The story of Standing Rock has always been about the water and the treaty rights of tribes. Now a federal court agrees with that interpretation. The next chapter of the Standing Rock story begins. (Trahant photo)
The story of Standing Rock was supposed to be over and done. The pipeline was completed. Oil is flowing. And the Water Protectors have moved on.
But Standing Rock is a story that won’t go away. And for many good reasons.
This is Trahant Reports.
Last week a federal court ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Tribe in their complaint against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s not yet clear what impact that ruling will have, except this, the tribes won. That means all the players will have to pay attention to their concerns.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the tribes have a special relationship with Lake Oahe. When that lake was built by the Army Corps of Engineers it took 56,000 acres of some of ‘the best land’ from Standing Rock as well as 104,420 acres from Cheyenne River’s trust lands. Standing Rock tribal members rely on the lake’s waters to service ‘homes, a hospital, clinics, schools, businesses, and government buildings throughout the Reservation.’ The lake is also the primary source of water for the Cheyenne River Reservation. The judge said: Both tribes consider the waters to be ‘sacred’ and ‘central to their practice of their religion.’
In other words, water is life.
The ruling also reaffirmed the treaty relationship between the United States and the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River nations. The judge said the government has an obligation to work with the tribes. One way to make that happen, he said, is “early involvement” and that means the tribal government is given an opportunity to comment on a proposed action in time for a meaningful decision.
That did not happen. So what now? There will be a continued legal back and forth. And a remedy will be proposed. Some rulings will favor the tribes, others the pipeline company. And perhaps there will be a new Environmental Impact Statement.
But most important the two tribes basic arguments about Treaty Rights are now given the respect that is deserved.
This is the ideal moment for the Dakota Access Pipeline partners, the state of North Dakota and Morton County, to reassess. This is that moment when mutual respect can earn its way back into the conversation.
I’d start by ending the criminal prosecution of water protectors. It’s excessive and clearly an affront because it disrespects the right of a free people to dissent. There is nothing to be gained by sending hundreds of people to jail.
This could also be that moment where the state uses the court’s action as a call to re-negotiate. All parties could really listen to each other and see if there is a way to move forward. Together.
This could be a great next chapter to the Standing Rock story instead of more of the same.
I am Mark Trahant.