Tribes file brief with U.S. District Court fighting recently granted easement for Dakota Access Pipeline

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On Feb. 22, the Navajo Nation filed an amicus brief with the United States District Court, along with other tribes, against the Lake Oahe easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The brief, filed with 34 federally recognized Indian tribes, said the federal government is required to be held accountable in its trust responsibility to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, located in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

“The federal government must be held accountable for its treaty obligation and in good faith must uphold nation-to-nation relationship with all tribes, including the Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “We expect nothing less.”

In granting the Lake Oahe Easement, the U.S. Army Corps violated fundamental trust duties, Begaye said.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline was a flashpoint for Indian Country in 2016, uniting tribes and other segments of the American population to stand in opposition to big business interests, said Vice President Jonathan Nez. “Preservation of water sources for Native and American populations outweighs the need to transport oil.”

The Navajo Nation will continue to stand alongside other Native American tribes who face environmental injustice and threats of encroachment on sacred lands, he said. 

An oil spill in Lake Oahe could negatively impact the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s treaty rights in fishing, hunting and clean water.

“… There will remain no other contiguous land to which the tribe can resort, the ability to survive as a sovereign community within a defined territory will be placed in serious jeopardy, should the natural resources be negatively impacted,” the amicus brief said.

“Due diligence for the environmental impact study is a must for high risk projects that could have a major impact on both the natural resources and sacred sites on tribal lands,” Begaye said. “Ensuring pipeline safety protects against oil spills that could impact tribal natural resources.”

The amicus brief provided technical and scientific information on occurrences of oil spills and disruptions to the environment, local residents and economies as a result of those spills.

“Because the federal government has acted here in derogation of its solemn trust duties, the motion of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for partial summary judgment should be granted,” the brief said.

The Nation is familiar with similar spills like the Gold King Mine spill, where over 3 million gallons of toxic waste washed downstream into the San Juan River. The Nation is currently in litigation with the Environmental Protection Agency for its role in the Gold King Mine spill. 

Begaye said the Nation has a strong interest in preventing future similar incidents through enforcement of robust trust responsibilities for federal agencies.

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