In what is being hailed as a “historic” move, the Obama administration invited hundreds of Native American tribes on Friday to particpate in consultations in order to find solutions to protect and honor treaty rights and ensure meaningful consultations for any infrastructure project that may affect tribes.
The U.S. Departments of the Army, Interior and Justice sent the invitation for government-to-government consultations following a Sept. 9 decision to halt any construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on federal lands. The 1,168 mile pipeline extending across four states from North Dakota to Illinois has drawn the ire of Native American tribes who say their treaty, land and cultural rights are being violated by the project – which they say they were also not properly consulted on. As a result, thousands of tribal members from across the country, along with supporters, have been camping out in North Dakota, as well as protesting in other states, in what has been described as the largest Native American mobilization in decades.
“The Obama Administration’s call for national reform on this issue is a historic moment,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement, adding, “This invitation is a good start but the government has a lot more to do to permanently protect the millions of people who rely on the Missouri River for water and who are put at serious risk because of this pipeline.”
Federal agencies are looking for “meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions, to protect tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.”
“Recent events have highlighted the need for a broader review and consultation as to how prospectively, Federal decision making on infrastructure projects can better allow for timely and meaningful input,” read the letter inviting tribes to a number of consultation sessions around the country.
Many of these issues have been deep and ongoing concerns of groups in opposition to the controversial US$3.7 billion pipeline, which is set to cross federal and private lands in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
Thousands have stood in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who say that the pipeline will damage the local environment and contaminate local water supplies, specifically the Missouri River, and run through Native American sacred sites, including burial grounds.
“We have already seen the damage caused by a lack of consultation. The ancient burial sites where our Lakota and Dakota ancestors were laid to rest have been destroyed,” said Archambault. “The desecration of family graves is something that most people could never imagine.”
The invitation was extended to all 567 federally recognized tribes on behalf of a number of federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice.
“We understand that Tribal Nations’ voices must be heard, in a timely and meaningful way, with regard to Federal decisions that could affect their treaties, homelands, environment, cultural properties, and sacred sites,” the joint agency letter said.
The first of seven consultation sessions are planned to start on Oct. 11 across Arizona, Washington, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota and South Dakota.
Native American tribes and environmentalists have vowed to continue the fight against the pipeline until the project is permanently suspended.