The Historical Backdrop of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:50 PM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Michael Lawson, MLL Consulting, LLC
The tribal water and land protectors opposed to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota need to be understood within the historical context of the long-standing negative relationship between the tribes along the Missouri River and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In regard specifically to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s combative relationship with the Corps, it began in the 1950’s when the Army constructed the Oahe Dam. Congress authorized this multiple purpose dam and four others on the Missouri, which impacted seven other Native American reservations, as part of the Pick-Sloan Plan authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944. Yet, there was no consultation with the Tribes prior to this legislation and, in most cases, no formal discussions with tribal representatives until long after the Corps began construction. The Army forged ahead unobstructed by any requirements for environmental impact studies or cultural resource assessments.

The Oahe Dam caused more damage to Native American lands and resources than any other single public works project in America. It inundated 160,000 acres of tribal lands, including 56,000 acres on Standing Rock, which required the Tribe to relocate 190 families from the Reservation’s best lands. These tumultuous events, as well as the fact that many other tribes have been negatively impacted by the Corps’ water development projects, helps put in context and better understand some of the reasons why the DAPL opposition so rapidly evolved in 2016 at encampments near Standing Rock and why the issues of water and land protection have resonated so strongly with other indigenous peoples and environmental activists around the world who have supported protests in the original camps as well as at many other strategic sites.