December 7, 2016
Photo Courtesy of the Huffington Post
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) congratulates the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and all of their supporters on their victory. After months-long protests, the Army Corps of Engineers on 4 December 2016 announced that it would halt its plans for the controversial Dakota Access pipeline to cross the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. In a remarkable show of unity, the historic protests brought together native and non-native groups from all over the country, all of which shared the goal of raising their voice for the protection of indigenous rights. Army and police forces, as well as private security companies had brutally cracked-down on peaceful protesters, using arrests, rubber bullets, dogs, pepper spray and water cannons in sub-zero temperatures to disperse those showing support for the rights of indigenous peoples at Standing Rock. UNPO will continue to stand in solidarity with the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies, and urges the incoming US administration to respect this overdue decision in favour of indigenous peoples’ rights.
On 4 December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not approve a final building permit for the final section of the Dakota Access pipeline and that it would look for an alternative route. Plans for the $3.8 billion project had envisioned the pipeline to traverse the sacred ancestral burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, crossing – and thus risking to pollute – the tribe’s primary source of water, Lake Oahe. But just as much as this movement is about a pipeline and environmental issues, it is about indigenous peoples’ rights for self-determination and sovereignty, religious freedom and respect for cultural heritage. If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would not only have posed an enormous threat to the local environment and indigenous populations’ livelihood systems, but would also have threatened ancestral lands and artefacts considered sacred by local Native American tribes.
The construction of the pipeline would have violated a number of prior legal arrangements. The 1851 Fort Larame Treaty, for instance, dictates that the land does in fact belong to the tribe’s reservation, but has been unjustly taken away from them. This means that – even if this land is not officially recognised as belonging to the tribe – by federal law, any agency overseeing a construction project would need to consult with native nations or tribes in case projects such as the Dakota Access pipeline affect places of religious or cultural significance. The Army Corps Engineers had failed to do so, prompting a lawsuit to be filed against them. Protestors had also pointed out that the company had previously considered a route further North, close to the town of Bismarck which is inhabited by a majority of non-indigenous residents. The company abandoning these initial plans is revealing and further proof for the US governments’ historic and ongoing disregard for tribal communities’ most basic rights.
Up until the day of the Department of the Army’s announcement that it would seek other routes for the pipeline, protests against the Dakota Access pipeline had steadily intensified, mostly due to an ever-increasing militarised crackdown to supress these peaceful calls for a halt the pipeline’s construction. Hundreds of indigenous tribes, as well as many non-native activists from across the United States had come together to support the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in opposing a project which looked set to threaten the livelihood of local indigenous peoples and the environment. Despite being completely unarmed, protesters were faced with extremely violent treatment at the hands of police forces and private security hired by Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners. More than 150 peaceful protesters got arrested. Police forces, National Guard and private security companies used rubber bullets, dogs, pepper spray and, most disturbingly, even water-cannons in sub-zero temperatures. The security forces brutal tactics led to more than 25 people being hospitalized or needing treatment for broken bones or hypothermia.
However, despite the recent victory of indigenous peoples’ activism and peaceful protests, the fight is far from over and could very likely be a temporary one. Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s developer, has already spent billions of dollars on construction other parts of the pipeline and is thus unlikely to give up without a fight. Albeit a significant victory, it is a fragile one and the danger of business interests prevailing over indigenous rights is still very much prevalent. After all, president-elect Donald J. Trump supports the pipeline project and the new administration could easily undo the Army’s decision. UNPO therefore calls on the incoming US administration to respect and support the recent decision to reroute the pipeline and, in the long run, to establish a genuine and inclusive dialogue with tribal nations across the US. UNPO further calls on the international community to pay close attention to further developments regarding the situation at Standing Rock, and to hold the US government accountable should it fail to protect its indigenous communities’ culture, tradition and fundamental land and human rights and/or respect their right to self-determination.
In championing the rights for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, these protests have shed light not only on the systematic denial of fundamental rights for indigenous communities in the US, but also on the importance of guaranteeing and protecting these very rights for minorities and indigenous groups beyond US borders. Growing violence towards indigenous communities in Brazil is but one other example of a government utterly failing to protect its indigenous communities. UNPO will continue to be committed to its endeavour of advocating for indigenous rights to be respected worldwide by working closely with its indigenous members to raise awareness at the regional, national and international level of gross injustices perpetrated against them.
Here you can find an article by the International Business Times quoting UNPO's contributions.