Don't Believe Fake Claims! USACE Documents Prove The #NoDAPL Water Protectors Opposed Pipeline Early On [Opinion]

Dawn Papple

Claims have been circulating in independent news outlets, void of citations or links to sources, that the Native Americans at Standing Rock couldn't be bothered to stand up against the Dakota Access Pipeline until long after it was much too late. They claim that the water protectors, who are preventing Energy Transfer Partners from moving forward on the Dakota Access Pipeline, failed to mention their opposition to the project until recently. The new claims also appear on social media.

Time is of the essence if Energy Transfer Partners wants to get the Dakota Access Pipeline completed, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Sightline Institute theorizes.

"DAPL faces a looming financial deadline. The pipeline's principal backer, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), has conceded in court proceedings that it has a contractual obligation to complete the project by January 1, 2017. If it misses this deadline, companies that have committed long-term to ship oil through the pipeline at 2014 prices have the right to rescind those commitments—and may well exercise that right."

Though the water protectors only recently began getting mainstream press, the indigenous people and their non-indigenous supporters from around the United States began arriving at the Standing Rock camp on Oceti Sakowin land to stop the progression of the pipeline early in 2016 after their concerns about the pipeline were heard, but disregarded.

The pipeline was originally going to be routed north of Bismark, North Dakota. According to the Bismark Tribune, the route was moved to the south of Bismark after the original route was rejected due to its potential threat to Bismarck's water supply. According to Town Charts, 91.9 percent of the people in Bismark are white. Let's be real. This is one more example of Native Americans being devalued, disrespected, and disregarded.

Granted, the pipeline says that the new route was chosen, because it had the potential to affect fewer people. With a population exceeding 60,000, Bismark is obviously home to more people than the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. While more people could be affected if the pipeline went north of Bismark instead of right by the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, let's not pretend this has to do with the number of people that would be affected by the pipeline.

Featured on Huffington Post, cartographer Carl Sack has no problem pointing out the obvious, and neither should the rest of us.

"Many have noted that the pipeline corridor was repositioned from its original route north of Bismarck after white citizens spoke up against the threat a spill would pose to their drinking water ― a threat duly recognized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Yet the Corps failed its federal mandate for meaningful consultation with the Standing Rock Tribe before signing off on a route that moved the pipeline to their doorstep."

The Standing Rock Sioux say that the pipeline will pass by the reservation's water intake, and they won't allow their water supply to be put in jeopardy either.

Consistently left out of news reports that claim that the Native Americans didn't follow the proper procedures for opposing the pipeline is any mention of two very important treaties.

"We have never ceded this land. If Dakota Access Pipeline can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland," Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network said, according to Reuters.

Braun and other water protectors point out that the pipeline will cut across unceded Sioux land delimited by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and another treaty from 1868 in which the Sioux agreed to keep the area for hunting, but to also keep it undeveloped. They even asserted that they still claim their treaty rights back in 2014.

The treaty also established the reservation as separate from the rest of the Sioux territory. According to the National Archives, the federal government confiscated the land illegally in 1877 after gold was discovered in the area. The last legal document of ownership about the area is, according to our very own federal archives, the Sioux Treaty of 1868.

Like it or not, the pipeline's route cuts clear through land that, according to our own laws, still belongs to the Sioux.

"For indigenous peoples, the environment is a living entity that contains our life sources as well as our sacred sites and heritage. The environment is an important part of our lives and any threats to it impacts our families, ancestors and future generations. It is therefore imperative that the United States respects and recognizes the intrinsic, inter-related rights of Sioux and their spiritual traditions, history, philosophy, and especially their rights to their lands and territories. The world is watching what is happening in North Dakota."

"The pipeline would adversely affect not only the security and access to drinking water of the Sioux and millions of people living downstream of the Missouri River," the UN statement claimed, "but it would also destroy archaeological, historical and sacred sites of the Sioux."

Fake claims about the water protectors assert that during the 13-month review process, none of these concerns arose from tribal members. The Bismark Tribune, however, reported that Standing Rock leaders have repeatedly objected to the way the Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the route.

Fake claims accuse the water protectors of waiting until the last second to file a lawsuit. Of course these same news stories consistently fail to report that the tribe's lawsuit came when it did, not because the tribal members didn't get around to it, but because the Finding of No Significant Impact and Final Environmental Assessments were not signed and released to the public until the week of July 25, 2016.

In April, a GoFundMe fundraiser named "The Official -Sacred Stone Camp" was created to help the water protectors who were already at the camp. The timeline expressed by the water protectors actually mirrors a report in NPR that claims the protests began to really build up in April, just as it was becoming abundantly clear that the federal government had decided that the Standing Rock Sioux's concerns and opposition were simply not significant enough to stop the pipeline.

It's not the water protectors' fault the Dakota Access Pipeline was started long before the USACE and Energy Transfer Partners were able to get their reports completed for the area that affects the Sioux. Maybe Energy Transfer Partners should have made sure the entire project had the all-clear before they built right up into unceded Sioux territory.

Fake claims say that the water protectors are only now claiming that the area has any cultural significance. That's also not true.

In the document available on the USACE's website, lo and behold, it states, that the USACE recognizes that much of the region has been inhabited for approximately 12,000 years by humans and more recently by societies.

"Multiple sites have been explored that suggest the area was inhabited by societies adapted for lifestyles on the Plains and in the various geographical regions of the state dating back to 6000 BC. The current Project Areas have a moderate to high probability for archaeological deposits based on proximity to permanent water sources, topography, lack of significant ground disturbances, and depositional processes."

The final document released by the USACE states, contrary to the fake news and social media rumors, there were multiple conversations that brought up the same concerns the water protectors at Standing Rock assert currently. Just as is the case currently, early on, the Native Americans voiced concerns over environmental and cultural impacts of the pipeline. The USACE said that there were government-to-government consultations with tribal representatives, meetings, site visits, conference calls, and emails. Yet, in April, 2016, a declaration of "No Historic Properties Affected" was issued.

Just because people in charge decide that the pipeline will be no big deal, doesn't suddenly make the pipeline no big deal to the water protectors.

The water protectors have the law on their side. They have their right to free speech, their right to assemble, their right to the free exercise of their religion and their property rights afforded to them by two treaties. They also have countless other rights afforded to them as indigenous people of this land. All of those rights have been trampled on over the course of the last year.

Don't believe the fake claims. The water protectors are not the bad guys of this story.

[Featured Image by Dark Sevier/Flickr/Cropped and Resized/CC BY-SA 2.0]