The gathering of tribes in North Dakota, who are intent on stopping the Dakota Access pipeline, must have felt as though they were on a roller coaster on Friday. A court decision that did not go their way was followed by a statement from the federal government that was very unexpected.
The Dakota Access pipeline and the Standing Rock Sioux’s battle to prevent it from being built over sacred sites and under the Missouri River — which I wrote about earlier this week — has been an ongoing story. It began last June when the tribe filed an injunction against the pipeline’s construction. The ruling on that came down on Friday, as promised. It was not good news. Judge James Boasberg ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who granted the access and who the tribe had filed suit against. The court, Judge Boasberg concluded, cannot rule for the tribe:
“It concludes that the Corps has likely complied with the NHPA and that the tribe has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the court could issue. The motion will thus be denied.”
The decision stunned the gathered tribes and the entire American Indian community. But, just as they were gearing up to let it be known they would not give in, something kind of wonderful happened. The federal government stepped in, less than 15 minutes after the decision was handed down. The Department of Justice, Department of the Interior and Department of the Army (!) released a joint statement:
“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion… However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe… regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain… The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land… until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions… Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land… will not go forward at this time.”
While other parts of the pipeline will continue to be built, the area around the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal lands will be exempt. For now. The reaction at the Sacred Stone Camp was happy yet measured. The tribes know that there is more to do.
“(The federal agencies)… also set the stage for a nationwide reform, establishing consultation with tribes regarding the need for meaningful tribal input for all pipeline projects in the future. This federal statement is a game changer for the Tribe and we are acting immediately on our legal options, including filing an appeal and a temporary injunction to force DAPL to stop construction.”
It is interesting to note that the top legal official at the Department of the Interior, Hillary Tompkins, is a citizen of the Navajo Nation. She was at the hearing on Friday. Makes you wonder if she didn’t pull a few strings. And, if she did, good for her!
This is not over. Energy Transfer, the company behind the DAPL, will surely pursue legal action from their side. But, with the Interior and Justice departments joining with the Department of the Army, something might now get done on the issue of favoring money over tribal lands and government treaties.
Featured image by Alex Wong/Getty Images