Judge Backs Treaty In Dakota Access Pipeline Case

Four years ago, on April 5, 2016, victory seemed improbable, if not downright impossible. But, when contacted at her home in Eagle Butte, SD on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, Lakota environmental organizer, Joye Braun laughed with customary gusto and said, “Ha! We told ‘em so!”

Joye, Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network, Community Organizer stands at the end of the main commercial street of Eagle Bute, SD, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Joye Braun, Community Organizer, Eagle Butte, SD

Victory came when Federal Judge James Boasberg in Washington, DC ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to follow federal law when the Corps allowed the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River. The construction of this 1172-mile-long oil pipeline violated treaties with the Standing Rock Sioux, desecrated sacred sites and graves, endangered their drinking water, and breached federal laws. The pipeline also sparked the largest indigenous led resistance movement in 150 years. The judge’s March 25 decision orders the Corps and the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners to conduct a full environmental review of the project. He also asked for arguments as to why the pipeline should not be shut down until they complete the review.

“This is the first time that a federal judge recognized Tribal governments as “governments”, who could present their own expert witnesses, from their own historical and scientific staff. NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) is hard to win on, and Boasberg is no friend to Indians. That this pipeline may be stopped while the environmental review is done is huge.”

The controversial DAPL pipeline became national news thanks to “spirit camps” set up near the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers. Tens of thousands of people journeyed to the high plains of North Dakota to participate in non-violent direct actions to stop the pipeline’s construction. Joye has particular reason to celebrate this decision because Joye is Camper Number One.

Back when this victory seemed to be wishful thinking, Tribal Councils from Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux Reservations supported hundreds of mounted riders who rode to land belonging to Ladonna Brave Bull Allard and her family to set up tipis and establish a camp. But, following the pageantry, only one person stayed there and actually spent the night camping: Joye Braun. She vowed not to leave until the pipeline was crushed. The next day Joye was joined by five others, and for the next eleven months they rarely left camp, except to do things like run 1500 miles to Washington DC to make people take notice.

Those efforts paid off. By late summer 2016 tens of thousands of Water Protectors traveled to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to join efforts to stop pipeline construction. A source in North Dakota’s Emergency Services said police aerial surveillance had counted 40,000 “discrete trips to the camps.” People who lived in the camps put the total closer to 100,000 people. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners claims that the non-violent direct actions cost them almost $500 million dollars in lost wages and expenses.

Back in 2016, the state of North Dakota and the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners brushed off arguments that the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people had legitimate reasons to stop the pipeline because of treaties they signed with the United States government. Joye points out that Judge Boasberg did not accept that view. “Boasberg cited the 1851 Treaty specifically calling much of the pipeline’s route as our territory. Remember, we never gave up any rights with this treaty. The US came to us with this treaty because they lost a war to Chief Red Cloud. Nor does the later 1868 Treaty at Fort Laramie give up any lands set out in the 1851 Treaty. This is our land.”

This case follows on the heels of another Federal case involving the Tribes who live along the Klamath River. In November, 2019, a different federal judge ruled that the Yurok and other tribes along the Klamath River have priority to the water, ahead of irrigators at the top of the river. That decision said that irrigators could not divert more water than was safe or prudent to protect the river’s fish and animals which were guaranteed to the Tribes by the Federal government in the mid 1800’s.

Will Boasberg’s most recent ruling have an impact on other pipelines? Joye responded, “This will have an impact on KXL and Transcanada exactly because of the 1851 Treaty which gives us rights to the land all the way to the Yellowstone River.”

Despite the Covid-19 virus, Joye and her husband Floyd are doing well. Joye stays mostly at home to protect her health. “Floyd gets to wear full face, hands and body protection at work and doesn’t have to interact with the public.” She laughs at the run on toilet paper. “Most of the world has some other solution to that issue: bidets in most of Europe.” On the high plains, “We have a broad leaf plant that comes up this time of year, and the Lakota name for that plant, literally translates to: ‘butt-wipe’”. Joye cackled her famous laugh and said good-bye.

Text and photo by, Todd Darling. http://www.bijanonprofit.org/two-rivers-documentary/