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The Future of Native Sovereignty in the US
By Guest Contributor

By Greg Jackson, 2016 SRI Conference Scholar

Photo by Shane Balkowitsch

The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is one of the most controversial domestic issues in the United States at the present moment. Despite a recent US government call for "nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects," the first draft of the Army Corps of Engineers environmental assessment of the pipeline made no mention of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline was originally planned to pass near Bismarck, North Dakota. However, after concerns were raised over the safety of the city's water supply, the pipeline was re-routed within 500 feet of the Standing Rock reservation boundary and the Missouri River. The Missouri River and Lake Oahe serve as the main water source for the Standing Rock reservation and tribe. Tribal leadership have made it clear in statements that they do not want the pipeline to be installed as currently planned over fears of contamination of the water supply, which would occur in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture. Furthermore, the tribe argues the proposed location of the pipeline violates the National Historic Preservation Act because tribal artifacts and burial grounds will be disturbed as a result of construction of the pipeline. Furthermore, the proposed pipeline route passes through the tribal territory originally outlined in the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851. The standoff at Standing Rock is reshaping the discussion on native sovereignty and the approval process for environmental projects such as DAPL that cross Native American land.

Rebecca Adamson at the SRI Conference

At this year's conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact (SRI) investing, Rebecca Adamson, President and Founder of First People's Worldwide, was recognized as an SRI Industry leader and gave a speech on the impact of the North Dakota Access Pipeline on the environment and on the lives of indigenous peoples. You can listen to her speech here. In a subsequent group discussion session, called an "Action Strategy Circle" that was focused on education and immediate actions the community could take, she addressed the need to build a network of professionals with experience in the SRI field in order to stop the pipeline project. Participants of the discussion, numbering over 100, offered their respective insights into the situation and proposed a variety of approaches that would further the cause of those working to protect Native American land. Towards the end of the meeting, one could feel more optimistic about the work that has been done to stop the construction of the pipeline. It was truly inspiring to see so many people from so many different backgrounds come together so easily, and it was truly gratifying to see that, despite setbacks, they will never stop working in the name of the values they all passionately believe in.

Regarding investor involvement, financiers ranging from Wells Fargo to Wall Street did very little due diligence on the project, and essentially took the Army Corps' word that the project is sustainable and would proceed as planned. There is a clear and dire need to make investors aware of what exactly they are investing in, and to allow them to send a message to the government and funders of the project that they do not support this type of infrastructure project that violates native sovereignty and treaties. Despite continued assertions from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the lead company on the project, a recent energy industry trade publication article criticized the situation and claimed ETP's handling is proving to be bad PR and tarnishing the industry's reputation.

Investor opportunities to support the Standing Rock Tribe and native sovereignty:

1. Divest from any of the dozens of financiers and energy companies involved in the project ranging from Wells Fargo bank to Energy Transfer Partners, the main manager of the project.

2. Contact local and national government officials to encourage them to withdraw municipal funds from banks that are funding the project.

3. Contact national government officials from the White House to Army Corps of Engineers to Department of Interior.

4. Write editorials in local and national newspapers – continued pressure through the press could force the companies involved to hold off and re-think the project.

5. Pressure investors such as university endowments to divest from banks and partners on the project including Energy Transfer Partners, Phillips 66, etc. – A member of the Responsible Endowments Coalition suggested this as an additional avenue for pulling support from the project and for creating greater public and investor awareness of the issue and what can be done to support Standing Rock Sioux

6. On native sovereignty, insist that government agencies honor their pledge to conduct government-to-government dialogue with tribes on projects such as this which cross or pass near native territory.

Additional Reading Material:
– Food and Water Watch report on banks that finance either the Dakota Access Pipeline or provide credit lines to the Energy Transfer group of companies.
– Litigation by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including the Tribe's October 28, 2016 letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Accufacts analysis of the July 2016 Army Corps Environmental Assessment http://earthjustice.org/features/faq-standing-rock-litigation
– Center for Effective Government: "Map Displays Five Years of Oil Pipeline Spills
by Amanda Starbuck," June 22, 2015 http://www.foreffectivegov.org/blog/map-displays-five-years-oil-pipeline-spills'

Government agency contact information

Department of the Interior
Jessica Kershaw

Army Corps of Engineers – Omaha District, North Dakota Office
1513 South 12th Street
Bismarck, ND 58504
(701) 255-0015

Office of North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple
600 East Boulevard Avenue
Bismarck, ND 58505-0001
(701) 328-2200

Morton County (ND) Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeyer
205 1st Ave NW
Mandan, ND 58544
(701) 667-3330

Posted: December 21, 2016