the tribes against a persistent force, the Army Corps of Engineers.
The federal government has been taking land from Lakota and Dakota people for 150 years, tribal leaders say, from the seizure of land in the Black Hills of South Dakota after the discovery of gold in the 1870s to the construction of dams in the Missouri River that flooded villages, timberland and farmland in the Dakotas in the 1950s.
Through the ages, the warring tribes of the Northern Plains lived, hunted and fought across a sprawling expanse of land. Many were migratory, moving with the seasons. Each treaty with the U.S. government, most notably the 1851 and 1868 treaties of Fort Laramie, restricted their movement further, although they left them large areas west of the Missouri River and recognized them as sovereign nations.
Much of this was contested, leading to Gen. George A. Custer’s ill-fated military campaign to protect miners. Land was later taken to make way for homesteading.
In 1889, Congress passed legislation that created the modern reservation system, pushing the Sioux, also known as Lakota, into smaller areas. And later in the 1900s, a series of dams across the Missouri River rolled back the scope of those reservations, too.
“This government honors international treaties like they are the Holy Grail, but within our own homeland, they find ways to break them,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault, who, under the treaties and U.S. law, is the head of a domestic sovereign nation.
Lake Oahe illustrates his point. The lake, the site of the current dispute, exists because of a dam project built by the Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that has been weighing whether and where the Dakota Access pipeline could be built.
Empowered by the Flood Control Act of 1944, the Army Corps erected the Oahe Dam in central South Dakota, forming a reservoir that extends about 250 miles upstream to within a short distance of Bismarck, N.D. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy dedicated the dam, hailing it as a symbol of a free society tapping its natural resources.
But for the Lakota tribes, the dam didn’t exploit natural resources. It buried them.
The project inundated and destroyed the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s “most fertile bottom lands,” home to medicinal plants, wildlife and timber, said Everett J. Iron Eyes Sr., former water and natural resource director for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and now a water consultant. In the process, he said, the Army Corps acquired 56,000 acres of land and destroyed 90 percent of the tribe’s timberland.
As Ellen Lubic, one of our readers, commented: If this is happening under Obama, what will happen when Trump takes office?