If you are reading this blog from time to time, then likely you know about the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has been happening on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Native America has gathered to support our cousins at Standing Rock and today, when the Court turned its efficient back on Indian Country, the Obama Administration stood with us.
In a Joint Statement from the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and Department of the Army issued mere minutes after the release of the Court’s opinion, the Obama Administration put a halt to the construction near the reservation and asked the oil company to voluntarily cease construction on the pipeline within 20 miles of Lake Oahe! Then, they said:
“Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”
Continuing, the Statement says,
“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”
And all I can say is “Wow”. Just “Wow”.
I was an employee of the Obama Administration and I cannot over-emphasize what a phenomenal effort this must have been by our friends and family working so hard on our behalf inside the government. It can take weeks to get an even seemingly “simple” document approved by one Agency, let alone three. And make no mistake, the POTUS himself had to approve this decision.
We have work to do still, no doubt. We cannot relax. We must remain vigilant. Google’s dictionary defines vigilant as “keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties” and offers synonyms such as “watchful”, “observant”, “alert”, and my personal favorite, “hawk-eyed.” There will be a ton of work to do. Consultation will move forward as mandated by Executive Order 13, 175 which provides for meaningful consultation with Indian Tribes. But this requires us, you and I, to be as vocal as we have been while on the front lines of the protest throughout the process. For my tips on how to effectively “consult” check my blog “The Art of Consultation.”
Indian Country knows that the judicial system is not with us. Some of you readers may not know that in 2001, the Native American Rights Fund started the Supreme Court Project whose purpose is to strengthen tribal advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court by developing new litigation strategies and coordinating tribal legal resources, and to ultimately improve the win-loss record of Indian tribes. The Project is staffed by attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and consists of a Working Group of over 200 attorneys and academics from around the nation who specialize in Indian law and other areas of law that impact Indian cases.
As I sit here in D.C., I am inspired by the work of the Standing Rock people, the protesters, the legal teams, and our friends in the Obama Administration.
Thank you, thank you very much.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.