Not too long after federal Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s request to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Friday, the Obama Administration stepped in as the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement, temporarily halting DAPL construction bordering Lake Oahe. The Army Corps of Engineers will reconsider the decisions which authorized the pipeline’s construction. The agencies also called for more formal discussions with tribes on what they can do to ensure full tribal input.
As we wait again for the fate of the Standing Rock Sioux, it cannot be reiterated enough that there is no good to come from pipelines carrying crude oil. Companies may claim they’re for energy independence, even though there are much cleaner sources of renewable energy like solar and wind, but they are more concerned with their own profits. The threat of development against public safety for Indigenous communities is not isolated to the Standing Rock Sioux, it’s become common across the globe, and isn’t limited to oil companies alone.
Just this year alone in Peru, a 40-year-old trans-Amazonian pipeline spilled four times, one of which in February spilled three thousand barrels of crude oil into the River Chiriaco, one of the country’s largest Amazon tributaries. The oil company, PetroPeru, assured that cleanup was going well, yet they didn’t provide adequate assistance to the indigenous communities. Children were paid by company officials to clean up oil without any protective suits and many became sick as a result of the chemicals. Community members are still eating the contaminated plants and fish because they have no other resources for food and so become sick, and farmers will not be able to plant new crops or sell their produce. Even PetroPeru’s doctors just assured patients affected by the spill that they just had the flu and would get better, yet never returned for any follow up.
Despite the devastation against the Wampis and Awajun communities, PetroPeru continued pumping oil against government orders, leading to two more spills in June and August without allotting any time to fix the damaged pipeline. Even during cleanup after the February spill, site chief Victor Palomino said accidents were “inevitable.” It is unethical to continue pumping oil, knowing fully well that the pipeline is an environmental disaster waiting to occur every few months. All that does is show how little the companies care about quality-reassurance and safety.
Meanwhile in Canada, approval for the tar sands pipeline, Northern Gateway, was overturned in July after an appeal by eight First Nations, four environmental groups and a labor union found the approval unconstitutional. The consultation was “brief, hurried and inadequate,” and disregarded any environmental concerns. If the pipeline was still underway for construction, it would pose risk against their resources for food.
Oil companies are not the only ones who seem to get away with such neglect, it’s also reached to conservation groups and national agencies as well. UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz found in her report for the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress that conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society were forcibly displacing indigenous people around the world from their homes for infrastructure projects like hydroelectric dams. In worse cases like with the deforestation in Mato Grosso in Brazil for agriculture, indigenous people are killed by ranchers and farmers who take over their land. Not only do these conservation groups neglect to consult the people who’ve been living in such areas for years, but they also seem to find Natives incapable of taking care of their own sacred land like when people were evicted from India’s Kanha tiger reserve despite that humans and tigers can co-inhabit the same area.
“[Native peoples] are best equipped to protect the world’s most threatened forests, and have been doing so for decades,” said RRI (Rights and Resources Initiative) Coordinator Andy White in the gathering. “Yet many conservation organizations and governments still treat them as obstacles to conservation rather than partners.” Despite whatever good intentions these groups have, the good is lost when they take over sacred indigenous land.
Even national agencies garner distrust among Natives such as the EPA’s insufficient response to the Gold King Mine Spill of 2015 which damaged Navajo water supplies in the Animas River, resulting in dried up crops. Even though the EPA was found at fault and supposedly took full responsibility, they still waited two days to notify people along the river of the spill and never gave details, much less provided any adequate clean up. After a year waiting for compensation for lost crops and reassurance that the water is safe to use, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA for its neglect.
The Standing Rock Sioux face similar risks as DAPL is proposed to be built through sacred burial sites and their main water source on the Missouri River– which also provides water to 18 million people and more than 50 cities downstream–, despite obvious violations of historical preservation, indigenous treaties and environmental protection. So it’s a very strange turn of events that now the Army Corps is reversing their decision, and ordering Dakota Access to stop construction. Does it mean that they acknowledged that they made a mistake in approving DAPL?
At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be that way given that the Administration’s joint statement suggested the Corps of Engineers complied with the National Historic Preservation Act. That cannot be further from the truth, as twenty-seven identified graves have already been dug up by Dakota Access, and the company also desecrated sacred land where pledges were made and gifts were received from spirits as detailed by Tim Mentz. This announcement is in the right direction for some reconciliation with the Standing Rock Sioux, but if construction is to be halted indefinitely and the agencies want to fix relations with tribes, the Army Corps needs to admit their neglect in approving DAPL’s construction.
Whether it’s oil companies, conservation groups or national agencies, the indifference towards human rights abuses seems to carry at a higher level when it comes to Indigenous lives at stake. They need to be held accountable for their recklessness whether they want to admit fault or not. Native peoples deserve better than to be ignored and forced away from their land, or even worse die because of a company’s selfishness and neglect. When properly supported and given sovereignty over their land, both the Indigenous peoples and land thrive.
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Image source: http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2016/09/more-dakota-access-protest-blackout-pipeline-bulldozes-ancient-burial-sites-over-holiday-weekend-attempts-to-provoke-violence-3408926.html (photo by Lauren McCauley)