Until January 20, 2017, we are still living in Obama’s America and the actions of our executive branch reflect upon Barack Obama, not Donald Trump. However, while the country is distracted with the absolutely horrid decisions Trump has up his sleeve the conflict at the Standing Rock reservation bordering North Dakota continues to be mostly ignored despite being one of the most newsworthy events of 2016.
One of the pipeline projects set to traverse the United States in order to bring Canadian tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico cheaply is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) . Part of the planned route for the pipeline runs through the sovereign lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, part of the larger Great Sioux Reservation created in various concessions made by the Sioux to the United States in the Treaty of Fort Laramie signed in 1868. Concerned for the health of their water supply, the Sioux have organized against the pipeline and halted construction. Moreso, tribes from across the nation have gathered at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with their Sioux compatriots.
In response to the protests, journalists covering the protests have had warrants issued for their arrest, ironically for trespassing originally before being upgraded to riot charges, though later dropped. Protesters have been threatened with dogs and assaulted with water hoses in subfreezing point temperatures, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Recently the state announced a physical blockade to prevent goods from being sent to the reservation. However, they recently backed down, in part, to simply fine people for bringing goods to the reservation. Of course, the state doesn’t have the constitutional authority to regulate the flow of goods to the reservation as that power is reserved for the United States Congress.
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; – US Constitution, Article I, Section 8
There are many other journalists who have provided lengthy details of the assault upon the sovereign Sioux, and their allies, upon Sioux land – journalists who have had the opportunity to be there first hand. What I seek to provide here is context.
Support for Obama was strong amongst those on the reservation in 2008, 2012, and during his 2014 visit to the reservation. During that visit he promised: “I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved, so I promised when I ran to be a president who’d change that — a president who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty.”
However, the warmest words he had for the protesters in this crisis has been to consider redirecting the pipeline and politely asking the contractors to voluntarily stop construction until the Army Corps of Engineers looks at the project again. He would not take action. Hillary Clinton, during the campaign, refused to take a stand, calling for “all voices to be heard.” Despite not making any statement on the pipeline, President-elect Donald Trump is unlikely to be any more friendly as he owns stock in the pipeline.
The neutrality, or likely feigned neutrality, is completely unacceptable for any President to take on the pipeline. For Obama’s part, he is likely looking for a way to run out the clock before his term ends and he can let a President Trump take the blame for the inevitable. The actions, or rather inaction, of President Obama in this situation is a clear violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie which not only set reduced borders for the Sioux but also included obligations which the United States is legally bound to keep.
Article XI, point 6 of the treaty does allow for “works of utility” to be produced upon tribal land, but that requires a disinterested three-person committee to be appointed by the President. That committee would be responsible for assessing damages caused to the tribe. As of the publishing of this article, the Standing Rock reservation has not responded to an inquiry on whether or not such a thing has happened.
Furthermore, though US Government officers, agents, and employees, provided by supplementary law, may enter the reservation in discharge of their duties without explicit permission by the tribe as per Article II, others, such as the private security officers, the state, county, and local police and the contractors themselves, may not be “permitted to pass over” the reservation land. While the protesters themselves, American Indian or not, are on firm legal ground to be there and do what they are doing, the government agents, not being federal employees, are trespassing. An equivalent scenario would be if Canadian Mounties had crossed the border into North Dakota when if the United States had not agreed to the building of the pipeline and began assaulting the North Dakotans protesting the invasion by Canada.
If this pipeline is to be built over the objections of the Sioux tribe, while morally reprehensible in any case, it must be built by the federal government and/or federal contractors, not a private business interest, in order to be on solid legal ground. As the pipeline does not serve the interests of the people of the United States, but rather comes at their expense for the benefit of private business interests, it will be hard to justify such use of federal funds especially in an age of austerity.
With these actions, the provisions in Article I should be triggered:
If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent, and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington city, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.
Neither the Standing Rock reservation nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs has yet responded to inquiries whether proof has been forwarded. While it is uncertain whether or not some process was enacted to approximate notifying the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, such a step would be a mere formality. The President is aware of what is happening, as is the US Congress. There has not been any actual Commissioner of Indian Affairs since 1981, it has since had its name changed twice, which is an irresponsible move diplomatically, and would most closely relate to the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Michael S Black.
The President is effectively obligated to arrest all these Americans who have trespassed on the Standing Rock reservation and caused so much havoc. The United States also, based upon the text of the treaty, owes reparations to the Sioux as well as any protesters that joined them from other reservations or the United States. In one case, that may include owing one woman a replacement arm.
Failure of the President to act on the side of the Sioux tribe should send shockwaves throughout the world, casting doubt upon US willingness to follow any treaty we may have signed and hampering any current and future diplomatic negotiations we may have. Not only are we sitting idly by while American citizens commit atrocities upon a sovereign nation, but we are actively refusing to follow either the letter or spirit of the treaties we signed in the past, currently.
President Obama has a shaky legacy as it is, but this event may very well come to be his legacy if we pay attention. It won’t be the Affordable Care Act, likely to be mostly scrapped, nor the Trans-Pacific Partnership he was trying to push stealthily through Congress; it will be the destruction of whatever semblance of America’s honor may be left in order to ensure some incredibly rich people can become even richer.