You may recall that, in late March, the Standing Rock, Oglala, Yankton, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes won a key round in their legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). In a reversal of his prior decision, D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the pipeline hadn’t undergone proper environmental review. Though logic would dictate a subsequent cease to DAPL’s operations, Boasberg hasn’t taken that step. That’s why, last week, the Lakota Law team joined an Earthjustice-led effort and submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the judge, a strong legal argument that the oil flow must stop immediately.
For a comprehensive picture of the history of DAPL and current legal landscape, check out our in-depth blog, which also features our television ad targeted to the D.C. market in 2017 arguing for a full Environmental Impact Statement.
It’s not complicated. Because Boasberg’s latest decision voids the easement granted for DAPL, it should no longer be permitted to carry oil, at least until we’ve seen an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act. We’ve been arguing for a proper EIS since the beginning, recognizing that — given the oil company’s horrendous safety track record — it may be impossible to produce.
As you know, the Obama administration agreed that a comprehensive review was needed in late 2016, shutting down construction as thousands cheered at Standing Rock during the #NoDAPL protests. Sadly, everything changed when Trump took office. One of his first executive orders fast-tracked the pipeline without the EIS. Then, when Standing Rock took legal action, Judge Boasberg cited an exception in the law allowing construction despite known, potential hazards.
Boasberg’s latest ruling has changed the game again, this time in our favor. In our brief, LPLP Chief counsel Daniel Sheehan argues that if the oil flow doesn’t stop now, the Court will send a perilous message that litigation against the government is “meaningless and tantamount to a bait and switch designed to fool those naïve enough to believe that the rule of law still has efficacy.”
We’re not alone. Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have also joined U.S. senators including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren to submit a powerful amicus brief. Their legal argument was prepared by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, both of whom met face-to-face with our team in recent months.
We are aligned with powerful people, and the support you have shown to the Lakota means we can keep fighting nonstop to cancel pipelines and forward justice. The tide may be turning. I hope that if you stay with us, we can bring additional legal victories — and safety — back to our homelands.
Wopila tanka — Thank you for your friendship and your support,
Chase Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project
A federal judge on Monday denied the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ request to amend his earlier ruling regarding TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline, reaffirming that a permit issued by the Army Corps was invalid.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled again that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued Nationwide Permit 12, which allows companies to construct energy projects at water crossings.
“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL.”
—Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity
Climate action and Indigenous rights campaigners have for years fought the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which if built would cross bodies of water hundreds of times along its nearly 1,200-mile route from Alberta to Nebraska. TC Energy plans to send tar sands oil along the route, which opponents say would put Indigenous communities as well as wildlife at risk for dangerous leaks and exposure to toxic waste.
“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams, and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable.”
The USACE had asked Morris to narrow his April 15 ruling, but the judge only changed his decision on Nationwide Permit 12 to allow non-pipeline construction, such as electrical transmission lines, to move forward.
“Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters,” said Cecilia Segal, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney. “Today’s ruling makes clear that climate-busting pipelines like Keystone XL cannot be built until the federal government does its job and properly analyzes these projects’ devastating effects on their surrounding communities and wildlife. If that analysis is based on science and facts, pipelines like Keystone XL will never see the light of day because they remain, and always will be, a dire threat to our water, wildlife, and climate.”
John Chao created this beautiful photography book and has a chapter about Standing Rock. Check it out. People who were there have their names listed. I am listed there and am very proud to say that I was there, I was a witness, I contributed, and I tried to help in any way I could by waking up my school community on Sacramento to what was going on in North Dakota.
The struggle continues as we battle through a rogue government and a pandemic.
It will always be the artist, writers, and educators who will document and tell the tale.
It’s more important now than ever to unite and support each other. That’s why, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we’re launching a massive livestream from April 22-24 where you can join activists, celebrities, musicians, and more in an epic moment of community and hope for our future. Together, we’ll:
Drive donations to benefit the COVID-19 relief effort
Call on world leaders to take emergency action to build a more sustainable and just world
Inspire millions to pledge to vote for our future.
For 50 years, we’ve been losing the fight for our planet. But we can make this the century we saved the world — starting on Earth Day. Here’s how you can spread the word and make this as big as possible.
Two pueblos in New Mexico have some of the highest infection rates in the United States. The numbers are stark. Zia Pueblo has 31 confirmed positive cases with a population of 900 people. And San Felipe has 52 cases with a population of 2,200.
Ravn Air carried passengers, food, freight and mail to more than 120 communities announced it’s ending service to all but 11 villages. Ravn Air sent the message at 6 a.m. telling employees to stop operations that day.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there are “’incredible spikes” of coronavirus cases in the Navajo Nation and that the virus could “wipe out” some tribal nations, according to a recording of a call between Trump and the nation’s governors obtained by ABC News.
“We’re seeing incredible spikes in the Navajo Nation, and this is going to be an issue where we’re going to have to figure that out and think about maybe testing and surveillance opportunities,” Grisham said.
Indian Country Today Reporters’ Roundtable, March 30
Another Monday. Another tranche of global COVID-19 cases on National Doctors Day. There are now more than 122,000 cases in the United States, resulting in 2,112 deaths. And in Indian Country there are 190 cases with at least 10 deaths confirmed.
The Lummi Nation in Washington state reported the sharpest increase so far this week. There are now 16 positive cases, 12 of them being Lummi citizens, and nine people who live on the Lummi Reservation. Two of the cases include members of the Lummi Business Council. The identified cases are likely to go up — there are 22 more cases pending, according to the tribe’s public health department.
Meskwaki Nation among others in Indian Country with confirmed cases
Weekends are usually days when people take time off. Not these days as the number of positive coronavirus cases continue to grow in Indian Country. Over the weekend, tribal nations reported new numbers, instituted new curfews and organizations asked for more donations to send to both students and community members. Others used this time to connect on social media. In Iowa, a 31-year-old Meskwaki woman was confirmed positive for the virus, the Times Republican reported. She has been identified as Lindsey Johnson.
‘Three weeks ago we were doing great! And now we’re done.’
It’s a sparse lunch crowd at the Bee Line Cafe in Payson, Arizona. Only four tables have guests seated and eating. Business has slowed considerably in the past week says owner Kassie Sexton.“People are not wanting to come in because they’re afraid they’re going to get cooties.” She laughs nervously as she looks around her nearly empty cafe.
The sweeping bill that President Donald Trump signed will help better equip health care systems that serve Native Americans, improve the emergency response time on tribal lands, provide economic relief for tribal members, and help with food deliveries to low-income families and the elderly.
Tribes have been lobbying Congress to help address shortfalls in an already underfunded health care system and to ensure the federal government fulfills its obligation to them under treaties and other acts. While the $10 billion for tribes in the $2.2 trillion package is less than they requested, tribes say it represents progress.
The number of coronavirus cases is growing globally.
On Saturday, 103,321 cases were reported in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making the U.S. the country with the highest number of confirmed cases and 1,668 people have died from coronavirus-related complications.
Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is the highest in the world, with over 10,000 fatalities.
Updated: New coronavirus cases on the Navajo Nation have increased by 20 on Wednesday, from 49 to 69
Tribes in Minnesota are the latest across Indian Country to fall under a statewide stay-at-home order in the fight to prevent the coronavirus spread.Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order on Wednesday ordering Minnesota residents in nonessential jobs to stay at home. The order begins midnight Friday and is scheduled to run through April 10.
The Senate and White House reached an agreement on the bailout funds for America, the largest in history. The $2 trillion relief package includes $8 billion for tribal governments and $2 billion for emergency supplemental funding for federal Indian programs.
The Senate vote on the agreement is set to happen this afternoon. Even if passed by the Senate, they would need House approval.
Two Arizona tribes in the Phoenix valley see their first COVID-19 cases while the Navajo Nation adds 20 more reports. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community reported its first case and the Gila River Indian Community has two positive cases.
Generations and generations … have had to deal with these pandemics and these viruses, and they’ve also had to get up in the morning and feed themselves, and make things run for society’
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from out of state to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Sunday Hawaii Governor David Ing took the action for travelers headed there.
Surgeon General: ‘America … It’s going to get bad’
This morning U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on national television, “I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad.” As if he needed proof, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doubled over the weekend. There are now 33,404 cases and 400 people across the country have died.
Zibaaska’iganagooday is the exploding sound in the Ojibwe language and it has a long history of healing
Community song and dance have always been a part of healing and prayer for Native people. In this time of social distancing, however, people are putting a digital spin on these healing traditions. People all over Indian Country are organizing virtual powwows and other social dances via social media as a means to offer hope and spiritual support during the Covid19 pandemic
Swords, rez dogs, Indian Country adventures and more
Bored at home? Nonsense. Practicing safe social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic can also mean opportunity. We can finally catch up on all the streaming shows, Native YouTubers, read all the books we never have time for and listen to all the saved podcast episodes tucked away on our devices.
American Indians and Alaska Natives clustered in camps or on the streets; ‘It’s been a crazy time’
Every major city has a virtual suburb for the homeless. Homes consisting of tents, scrap wood, shopping baskets and cardboard boxes. In shelters, a family dwelling might have a common kitchen and bedrooms with bunk beds. Others may have a large room filled with dozens of bunk beds or canvas cots. Some have dozens of rubber-coated thick pads placed a foot apart in rows laid across a concrete floor.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation has grown to 14, a dramatic increase from the three confirmed cases reported only a day ago.
The announcement came hours after a 55-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen was the first coronavirus related death in Oklahoma. Before the Navajo Nation announcement late Thursday, March 19, there were nine cases confirmed in the Indian health system.
The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have confirmed the first COVID-19 related death, according to the Cherokee Phoenix. A 55-year-old Cherokee man died on March 18 after fighting a cold and then contracted the coronavirus disease.
The death of a tribal citizen that has been confirmed is one of the nine cases reported in the Indian health system as of March 19. On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation confirmed its third case, a 62-year-old Navajo man.
The Lummi Nation in Washington state has confirmed three positive COVID-19 cases, according to Tony Hillaire, chief of staff of the Lummi Indian Business Council. This adds to the total of seven within the Indian health system; one in the Portland Area of the Indian Health Service, one in the Great Plains area and two in the Navajo region.
Of the three Lummi cases, one is a Lummi citizen who resides on the reservation. The other two cases are residents of King and Whatcom counties.
First of all, from my home in Cheyenne River to yours wherever you may be, I hope you are staying safe and well. Over my years, I’d come to think maybe I’d seen it all — but not so! One thing I know is that we’ll only get through this period of separation and hardship by sticking together. So I write to you today with an opportunity to help make a real difference that could save lives.
Please join us in telling Montana stop KXL construction now, before it spreads COVID-19 on tribal nations.
As I have shared with you previously, we Native women have been hard at work organizing our communities to prepare for the dangers KXL poses. The man camps that house oil workers were already scary before we knew they could become petri dishes for the virus. Allowing two of them near our reservation just increases our peril.
But allow them, Trump will. He’s cynically using the pandemic to take full advantage of our inability to engage in grassroots organizing on the ground. On March 31, TC Energy announced a final decision to complete KXL, explicitly thanking the president for giving the go-ahead. Three days later, Trump tweeted his happiness.
Though TC Energy has claimed it will follow procedures to limit the spread of the virus, Republican Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has said that he won’t expect workers traveling from out of state to be quarantined. Meanwhile, here in South Dakota, Republican governor Kristi Noem has steadfastly refused to institute shelter-in-place mandates or close businesses, despite 447 documented positive tests and six deaths in our state.
We must lean on the Democrat, Bullock, to do the right thing. He has, at least, waffled on KXL. On the one hand, he said, “Look — if it’s done right, we can’t take it off the table.” On the other hand, he’s commented that the Department of State failed to adequately consider the pipeline’s environmental impacts, and he’s expressed concern about the threat to Montana’s water from a leak or spill. Bullock has also criticized the Trump administration’s failure to adequately consult with Native American tribes affected by the pipeline — a major reason to hope he’ll listen to us now.
It’s worth noting that KXL has many of the same weaknesses in its design and approval process as the Dakota Access pipeline, which — partially due to safety concerns including an inadequate leak detection system — just had its federal permits revoked by a court ruling. Let’s protect public safety and stop KXL construction.
Wopila tanka — I thank you, sincerely, for your life-saving activism!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
I hope this email finds you safe and well. As you have likely heard, the federal government recently passed a $2 trillion emergency relief package to aid Americans during the COVID-19 crisis. We’re so grateful to those of you who sent 13,000 emails to Congress demanding the CARES Act not bail out fossil fuel companies. It worked: the bill was revised — you and others stopped a $3 billion giveaway to oil companies! Other victories in the Act include expanded protections for unemployed workers, coverage for COVID-19 testing, and $64 million in aid to Indian Country. Even under quarantine, you are helping make a difference where it counts.
Chase Iron Eyes talks legal action against the White House.
In the midst of massive shelter-in-place orders, we’re seeing how quickly nature can start to rebound — bluer skies, cleaner water ways, thriving wildlife. Mother Earth is clearly sending us a message: we can’t go back to business-as-usual. The truth is, COVID-19 isn’t the primary reason the oil industry is now suffering. U.S. fracking simply can’t compete with cheap Saudi Oil and renewables. We must let the market dictate a shift to green alternatives before it’s too late, rather than continuing to subsidize dirty energy. Taking Trump’s Big Oil addiction to court can be an important step in severing our addiction to fossil fuels.
In more localized news, my part of Indian Country is beginning to feel the impacts of the pandemic, with confirmed cases near both Standing Rock and Yankton. Though we have no reported cases yet on Pine Ridge or Cheyenne River, limited testing means we can’t be sure the virus isn’t among us. We know that COVID-19 could disproportionately impact Native communities, and we’re remaining vigilant during these uncertain times. We organizers are sounding out tribal leaders (from a safe distance) on how LPLP can support public health in the days to come. Please stay tuned for ways you can assist our efforts on the reservations.
Thank you for your support. Wishing you and your family safety and health,
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the nation, we’re aware that it could have an outsized impact on Indian Country. Relief programs may not provide needed tests and medical supplies for us — or anyone — on an appropriate scale. Please know we are monitoring this, and as my colleague Chase Iron Eyes mentioned a few days ago, we’ll keep you updated on developments. May we all stay safe and healthy.
In the meantime, I write with some wonderful news. Just yesterday, Standing Rock won a big victory in the ongoing legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline when a federal judge granted the tribe’s request to strike down DAPL’s federal permits!
The judge ruled that Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — the much more comprehensive review we’ve all been demanding since the beginning of this movement (and that President Obama required, only to be reversed by Trump). The Corps fell short in three specific ways, according to the judge.
First, the Corps failed to respond adequately to claims by the tribe’s experts that DAPL’s leak detection system is wholly inadequate. Second, the company’s dreadful history of oil spills wasn’t properly addressed. Finally, the oil company failed to account for the adverse repercussions a “worst case discharge” might have on our treaty rights — our ability to hunt, fish, and perform traditional religious ceremonies near Lake Oahe, which the pipeline crosses under.
I was asked by the tribal chairman to represent Standing Rock’s interests at the hearing in Washington, D.C., but I couldn’t go because of Coronavirus travel restrictions. I’m gratified that, despite our troubles, we have been victorious, at least for now.
The logic of the judge’s ruling suggests the pipeline should not remain operational without a federal permit. The ruling actually references both the Titanic and Chernobyl concerning the possibility of human error, and I’m hopeful shutting down the flow will be the judge’s next step. He has now requested legal briefs on that issue.
Please stay tuned, as we hope to share more good news soon. In the meantime, stay safe and please listen to the medical professionals with knowledge about the requirements of this pandemic. We’re all in this together.
Wopila tanka — as always, we’re so grateful to you for standing with Standing Rock and Mother Earth.
Standing Rock Organizer
The 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.
Thousands of water protectors and allies spent weeks at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota in 2016 to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Reuters)
A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.
The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.
“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win. It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”
—Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
The Standing Rock Sioux had raised concerns regarding the likelihood and danger of potential oil spills, DAPL’s leak-detection system, and the safety record of Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the pipeline. Sunoco “has experienced 276 incidents resulting in over $53 million in property damage from 2006 to 2016” and has “one of the lowest performing safety records of any operator in the industry,” the tribe’s experts found.
The federal ruling “validates everything the Tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman in a statement. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016, and this is the second time the court has ruled that the government ran afoul of environmental laws when it permitted this pipeline. We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down.”
DAPL and the fight against the pipeline was the subject of international attention in 2016 when thousands of water defenders gathered at camps in North Dakota, facing a highly militarized police force armed with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, and other weapons.
Since Trump reversed former President Barack Obama’s December 2016 order denying the permits and allowed the construction to be completed in June 2017, the tribe has challenged the permits and demanded the USACE conduct a full environmental analysis.
Wednesday’s ruling represented a “huge victory” for the tribe, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted.
“Such thanks to all who fight!” he wrote.
“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”
Others on social media celebrated the victory and applauded the “tireless efforts” of the campaigners, with the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America calling the decision the “absolute best possible outcome” of the court battle.
“This is why we never stop fighting,” Earthjustice president Abbie Dillen said.
Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.