Oahe Dam: Standing Rock’s Earlier Experience with Environmental Racism; and More DAPL Updates

Lake Oahe was formed by damming the Missouri River.
Lake Oahe was formed by damming the Missouri River. In the process, it flooded Standing Rock land. (Image from Wikipedia.)

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is not the first example of environmental racism suffered by the Standing Rocking Nation. A recent op/ed piece in Native News Online.Net gives important history.

Missouri flood waters decimated Omaha, Nebraska in 1943; Congress responded by passing the Pick–Sloan Act, also known as the Flood Control Act of 1944, writes LaRae Meadows. It became part of a comprehensive plan covering other commercial and safety aspects of the river.

As the plan took shape over the next two decades, the  burden for its success fell heavily on Native peoples. Part of the response included construction of the Oahe dam in South Dakota, a project that backed up the Missouri River for water storage and hydropower — flooding land in North and South Dakota. Meadows writes:

Lake Oahe Reservoir and hydroelectric dam was created when the Army Corps of Engineers flooded the fertile river lands and displaced a village on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 1960. A forest was deluged – lost to the water. Bison died. Burial grounds were submerged. Homes were lost.

Wikipedia adds the following:

Over 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock Reservation and the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota were flooded by the Oahe Dam alone. As of 2015, poverty remains a problem for the displaced populations in the Dakotas, who are still seeking compensation for the loss of the towns submerged under Lake Oahe, and the loss of their traditional ways of life.

Yet, writes Meadows: “The Army Corps of Engineers’ requirements under Pick-Sloan may be the last weapon the Water Protectors have to stop the drill and the pipeline.”

Here is how Pick Sloan could stop DAPL, according to Meadows. Unlike other tribes, the Standing Rock Nation preserved its right to the Missouri River bed running through the reservation. So, “Anything which changes the qualities of the river bottom is within the tribe’s right to decide.”

Further, the flood control plan for the Missouri River relies on a series of dams, levies, and flood plains. If DAPL leaks during a heavy rain, the dam couldn’t continue to hold both the contaminated water and the storm water. If the contaminated water were released into the shallow flood plains, the result would be a disaster.

Even a minor flow onto the flood plains would have a major catastrophic effect on the wildlife. Animals, plants, and vulnerable soils which would otherwise not be affected would be contaminated. …

Contaminated water could seep several feet underground and have lateral permeation of millions of cubic feet of soil.

The Corps of Engineers needs to take that into consideration. Click on the link above to read the full article. It’s a good read.

Calls for Federal Intervention, Investigation Increase

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) wrote the U.S. Attorney General Friday urging the Justice Department to intervene at Standing Rock. Booker writes:

I am deeply troubled by this tense situation, and particularly by reports indicating that law enforcement may be responding to peaceful protestors near Standing Rock with overly aggressive tactics.

Booker also expressed concern for the safety of law enforcement officers and reports of unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

Given the conflicting reports of who has initiated violence and the danger posed by unanswered questions, the tense situation at Standing Rock calls for strong federal oversight and investigation into the violence. If the Department has not already deployed monitors to the region, I urge you to do so.

Here is Sen. Booker’s full letter.

On November 23, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) sent a letter calling on the U.S. Attorney General to intervene on behalf of the Water Protectors. NARF further requested a full investigation of the Morton County Sheriff’s Office for their acts of violence and tactics used against the Water Protectors as well as requesting criminal charges be brought for any and all violations of federal criminal civil rights laws.

Here is NARF’s full letter.

North Dakota Leaders Pushing for DAPL Approval

MPR reports that North Dakota’s political leadership is pushing President Obama to approve the DAPL easement under the Missouri River.

North Dakota’s governor and congressional delegation are pressuring President Barack Obama to pave the way for completion of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, protests over which they say are taxing law enforcement and are costing millions of dollars.

All the more reason to keep calling Obama and other leaders and tell them to stop the project. (Find the phone numbers in the middle of this blog.)

The Conflicts Along the 1,172 Miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline

For a good visual of the pipeline and the conflicts it has spurred, check out this New York Times piece. It has a map of the entire pipeline route, overlaid with commentary.

For links to all of our coverage of DAPL, see our Dakota Access Pipeline page.

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