Your Voice Will Be Critical: NODAPL

Lakota Law

A couple weeks back, I was honored to join a delegation to Washington, D.C. led by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire. We met with congressional reps and other decision makers to inspire action to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). As the pipeline’s legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) continues to stall despite the clear and present danger to Standing Rock and the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — this was mission critical. You can click here to watch our latest Water Wars video, produced in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance, which highlights our productive meeting with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Watch: I joined Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire (right) for her delegation to Washington, D.C. We had several excellent conversations about DAPL, including one with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (left).

You may recall that, in 2021, members of the Squad — progressive millennial women leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives including Tlaib, AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Ilhan Omar — joined us and other Indigenous justice leaders in Minnesota to combat the Line 3 pipeline. And, of course, in 2017 AOC visited Standing Rock to take part in the #NoDAPL resistance, inspiring her run for Congress. These true leaders recognize the dangers of pipelines and care about what happens to us. Their support remains critical, but frankly it isn’t enough. We need other lawmakers and the executive branch to recognize DAPL’s danger and help us stop the oil before it spills and creates an emergency for our people.

As we pointed out during our meetings in D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers has repeatedly failed to provide Standing Rock with an adequate emergency response plan for DAPL. It has only shared a redacted version, which prevents us from planning on our own. This is particularly concerning now, because extremely low water levels in the Mni Sose have made accessing potential leak sites a logistical nightmare. We pray that something will be done before it’s too late.

In the meantime, please take a few minutes to watch our video and stay ready to take action. Eventually, the Corps will have to release its sham EIS. When it does, your voice will be critical. The public comment period will offer us an opportunity to stand strong together — again — for the water, for the people, and for our future.

Wopila tanka — thank you, as ever, for standing with Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Standing Rock: Action

Lakota Law

As many of you know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is a proud ally of Standing Rock. We provide media, fundraising, organizing, and lobbying support to the tribal chairwoman’s team, especially on environmental causes like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In this capacity, we’re traveling next week to Washington D.C. to support Chairwoman Janet Alkire as she meets with key decision-makers about the ongoing injustice of DAPL.

More on that soon — but for now, we’d like to share our new video with you, made in collaboration with Chairwoman Alkire’s team, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, and the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance. It brings tribal leaders together from all over South Dakota to speak about the necessity to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) from Big Extraction’s misdeeds, like Dakota Access.

Watch: Janet Alkire and Oceti Ŝakowiŋ camp leaders reflect on the importance of the #NoDAPL movement to protecting Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth).

The stakes of our environmental movement remain as high as ever for all humans, plants, and animals. The year 2022 is on track to be one of the hottest on record. To make a difference we must act locally while thinking globally. Local for me means the Dakotas, where Standing Rock’s water supply (and that of 17 million others) is still in jeopardy from an illegal oil pipeline without a permit.

Why is it operating without a permit? Because the company hired by the federal government to do the environmental impact statement (EIS) was among those who joined a lawsuit against Standing Rock early in the NoDAPL movement. Of course, Standing Rock’s leaders won’t accept this, so there is a standoff at the moment with the feds. The Army Corps of Engineers has now postponed the release of their flawed EIS until next year, and that gives the tribe more time to fight back and demand that a decent company conduct a new assessment.

As you’re aware, Big Oil has a stranglehold on American politics. Wind power is the cheapest energy source available today — there’s enough wind in just the Dakotas and Texas to power the entire United States. But instead of shifting aggressively to clean technologies, this nation is allowing the fossil fuel industry to bully us into greater investments in our own destruction. Indigenous voices must remain strong to counteract forces of greed and narrow self-interest that plague our nation and world at this time. We will continue doing what we can, with your support!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your ongoing determined support
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Keep Informed and Active!

Lakota Law

This week, the Supreme Court issued an odious trifecta of decisions limiting three precious things: a woman’s right to choose, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat the climate crisis, and tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma. I’m here to tell you, we must battle back. Here on the frontlines of environmental racism, we know exactly how far the colonizers will go to preserve their own power and profit. Breaking or changing laws is nothing new, and neither is marginalizing Native tribes. But we can and we must restore justice.

That’s the subject of the fifth chapter in our “Dakota Water Wars” series, Ignoring Tribes and Ignoring Laws, co-produced by us in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance. Please give it a watch.

Watch: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier joins other leaders from the Oceti Sakowin to talk about how DAPL ignores both tribes and laws.

Over the past five centuries, since European settlers first invaded the shores of Turtle Island, our Indigenous voices have routinely been silenced. Treaties have always been broken. Despite promise after promise, we’ve been further marginalized, year by year. State and federal governments alike seemingly couldn’t care less about the dire consequences for our People when projects like the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) are railroaded through our homelands. And conservative politicians, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, are especially eager to reduce our influence and make us invisible.

Whenever we’re the ones most affected, industry and government seem to have no qualms ignoring their own laws, too — as has happened with DAPL. During Standing Rock’s lawsuit to stop the pipeline, the presiding judge had to tell the Department of Justice it was flouting the National Environmental Policy Act with its argument that tribal input doesn’t matter.

The fact is, we do matter, and your solidarity with us ensures that our voices increasingly become part of the conversation. As Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young says in the video, it’s up to us to make sure government agencies take a new approach that prioritizes “mutual respect, mutual participation, and mutual benefit.” Please continue to stand with Standing Rock and the Lakota People’s Law Project. As our rights and protections are rolled back, it’s more important than ever that we unite and fight — hard.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

#4 of The Water War Series

Lakota Law

Today, we give you the fourth video from our “Water Wars” series, co-produced with Standing Rock, the Great Plains Water Alliance, and the Oceti Sakowin, highlighting why we resist the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). When the oil company forced DAPL through our homelands, it claimed that we, the Native People on the frontlines, had been consulted. But that term has come to mean less than nothing to us. What’s required under international law and what should be standard operating procedure with projects like DAPL is something much more substantial than “consultation” — and that’s our Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.

Watch: “Consultation” isn’t an adequate standard. We never gave our consent for DAPL to threaten our water and homelands.

No matter what they think over at the oil company headquarters, this isn’t the wild wild west anymore. There are rules. This pipeline is operating illegally, without a federal permit. Here in the modern era, I think most of us will also agree that no means no, and gaining consent from those affected before taking action is critical. The concept of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (or FPIC) is, in fact, codified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And Under President Obama, the United States promised to recognize the right we hold as the Nation’s first inhabitants to have a definitive say in what happens to our homelands. 

“Consultation” is a sham. Sending us emails notifying us that a pipeline is about to be drilled under our sole source of fresh drinking water is inadequate, and expecting us to stand aside and let that happen is just plain foolish. I’m grateful that, as our partner in this movement, you’re resisting with us. Please continue to stand with the Oceti Sakowin, and together, let’s defeat DAPL once and for all.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for supporting Indigenous justice!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Prayer Permits Needed?

Lakota Law

For time immemorial, we have lived along and revered our sacred relative, the Mni Sose, the Missouri River. These days, as you know, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) crosses under the Missouri — just upstream from the Standing Rock Nation — without a federal permit. And yet, unlike the oil company, we are required to have a permit just to pray in our traditional sweat ceremonies in certain, sacred spots along the river’s banks.

This bit of disturbing cognitive dissonance is the subject of our third video in the “Water Wars” series we’re producing in partnership with Standing Rock and other tribes of the Oceti Sakowin. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch and share Dakota Water Wars, Chapter 3: Money Against a Prayer.

Watch: Tribal leaders discuss the sheer preposterousness of DAPL crossing under our sacred river without a permit, while we’re required to get a permit to pray in some areas along its banks.

Can we all agree that when Standing Rock’s tribal water resources administrator, Doug Crow Ghost, wants to pray at the river, it should be automatically allowed? Doug cares as much as anyone about our water, and he deeply respects our natural surroundings. In contrast, the oil company, Energy Transfer Partners, tries every means at its disposal to avoid environmental oversight. The colonizing governments occupying this land seem to be more comfortable with the potential of oil spills than prayer on sacred land.

The historical facts back all of this up. It wasn’t until 1978 that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, permitting Native Peoples to engage in acts such as burning sage or sweat ceremony. Meanwhile, DAPL continues to operate without a valid Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), despite a court ruling that this violates the National Environmental Policy Act. Still, we remain hopeful that we can win this fight in the end. 

Earlier this year, a majority conservative Supreme Court rejected the oil company’s latest attempt to avoid environmental oversight, and now we await the (much delayed) release of the EIS, which was overseen by an oil-friendly firm hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Naturally, we expect the statement to be deeply flawed when we finally see it. I hope you’ll be ready to join with Lakota Law, Standing Rock, and the united tribes of the Oceti Sakowin to, once again, stand up to Big Oil and say no to the Dakota Access pipeline when the EIS is finally released. We’ll keep you posted!

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Archive: DAPL

*Note: scroll back through this blog for events that happened from 2016 and historic background regarding pipelines in North Dakota.

Lakota Law

I write today about an exciting project our team has taken on: the creation of an unparalleled online archive of DAPL-related media such as this that will make the water protector movement accessible to students, journalists, and activists all over the world. When we’re finished, anyone will be able to dig into an enormous amount of raw source material about the historic events that transpired at Standing Rock several years ago.

In coordination with various academic partners, we’re well down the road to building the infrastructure needed to launch this engine. We’re also conducting outreach to tribal community colleges to build more partnerships. The human family — for time immemorial — needs to know what happened. We’re doing our part to make that happen.

Water protectors gather on the shores of the Missouri River in 2016.

As many of you know, back in 2017, my colleague Chase Iron Eyes — an attorney and a former candidate for Congress from North Dakota — faced the potential of 6 years in prison for posting on Facebook. Chase used social media to help organize the last effective protest of the NoDAPL effort, at a place called “Last Child’s Camp.” For this, North Dakota tried to put him in prison and strip his law license. But they failed, in part because our lawyer team defended him vigorously in court.

Meanwhile, in the process of defending Chase, our attorneys gathered an enormous amount of media — everything from videos to documents, which, taken together, tell the remarkable story of a tribal nation defending itself against the world’s most powerful industry: Big Extraction.
 
The only way that history ever reflects the view of underdogs like Standing Rock is when people like you — like all of us — work together to document events from the perspective of those normally ignored. Our online DAPL archive will tell the story of the many water protectors who put their bodies on the line to protect air, water, and the sovereignty of tribal nations. Mni Wiconi (“water is life”)!
 
Wopila tanka
— thank you for standing with us as we move forward on many fronts! 
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

“Water Wars”

Lakota Law

When I was a little girl, I lived in paradise. I would roam out from my family’s cabin along the banks of the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and drink straight from her waters. Around our allotment, the Standing Rock Nation was home to one of the most glorious forests on Turtle Island. Our gardens had every fruit tree you could want, and berries to nourish our growing bodies and souls. We were healthy in that place. Our homelands and the river provided for us — and then everything changed.

Before I tell you the rest of the story, I want to share a new video that Lakota Law has produced for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The second chapter in our “Water Wars” series, it follows the first video, which highlighted the uniting of tribes from across the Oceti Sakowin to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). This installment gives you more background and history, detailing the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the treaties that should preserve and protect our homelands. 

Watch: In the new video we produced for Standing Rock, I address other leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to inspire #NoDAPL action.

What happened to the paradise of my youth? In 1958, I was ten years old when the government completed construction of the Oahe Dam and flooded my home to create Lake Oahe. That same lake now provides our tribe’s drinking water, and it’s under that precious resource that DAPL dangerously crosses — without an adequate leak detection system — threatening to devastate our lives once again.

After the flood, for several years, we children lived on white bread, bologna, and hard cheese. We developed vitamin deficiencies and sores on our hands. We no longer had cherries, plums, grapes, wild onions, and all the things that came from the land. We could no longer find many of the medicinal plants that used to grow wild and abundantly in the riverbed and forest. No more could we collect the mushrooms we called “ears of the tree.” When they flooded our homelands — some of the richest in the world — it was an act of pure cruelty. They took our land and the food we grew up on, and they replaced it all with a welfare state.

This was, of course, illegal under both our Indigenous laws and those of the United States. The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 guaranteed that we would retain our sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills, forever. Those treaties and subsequent agreements also protected 14 million acres in North Dakota. Today, we call these “taken lands,” the spoils of manifest destiny and the dam’s construction. 

That’s why we fight. DAPL is only the latest in a long line of projects meant to benefit the colonizer without regard for the original peoples of this land. But with your help, we’ll resist, we’ll sue, we’ll work to replace fossil fuels with Native-run renewable projects, and we’ll use the media to make ourselves heard. And when, at last, our lands are returned, our sacred sites respected, and our treaties honored, I will invite you to come sing with us. Because, despite everything, I still believe we can restore justice together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and Lakota Law.
Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Save the He Sapa (Black Hills)

Lakota Law

For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa. 

Will you help us eliminate these threats to our water, treaty territory, and sacred sites? Right now, please join us in asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to suspend all new mining claims in the Black Hills until the Lakota’s treaty rights are properly acknowledged and honored.

Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.

At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs. 

It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL)

Lakota Law

We remain 100 percent focused on our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), despite the turmoil in the world around us. As you’ll see in a new video we co-produced with Standing Rock, a strong coalition among South Dakota’s tribal nations has formed to get it done. 

Watch on Standing Rock’s Vimeo page: Standing Rock Chair Janet Alkire is joined by leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to coordinate the current #NoDAPL strategy.

In the video, you’ll hear from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. It’s the first in a planned series that will delve more deeply into the complex issues faced by the tribes in their fight to stop DAPL — a pipeline which continues to operate without a permit for its crossing under Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Nation.

Chairwoman Alkire has been actively relaying tribal concerns directly to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. She recently returned from a meeting with him, in which she discussed the lack of transparency concerning DAPL’s oil spill response plan for the Missouri River and the terrible safety track record of its parent company, Energy Transfer. As detailed in a press release from the tribe, over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by Energy Transfer and its affiliated companies experienced nearly 300 spills — including 50 large ones in vulnerable areas like Lake Oahe.

Until this pipeline has a valid Environmental Impact Statement and federal permit, it is operating in violation of the laws designed to safeguard our people, our delicate water systems, and our sacred homelands. We must keep the pressure on U.S. leaders to do the right thing and shut DAPL down. Please watch our video, stay tuned for the next chapters, and be ready when the time comes to take action together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and the entire Oceti Sakowin!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Fighting Big Oil

Lakota Law

I wish you a happy Earth Day! Here’s an anniversary (unlike some others) that I think we can all celebrate. We all care deeply about Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and when I joined the Lakota Law staff a couple months back, part of the reason was because this organization is never afraid to take on the biggest environmental issues in Indian Country and beyond. Big Oil — which has been knowingly killing this world and lying about it to the public for decades — must be held accountable. Our methodology to make that happen doesn’t stop at resisting pipelines. We mean to end harmful extraction entirely.

I urge you to follow all the work of the Romero Institute — home to both Lakota Law and Let’s Green CA!, a statewide initiative which aims to make California a model of equitable climate action. You’ll see that we have an effective, multipronged approach to winning environmental justice. 

Lakota LawHere’s that all-too-familiar vista of another oil refinery belching toxic filth into the atmosphere. This is why we’re taking polluters to task and working to pass green legislation.

This week, Let’s Green CA! Is celebrating a big victory with the passage of SB 1230 out of the California Senate’s Committee on Environmental Quality. Romero’s staff — in partnership with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and the Dolores Huerta Foundation — has worked very hard to make this clean transportation legislation a reality, from the ground up. Sponsored by State Senator Monique Limón, the bill would rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce toxic air pollution, and support green jobs by accelerating a just transition to clean cars in the largest state in our country and the fifth largest economy in the world. I applaud our sister program!

Meanwhile, the Romero Institute’s legal team is drafting a 300-page Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) criminal complaint against the six major oil companies presently doing business in California. It’s designed to stimulate filings by state attorneys general and U.S. Attorneys against corporations, their CEOs, management officials, principal shareholders and financiers, and the American Petroleum Institute, which conspired with the oil leaders to lie to the American public about the known dangers of fossil fuel emissions causing climate change. I encourage you to watch this excellent, new documentary by PBS Frontline to learn more.

As you can see, we’re not taking our responsibilities to Unci Maka lightly. Our Lakota way is not to look at what we can do for ourselves, but to ask how we can be of service to our relatives — including this beautiful world that holds us all in her embrace. So, today, let’s celebrate her. Then, every day from here on, let’s make sure we’re doing better by her.

Wopila tanka — thank you for fighting for environmental justice!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project