On February 23rd the Army Corps of Engineers (the federal body overseeing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline) closed the Oceti Sakowin Camp where protests against plans to build the oil pipeline through sacred Indian land had been ongoing since August 2016. The closure ends this chapter in the dispute between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners LP, but the matter is far from resolved. The Standing Rock Sioux claim the pipeline threatens the environmental quality and sacred nature of the water at Lake Oahe, and have filed an injunction to withdraw the easement that would allow the project to move forward.
However, tribal and federal claims to the land conflict. Though the land was granted to the Indians in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the treaty remains contested to this day. Energy Transfer Partners LP contends that the pipeline crosses private land while the Sioux hold to the conviction that the area is tribal or treaty land and that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution “grants treaties as equivalent to the Constitution itself.” As a sovereign nation, the Sioux assert their right to control the integrity of their natural resources. They have never accepted monetary compensation from the U.S. government for broken treaties. To do so would cede the provisions of the 1851 treaty.
Historically, Indians have not fared well in disputes with the federal government. The ruling in December that temporarily halted construction until a thorough evaluation of the environmental risks could be completed has given way to an executive order issued January 24th to “expedite” approval of the pipeline’s completion. The protesters apparent victory celebrated just a few months ago has once again been affected by a change in administrations. The final outcome is yet to be determined, but the parallels to the past are striking.
What the majority [of Indians] didn’t comprehend and couldn’t understand was that as U.S. expansion continued westward, it meant the circumstances as well as any promises made today would change tomorrow. It mattered not that these promises were put in writing. A different day, a different administration, a different treaty; each time the new document diminishing or totally negating any assurances previously given. – excerpt from Palo Duro.
Standing Rock represents the ongoing fight to preserve Native American cultural traditions and sovereignty. You can read about the Southern Plains Indians struggles in my novel.