Sioux consider their court victory over a pipeline

'That’s what we’re fighting here; big money and bad politics' - Doug Crow Ghost, from the Standing Rock Sioux - James Breeden for the Telegraph
‘That’s what we’re fighting here; big money and bad politics’ – Doug Crow Ghost, from the Standing Rock Sioux – James Breeden for the Telegraph

The recent court victory by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota against the Dakota Access pipeline is being hailed as significant by not only the tribe but observers from across the country and the globe. Combined with a Supreme Court ruling affecting eastern Oklahoma and another Indian tribe, it makes for big headlines.

Here’s how The Telegraph portrayed the court ruling against the pipeline:

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard grins broadly as she contemplates the significance of the victory she and other members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have just secured.

The tribe began a bitter battle against an oil company and the federal government in 2016, when the Dakota Access pipeline was built on their doorstep, threatening their water supply.

Four years on, a US court has ruled in favour of the tribe and ordered the pipeline to close within 30 days.

Ms Allard is aware of how momentous an occasion this is. It is not often that a Native American tribe with scant resources defeats a major oil company, not least one that has the backing of the US president.

“People had forgotten that Indigenous people live on this land,” she says. “We became invisible. But we’ve always been here – and I’m not invisible any more.”

It is a sentiment shared by Native American activists across the US at the moment, in a week in which they have witnessed some of their biggest legislative victories in decades.

Following the ruling on the Dakota Access pipeline, the US Supreme Court on Thursday declared that much of eastern Oklahoma belongs to Native Americans. In the landmark ruling, America’s highest court said it would “hold the government to its word” in recognising centuries-old treaties that granted the Muscogee (Creek) Nation a reservation.

A spokesman for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation praised the ruling for honouring a “sacred promise”, and said it would allow the tribe to maintain its “established sovereignty” in the area.

The decision could have far-reaching implications for the people who live on the stretch of land, which includes most of Tulsa, and has thrown into sharp relief America’s history of broken promises and poor treatment of its Indigenous groups.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard - James Breeden for the Telegraph
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard – James Breeden for the Telegraph

To add to the moment, after years of demands for the Washington Redskins American football team to scrap its offensive name, the team appears poised to do just that. Pressure is now growing on other sports teams – such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Indians – to reconsider their own monikers and mascots.

The developments beg the question: has America experienced a profound shift in its stance on Indigenous rights?

Back in North Dakota, Ms Allard certainly feels that the Standing Rock Tribe are part of a broader push for a public reckoning over America’s past, drawing parallels between her tribe’s activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s all about the same thing; equality and justice,” she says.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and Indigenous leaders at a protest march in 2017 - Reuters
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and Indigenous leaders at a protest march in 2017 – Reuters

Ms Allard’s own battle over tribal sovereignty began in 2016, when Energy Transfer Partners, an oil company headed up by a major Trump donor, began constructing a pipeline a stone’s throw from her home and the cemetery that held her husband and son.

In a bid to block the pipeline, Ms Allard set up a campsite along the construction workers’ path, on land she says is sacred to her tribe.

Thousands of activists moved to the Sacred Stone camp to show their support. The camp made headlines when footage showed construction workers setting attack dogs on the demonstrators who obstructed the pipeline’s path.

Following a public outcry, the pipeline project was blocked by President Barack Obama. But within days of entering office, Donald Trump reversed Mr Obama’s order and allowed the pipeline to proceed.

Mike Faith, the chairman of the Standing Rock Tribe, said the group’s biggest concern was the fact that the pipeline, located less than a mile from the reservation, could contaminate their water supply.

“What if we had an oil spill?” he said. “The only ones who get to monitor that are the oil company.”

Mike Faith - James Breeden for the Telegraph
Mike Faith – James Breeden for the Telegraph

In his ruling this week, Judge James Boasberg agreed that the pipeline posed a risk to the tribe and declared that the US government had violated federal environmental law in allowing it to proceed.

Judge Boasberg acknowledged the significant financial toll the pipeline’s closure would have, but he said the potential harm it posed left him no alternative.

“There’s no doubt about it, this was a historic vindication of the tribe’s position and testament to their perseverance against very long odds,” said Jan Hasselman, the tribe’s lawyer. “I can’t think of any comparable victory.”

Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline march out of their main camp near Cannon Ball - Terray Sylvester /Reuters
Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline march out of their main camp near Cannon Ball – Terray Sylvester /Reuters

Doug Crow Ghost, Standing Rock’s water director, said he was “ecstatic” with the court ruling, but he warned the battle continued.

“Right now we know we’re on the fourth inning of a baseball game,” he said.

“There are still more battles to fight, because it’s not just about money, it’s about politics. It’s about the President of the United States. That’s what we’re fighting here; big money and bad politics.”

Doug CrowGhost - James Breeden for the Telegraph
Doug CrowGhost – James Breeden for the Telegraph

Sarah Krakoff, an expert on American Indian Law, said the Dakota pipeline decision and the Supreme Court’s Oklahoma ruling could be considered in conjunction.

“I think these are two really important decisions for tribes and tribal advocates in terms of holding their Native rights,” she said, noting the courts have previously been slow to facilitate the tribes’ self determination.

Prof Krakoff added that the Oklahoma ruling set a “very important precedent” for other tribes and their boundaries.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard - James Breeden for the Telegraph
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard – James Breeden for the Telegraph

But despite the optimism of the moment, Ms Allard said she remains wary, having experienced setbacks in the past.

“I have spent my life watching the injustices that have gone on, and wondering how little Americans know about their history,” she said.

“I think we have a long way to go,” but, she added, “We’re in a good spot. Now is the time to change.”

What do the next few years look like? Ms Allard’s response was emphatic: “War”.

Source: The Telegraph

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