Native Americans unite against Dakota oil pipeline to protect sacred sites

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Cherokee Nation joined Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline Tuesday, standing up for the sacred sites and natural resources under threat.

The tribe's Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he would stand in “solidarity” with his Sioux cousins.

“The Standing Rock people have an inherent right to protect their homelands, their historic and sacred sites, their natural resources, their drinking water and their families from this potentially dangerous pipeline,”Baker said.

He also urged “safe and responsible energy development” that would respect the rights of tribal governments over the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run from western North Dakota to Illinois.

In a lawsuit against the pipeline, construction of the planned project has been delayed.

The case highlights the violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, which was implemented to protect such sites as the Standing Rock Reservation.

The $3.8 billion pipeline would disturb sacred burial grounds and sites by crossing Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, contaminating water supplies for neighboring communities on the Standing Rock Reservation.

“As Indian people, we have a right to protect our lands and protect our water rights,” Baker added. “That’s our responsibility to the next seven generations. The Standing Rock Sioux should be allowed a place at the table to express their legitimate concerns on a pipeline plan that could be detrimental to their tribe for many future generations.”

Indigenous lands have frequently been exploited and polluted by the US government and corporations.

Most recently, the Navajo Nation sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over spilling 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico.

The environmental disaster was so severe, that it turned the river water yellow and hit community members and farmers hard.  

READ MORE: Navajo Nation sues EPA over toxic gold mine spill which turned river yellow

Developers who stand to profit from the pipeline maintain their construction is safe but time and time again environmental activists have pointed out the dangers of such projects.

The Keystone 1 Pipeline leak in South Dakota, for example, contaminated 300 sq ft of farmland in April, but the company said there was no evidence of a threat to the environment or public safety.

In the XL phase of the pipeline, which was vetoed by President Barack Obama in November 2015, the initial plan was to develop the project from southern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, which crossed through the lands of numerous tribes and posed a detrimental hazard to water supplies and the environment.

READ MORE: Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline over environmental concerns

Former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, who has been demonstrating against the pipeline, said the state of North Dakota has been “bending over backwards for the oil companies.”

“North Dakota’s regulators are, I would suggest, in bed with the oil industry and they have looked the other way,” the half-Ojibwe, half-Russian Jewish LaDuke told Democracy Now on Tuesday. “And so, they have pushed these pipelines through really fast without any tribal consultation and without a full environmental impact statement.”

Native American tribes from Alaska to Canada have also backed the protest movement against the pipeline, including the Blackfeet Nation, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and Rosebud Sioux.