Debate Forum 9/20

‘Just doing my job’

Obama strongly suggests pipeline pipes down

By Sarah Sidlow

Word to know: “Dakota.” It’s the name of two states in the U.S., as well as the name of an indigenous Native American tribe. Translated in the Yankton-Yanktonai and Santee dialects of the Lakota Sioux language, it means “friendly.”

Ironic, considering the current standoff in the Great Plains near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where 200 Native American tribes are protesting the construction of an oil pipeline. Cue: pepper spray, damaged construction equipment, and the National Guard.

Developers plan to run the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River, about a mile north of the Standing Rock Reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters argue the project will affect drinking water for thousands of tribal members and millions more downstream. They also say the pipeline was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers without proper permits, and without consulting the tribe. For many protesters, the protest goes beyond opposing an oil pipeline. It’s a shot to the heart of the continuing Native American struggle to preserve their rights to their native land and culture.

Last week, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein got involved, standing with protesters and spray-painting on construction equipment, “I approved this message.” This week, there’s a warrant out for her arrest.

The tribe and its green allies attempted to block construction around Lake Oahe, its main water supply, but U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied the injunction.

Here’s where it gets really exciting: Just an hour later, a joint letter was issued from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Interior asking the pipeline company to “voluntarily pause” construction anyway, even though the court had ruled in the company’s favor.

The Army Corps went a step further, claiming it would not issue permits for Dakota Access to drill under the Missouri River until the Army Corps reconsiders its previously issued permits.

A majority of the pipeline project takes place on private land, and most of it is finished or near completion. But the area around Lake Oahe falls under federal jurisdiction, meaning it could become the lynchpin in the entire operation.

Many argue the Obama administration’s quick action is just another example of Democrats faltering on their promise to support and improve infrastructure projects – and solve our domestic energy crisis.

Sean McGarvey, president of the 3 million-member North America’s Building Trades Unions, slammed Obama for halting the project, pointing out that jobs in the fossil fuel sector pay much more than jobs in renewable energy fields. If President Obama really wanted to help working people earn a decent living, he said, he would promote higher-paying projects like the pipeline.

But for those who opposed the pipeline from the beginning, the federal “suggestion” is a temporary victory for Native rights and green solutions. They only hope the president will stay committed to his campaign promises of support for renewable energy and respect for Native traditions.

Vermont Senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders unsurprisingly called upon Obama to go even further on his stance against the pipeline, saying a full environmental and cultural impact analysis should now be required before the pipeline project can continue.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at


Enough is enough

By Tim Walker

Have we learned nothing at all in the past 200 years? Has history taught us nothing?

From the earliest days of this country’s existence, the original residents of this great land, the true Native Americans, have been treated with shocking brutality by settlers and citizens of European descent. The genocide inflicted upon the indigenous tribes saw them lied to, stolen from, brutalized, and finally nearly driven out of existence. Their way of life was taken from them without a thought; they were rounded up and massacred or relocated through deadly forced marches to reservations far from their homes; they were treated worse than the lowest criminal; and, to this day, the standard of living on Indian reservations is unbelievably destitute. And, we have learned nothing, evidently, because – unbelievably, in defiance of all reason – Natives are being lied to and brutalized again, this time by Big Oil.

The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is a proposed 1,134-mile long underground oil pipeline. If constructed, it will begin in the Bakken oil fields of northwest North Dakota, extend over 1,000 miles through South Dakota and Iowa, and end in Patoka, Illinois, where it will connect to another pipeline also owned by DAPL funders Energy Transfer Partners. From there, the oil will have access to Midwest and Gulf Coast markets. The conglomerate, which owns the two pipelines, estimates the Dakota Access pipeline alone will transport more than 450,000 barrels of light crude oil per day across its length, and that it will be the safest and most efficient pipeline ever constructed.

Unfortunately, a portion of the pipeline’s proposed route carries it underneath the Missouri River, in an area that lies extremely close to a reservation occupied by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Standing Rock Sioux opposes the pipeline’s construction near their reservation, on the grounds that it threatens their public health, welfare, water supply, and cultural resources. What began as a small protest camp this past April on the Standing Rock reservation morphed over the summer into an encampment containing over 1,000 people – Natives of all tribes and other individuals from all over the United States. The tribal plight became a media event, with video and photos of the protests going viral. Over the past few months, the Sacred Stone Camp, as it is now called, has been the site of a number of increasingly violent and antagonistic face-offs between protesters and security officers hired by the oil company.

The Standing Rock Sioux maintains that the federal government – namely, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – did not properly consult with them prior to shifting the pipeline’s route, and that the new crossing would entail destruction of sacred spots and old burial grounds. In July, the tribe filed a lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers in Federal

District Court, asking for a preliminary injunction stopping construction of the pipeline. The lawsuit contends two broad issues:

“First, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) just a half a mile upstream of the Tribe’s reservation boundary, where a spill would be culturally and economically catastrophic. Second, the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burials that federal law seeks to protect.”

When a federal judge refused to grant the tribe an injunction, a number of federal agencies, including the Justice Department, the Department of the Army, and the Interior Department ordered a halt to pipeline construction on all lands of significance to the Standing Rock Sioux following the decision. The Obama administration has been criticized for stepping in and “changing the rules,” according to GOP lawmakers who oppose the action, but Natives and environmental activists have applauded the move.

In reality, the pipeline will almost certainly be constructed. A project such as this, backed by several billion dollars of investors’ money and already nearly 60 percent complete (according to company estimates) doesn’t just go away forever. But the government is absolutely right to step in and review the various decisions, which have paved the way for this Big Oil project. Research needs to be done to ensure the bulldozers clearing land for the pipeline aren’t destroying sacred lands and burial sites that belong to the tribe. The government has every right – no, the government has every obligation – to step in and examine this situation from top to bottom, and to ensure the Native tribes’ safety and well-being was and is being taken into consideration whenever possible.

In all honesty, don’t the Native people deserve, at the very least, that much consideration from our country at this point?

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

Pipe down, please

By Ron Kozar

Is it possible to turn a spade of dirt anywhere west of the Mississippi without being told you’re desecrating land sacred to Indians?

Is there any land that is not sacred to Indians? Think about the words sacred and desecrate, words that carry a scent of religion, of holiness at risk. Do these Indians really believe in the animist spirits that make every wasteland holy? We palefaces barely blink at paving our forebears’ graveyards to build a new Costco. So, why should we go full Iron-Eyes-Cody over a desert with Indian bones buried in some corner of it?

But let’s put those questions aside. The pipeline hoopla isn’t really about Indians. It’s really about a certain species of social-media user whose sympathetic clickings turned this story into front-page news.

It’s a ragtag group of aging hippies, wine-and-cheese ladies in Volvos, and earnest collegians still smarting from the defeat of Bernie Sanders, still sad over Cecil the Big Fluffy Lion.  Someone among them saw an obscure report about Indians and a pipeline and said, “Hey, now there is an issue for us.” Out went the call to arms. To most people, the twitterings that followed were just an annoying distraction. But to President Obama, a tsunami of Facebook posts from the tattoo-and-piercing set is an order from God. Obama heard, and he obeyed. And now, the pipeline, the shovel-readiest of infrastructure projects of the type he used to say he wanted, is on hold because, well, Indians.

The faith that the pipeline’s builders reposed in courts, rules, and due process is quaint, even touching, in its civics-class naivete. The builders patiently navigated the labyrinth of procedures specified by our laws, obediently sought permits from all the necessary agencies, met their every demand, plotted the pipeline’s route adjacent to existing, established lines, repeatedly consulted the affected tribes, kissed the rings of tribal elders whenever those elders bothered showing up, changed the route 140 times to accommodate tribal whims, installed every safety feature anyone could think of, and, when all this still wasn’t enough, got a green light from a judge, appointed by Obama, who weighed the tribes’ objections and found them wanting. The builder followed all the rules and, if rules mean anything, earned the right to build the pipeline.

But following rules is so 20th-century! Today, that’s not the way we roll. Due process, they tell us now, is just a game for suckers. Every poli-sci prof assures us that every agency is corrupt, every legislator on the take. And, everyone knows courts aren’t as good at getting at the truth as enraged, internet-driven wikis are. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown proved that. Right?

So, forget votes, laws, and judicial decisions. In our groovy new wikiocracy, what matters is what agitates the people who click on online petitions. And, the most avid clickers are sophomores who’ve been fed environmentalist dogma since before they could toddle. All they care about is that it’s a pipeline for oil, that oil is bad, and that stopping it is a swell opportunity to do the civil disobedience stuff they’ve always read about, a great chance, in the phrase drilled into their heads nonstop, to “make a difference.” And, dude, it’s been scientifically proven that an increase of one ten-thousandth part of carbon dioxide in the air means the end of the world, so we’ve just got to stop the pipeline. See?

While the rising generation of Peter Pans fill Facebook with their freak-outs over the awfulness and carbon-ness and Indian-ness of it all, we grown-ups have a country to run. It’s a country with lots of fridges, cars, and furnaces that all need energy. Some of those fridges are in homes with money to spare, homes that can absorb the higher costs of boutique energy from solar and wind and the vagaries of dependence on Saudi gasoline. But a lot more of those fridges are in homes with a single, one-legged parent and 13 children, homes barely squeaking by, homes that need a higher energy bill like they need a hole in the roof. The Dakota pipeline and others like it would give those homes a lower bill by connecting Bakken gushers with the teeming millions in America’s midwestern heartland, and by taking a lot of expensive, diesel-belching tank trucks off our highways in the bargain.

But now the pipeline may never be finished. And, even if it does get finished, it may well be the last pipeline. After Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and Keystone, this Dakota pipeline fracas makes the pattern for the future all too clear. A lot of soon-to-be-dead white males may think the rule of law requires governments to evict trespassers and to enforce court orders, but the ranks of people who think that way are getting thinner all the time.

Too many people are True Believers about carbon and too sentimental about Indians.

Ron Kozar is a lawyer in Dayton. Reach him at

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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