Congress Needs to Investigate Corporate Influence on Law Enforcement’s DAPL Response

An Open Letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Keith Ellison:

Regardless of your view on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), I hope we all can agree that the standoff and violence that occurred near Standing Rock should never have happened. We must learn from this tragic event.

In that regard, I ask you to investigate the actions of the National Sheriffs’ Association and  its role in doing opposition research against water protectors and its ties and coordination with TigerSwan, the private security firm hired by Energy Transfer Partners to protect DAPL. This should include a review of the rationale and appropriateness of the law enforcement tactics used.

Screen capture of 2016 video showing the heavily militarized response to water protectors.

This is a national issue. Law enforcement  from several states — including Minnesota — were deployed to Morton County, North Dakota through mutual assistance agreements. What are the lessons these law enforcement agents will take back to their home communities?

This should be of particular to concern to those of us in Minnesota. Canadian company Enbridge Line 3 has proposed expanding a tar sands crude pipeline through the state, called Line 3. It would run from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, and includes 337 miles of pipeline through Minnesota. It would cross the Mississippi River, twice, and cross many wild rice lakes. This project most likely will provoke a similar resistance movement as happened in North Dakota. (See MPR story: Minn. oil pipeline fight stokes threats, fears of Standing Rock.)

How will we respond if and when that happens?

We need a thorough review of law enforcement’s response at Standing Rock so that we don’t repeat the mistakes that were made.

Continue reading

DAPL Court Ruling a Mixed Bag: Reveals Deeply Flawed Environmental Justice Review, but Weak on Treaty Rights

A recent court ruling on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is stunning for what is reveals about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted its so called “environmental analysis” of the project.

The June 14 decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg will require the Corps to go back and do the analysis correctly. He left open the possibility that the court could shut down the pipeline until these issues are resolved. That decision will come at a later hearing.

The court ruling says the Corps analysis “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.” Read more deeply into the decision, and it raises questions about whether the Corps is simply oblivious to the concept of environment justice or whether its staff willfully slanted the review to get the outcome it wanted.

(In a related matter, the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the Environmental Justice Program altogether and making deep cuts to other civil rights services. See this CNN story.)

According to the court decision on DAPL: “The purpose of an environmental justice analysis is to determine whether a project will have a disproportionately adverse effect on minority and low income populations.”

The problem with the Corps’ environmental justice analysis boils down to this: It drew such a tiny circle defining the project’s impact area that it excluded the Standing Rock Nation from consideration.

That’s right. The Corps’ environmental justice analysis only looked at the impact on a predominantly white community mostly upstream from where DAPL crossed under Lake Oahe. It did not consider the impact on the Lakota people of the Standing Rock Nation just downstream from the crossing — the community that would be impacted by any spill. Continue reading

Did the Federal Government Exercise its “Federal Trust Responsibility” to the Standing Rock Nation? It Seems the Answer is No

One of the issues that has received little attention in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) debate is whether the federal government exercised its trust responsibility to protect Native American peoples and lands.

According to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs FAQ:

The federal Indian trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes…

The federal Indian trust responsibility is also a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on the part of the United States to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources …

This is not a responsibility limited to the BIA, it extends to the entire federal government. So where did this federal trust obligation get exercised in the DAPL debate?

Let’s explore this a little deeper. Continue reading

Army Corps Abruptly Ends DAPL Environmental Review; More Pressure Brought Against Pipeline’s Financial Backers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has prematurely scuttled the environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a move both expected and discouraging. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and thousands of Japanese protestors have joined the push to divest from the banks backing the pipeline, the Standing Rock Nation is struggling from declining casino revenues, and the FBI investigates DAPL protestors as potential terrorists.

Continue reading

The Sad Story on How North Dakota’s Religious Leaders Are Mostly Ignoring Native Concerns About DAPL

Rev. John Floberg has served as an Episcopal priest on the Standing Rock Reservation for a quarter century. He is one of few religious leaders in North Dakota to play an active role in supporting the water protectors camps and listening to people’s concerns, according to a story in the Bismarck Tribune.

Floberg was the one who invited clergy from around the country to come to the camps last fall, an event that drew around 500 leaders of different faiths to support Standing Rock in its efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He continues working to support relationships between Native and non-Native peoples, for instance, giving gift cards to his Native American congregants so they can eat with non-native friends in Bismarck-Mandan. Floberg said it was his 25 years on the reservation that gave him the understanding on how to stand his ground in this contentious situation.

Other than the backstory on Floberg, this is a sad article. The Bismarck Tribune reports:

Though support and endorsements have flooded in from religious institutions around the world, few Christian leaders on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and in North Dakota took an active role. In fact, Floberg was nearly unique in his activism. …

More broadly in North Dakota, the only churches to take on an active role have been the Unitarian Universalists in Bismarck and the Presentation Sisters in Fargo, according to Karen von Fassen, of the UU church. Some did partake individually by coming to rallies or participating in interfaith prayer events.

To be fair, this is a very polarizing issue in North Dakota, not an easy issue for religious leaders to address. (Locally, compare it to the difficult conversations in congregations around Black Lives Matter protesting at Mall of America or blocking  freeways to highlight police shootings.) Yet this is where faith gets tested. Continue reading

DAPL Updates: Veterans Stand to Redeploy; First Legal Challenge to Easement, and More

Work on the last segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is restarting after the federal government reversed course and approved the last easement. The drilling under the Missouri River will take 60 days to complete, and it will take another 23 days to fill the pipeline, according to a Thursday story in Indian Country Media Network.

Here are updates on the effort to stop DAPL.

  • The group Veterans Stand is raising money to help pay for transportation and supplies for veterans to return to the site of the DAPL construction and show their support for water protectors.
  • The Cheyenne River Sioux have filed the first legal action to try to overturn DAPL easement under the Missouri River.
  • A judge rejects DAPL opponents request to make law enforcement stop using “excessive force.”

Continue reading

DAPL Protestors Get Unusually High Fines, Jury Finds Actions Had No Legitimate Purpose

A ruling in a Morton County, North Dakota courtroom shows how people in our nation live in very different worlds and how much work we have ahead to find common understandings of fairness and decency.

A Morton County jury found eight Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters guilty of disorderly conduct, according to a story in the Bismarck Tribune. The court fined them between $1,250 and $1,685 each. Their crimes included such actions as “sitting on a gravel access road built by the company, pushing into law enforcement and standing in the road,” the story said.

Defense attorney Alex Reichert told the judge that a $1,000 fine was more than he’d seen imposed for this type of crime in his 20-year legal career. …

The fines came after a request from Ladd Erickson, a special prosecutor for Morton County, who contends the protesters wanted to inflict harm on the state, people and police.

Continue reading