The Navajo Nation Shiprock Chapter is supporting protesters battling a pipeline at Standing Rock, N.D., and has passed a resolution asking the Navajo Nation to sever relations with Wells Fargo Bank, which is financing the energy project.
The chapter hosted an emergency meeting a few days before Thanksgiving to discuss the situation. The meeting was open to people living in the Northern Navajo Agency and the Four Corners region, regardless of their home chapter affiliation, or even tribal affiliation. Few chairs were empty.
Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie offered the audience an opportunity to watch recent Internet video posts streamed from protest camps located on the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty land beside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Many of the videos show the Oceti Sakowin Camp and gatherings on the road or bridge where demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners company, the developer of the 1,700-mile crude oil pipe, take place.
The opportunity to take chapter-level action turned urgent when Shiprock resident and youth organizer Graham Biyáál and others encamped in support of the mostly Native American protesters, who call themselves the Water Protectors, streamed events to social media the night of Nov. 20. They were filming police spraying unarmed demonstrators with water cannons in subfreezing temperature, resulting in nearly 100 hypothermia cases.
The protestors were demonstrating at the bridge that night after the Morton County Sheriff ’s Department and the State of North Dakota barricaded a highway leading to it, obstructing emergency services. The videos showed Water Protectors hit with rubber and sponge bullets and mace as the water cannons pointed directly at individuals and across the crowd from side to side.
It is also alleged that a New York woman, Sophia Wilanky, was hit in the arm by a concussion grenade thrown at her from law enforcement. She was reportedly in a Minnesota hospital undergoing multiple surgeries to save her limb.
Biyáál was also hit by a rubber bullet and sprayed with mace while demonstrating at the barricades. He was treated at the first aid tent and then returned with his camera to describe the situation and plead for help.
Biyáál has been posting regular live streams of the events since his arrival earlier in the month after he and 50 native students ran 1500 miles from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Standing Rock with to join the Water Protectors at the camp.
Many in the Shiprock audience had heard about the reports from Standing Rock, but without Internet service they had not seen the broadcasts. The audience watched a selection spanning the four-month-old protest. One showed dogs threatening the Water Protectors.
Yazzie then introduced four resolutions that expressed the concerns of the Northern Navajo people and actions they hoped would defuse tensions at Standing Rock and bring attention to law-enforcement actions at the demonstrations.
Three of the resolutions were grouped together. The first expressed the “unequivocal support of the concerned people of the Shiprock, Navajo Nation people, in the strongest terms for the position of the Standing Rock Tribe and the Water Protectors in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.” The resolution gave 10 reasons for support, including the lack of consultation with the tribes about burial and land sites sacred to the Sioux tribe and the potential for contamination of water if and when the pipeline leaks.
The second resolution called on North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the Morton County Sheriff, North Dakota State Police and all other law enforcement to cease using violent and militarized means against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters.
The third resolution sought support from New Mexico and other U.S. congressional delegations. “These acts are violations of the standards of American freedoms and contravenes of the United Nations Declarations of Indigenous People,” the resolution said.
All three resolutions passed unanimously.
The pipeline protest has spread worldwide, with indigenous tribes from Australia to Arctic Norwegian Saami communities sending resolutions of support resolutions and often delegations to Standing Rock.
But other actions seek to punish the banks and lending institutions financing the $3.7 billion pipeline project. Wells Fargo, one of the largest investors, has invested $467 million in it. Water Protector protesters are calling on people to close their accounts at Wells Fargo and the other 37 banks listed on the roster.
The fourth Shiprock resolution asked directly for an economic embargo on Wells Fargo Bank, recently admonished in a Navajo Nation Budget and Finance committee meeting for the services they provide to the Navajo people. The committee told a Wells Fargo Bank representative that the tribe is contemplating “divorcing” the bank if it doesn’t improve services to the Navajo people.”
Budget and Finance chairman Seth Damon said, “It seems Wells Fargo hasn’t stepped up to the plate. If we separate our ties with Wells Fargo that’s going to send a shock wave in Indian Country.”
The resolution stated the request of Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lorenzi Bates, President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez to divest all Navajo Nation funds and assets from the Wells Fargo Bank. Nearly two billion dollars in Navajo capital and assets are deposited in Wells Fargo bank,” the resolution states.
“The facts [are] a grave affront to the dignity of the Diné and are of utmost dishonor of the Navajo Nation…It is not acceptable that Navajo money is part of the financing package for a project that the Navajo Nation has publically opposed.” The resolution also requests that the money not be deposited in any bank or financial institution financing DAPL.
President Yazzie told the Free Press that if the chapter members submit a resolution requesting Shiprock Chapter monies be withdrawn from the Wells Fargo Bank in Shiprock, where they are currently held, the members will vote on it at the next chapter meeting, Dec. 4.
Wells Fargo enjoys a near-monopoly on the Navajo reservation. It has branch banking offices in Window Rock, Tsaile, Piñon, Tuba City, Crownpoint, Chinle, and Kayenta. The corporation also provides numerous ATMs and additional banking locations in border towns such as Gallup, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff. Although other banking options are available in border towns, the Bank of America ATM in Window Rock is the single other banking convenience on the reservation.
The resolution passed late in the evening 122-0-0.
Lives in the balance
Navajo President Begaye and Vice President Nez issued a statement the following day and sent a letter to President Obama asking him to intervene in the standoff.
“The extent of military force and the violent repercussions suffered by residents and demonstrators is uncalled for and excessive, to say the least,” said Begaye. “We are calling upon President Obama to take expedient action on this issue and permanently halt any further construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and in recognition of the tribe’s dispossessions to the land and the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe.”
The Missouri River feeds into Lake Oahe, the main source of water for the tribe and millions of others downstream.
According to Standing Rock tribal records, the Ft. Laramie treaty grants the care of the Missouri River waters near the proposed pipeline route to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations.
Begaye also asked the Morton County Sheriff ’s Department to consider the repercussions of their actions. “We don’t believe a peaceful protest warranted the water cannons, rubber bullets or concussion grenades that were used against unarmed demonstrators,” said Begaye. “We support peaceful demonstrations.”
Nez said Obama must put an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction because the lives of Native American people hang in the balance.
“The Morton County Sheriff ’s Department use of water cannons to spray protesters with mace-laced water during subzero temperatures is not only unjust, but a reflection of the racial tensions boiling over throughout the United States,” the vice president alleged. “People are going to die if no action is taken. It’s imperative that we do something before the Trump administration takes office.”
The Standing Rock Tribe, Water Protectors, tribal and non-tribal allies were heartened in September when Obama intervened after a federal judge re-affirmed the Army Corps of Engineers decision to permit the pipeline construction. Despite the judge’s ruling that the company is in compliance with applicable laws, the Department of Justice, Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior announced later that the U.S. Army Crops “is determining whether it would reconsider any of its previous decisions.” They called on the company to voluntarily halt construction within 20 miles of the river and further stated that the company was not allowed to drill under the river until the permitting had been reviewed and a decision made.
However, Energy Transfers Partners, the pipeline parent company, continued working on the pipeline and is now poised a half-mile from the river ready to proceed when and if the dispute is settled and they can meet their contractual deadlines for the project in early January 2017.
Numerous video posts shared the statements of Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, who spoke with hope about that support from the federal government. “The Obama Administration has asked Tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.”
In mid-November the Army Corps, still reconsidering the routing, emphasized to Energy Transfer Partners that “building without permits is a violation of federal law.”
The majority of the pipeline is on private land and needs no federal permits, but it needs Army Corps permits where it crosses a number of waterways as well as in locations near culturally sensitive areas.
The Standing Rock Tribe has demanded a full Environmental Impact Statement process, which has not occurred. They allege that the pipeline company broke the 1,700-mile length of the pipeline into smaller segments to streamline to eliminate the need for a full EIS.
According to an October opinion piece submitted to the Free Press by Merrill Matthews, resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas, “the federal judge presiding over the case says the pipeline company and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been diligent and respectful in their efforts to address Native American concerns.”
Matthews said the tribe asserts the Corps didn’t consult them, “But U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote in his September opinion that the Corps reached out to the tribe multiple times with little to no response.”
Matthews quoted from the judge’s decision:, “The Tribe largely refused to engage in consultations. Eventually, the tribe responded, but at the last-minute [in an] effort to stop all progress.”
The op-ed piece points out that the tribe claims the pipeline ignores Indian heritage lands. But the judge disagreed, writes Matthews, noting the company used “past cultural surveys” to avoid historic sites, and it “mostly chose to reroute” where “unidentified cultural resources… might be affected. The pipeline route had been modified 140 times in North Dakota alone to avoid potential cultural resources.”
“That’s accommodation, not exploitation,” Matthews concludes.
In September, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcey Warren issued a company statement saying, “We intend to meet with officials in Washington to understand their position and reiterate our commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation.”
But on Nov. 17 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe posted a comment made by Warren the day before, who said, “I really wish for the Standing Rock Sioux that they had engaged in discussions way before they did. I don’t think we would have been having this discussion if they did.
“We could have changed the route,” Warren said. “It could have been done, but it’s too late.”
The 2014 meeting
Just prior to Thanksgiving, Chairman Archambault responded to Warren, pointing out that the Standing Rock Sioux held a meeting with DAPL representatives before permits were submitted by the project companies and more than a year before the Draft Environmental Assessment was released.
“When the Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to them in a tribal council meeting held on September 30, 2014, when DAPL came to us with this route.”
On the audio file of that council meeting, Chairman Archambault explains that Energy Transfer Partners / DAPL representatives as well as the Army Corps of Engineers were invited to the meeting to answer questions and concerns raised by the tribe about the location of the pipeline and explore assurances that they would be admitted into the assessment processes.
The DAPL representatives were present but the Army Corps did not attend.
An issue for the tribe was the absence of consultation. By law the tribe must be included and their input completed before licensing of the project can be confirmed by the Army Corps.
Archambault explained that the tribe recommends using the Ft. Laramie Treaty boundaries for assessments, because before the current federal boundaries, it was home to the tribes. “In our 2012 standing resolution, we opposed any pipeline construction inside those [Ft. Laramie Treaty] boundaries and continue to do so. The assessment has not asked for our input. Our tribal historic preservation office is able to help remind DAPL that our input is required.”
The tribe expressed concern about cultural resources found en route, especially because the boundaries used by the Army Corps of Engineers and the pipeline company reduce the historic amount of land occupied by the tribe. But DAPL representatives affirmed at the 2014 meeting that they will reroute as necessary for threatened and endangered species and cultural resources discovered during construction.
“We work with the federal agencies on their data bases. We have the protocol in place with the contractor if they come across cultural resources — who they have to identify and that they don’t continue to construct. So that’ll be addressed in the contractor’s contract.”
But tribal officials pointed out that many records of cultural knowledge and historical sites on the pipeline path are held only in tribal archives, and much of those oral. “It is not in the tribe’s tradition to release this information, the stories, to the public,” the chairman explained, “but we would be willing to work with DAPL and federal agencies to locate places of concern.”
“If you are willing to share the information we will take that into consideration in the route,” the pipeline representatives replied.
A representative of the Tribal Water Control Board also at the meeting raised opposition to the pipeline. “We have intakes in the Missouri River and we use that for water on our reservation. All pipelines leak. They will contaminate the water we use for beneficial consumption,” she explained.
A former tribal chairman told the DAPL representatives that the lands “hundreds of miles north of the reservation” are ancestral, according to the Ft. Laramie Treaty. “You are bound by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act 1996 (NHPA) and the 2004 revisions that cover historic properties to adhere to those federal laws for the protection of our people. It is very cruel to go 50 feet north of current federal reservation boundaries and say you are not [on tribal land.] We are the keepers of the Missouri River to the east bank. That is statutory.”
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment. The historic preservation review process mandated by Section 106 is outlined in regulations issued by ACHP. The regulations also place major emphasis on consultation with Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. Even if an Indian tribe has not been certified to have a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer on its lands, it must be consulted about undertakings on or affecting its lands.
DAPL representatives used the 2014 meeting to describe the safety precautions designed into the pipeline that include shut-off valves at the river-intake locations in the event the pipeline leaks.
The group also presented facts about the economic impact on North Dakota. Short-term benefits from construction activity add 40 jobs, long-term impact increases North Dakota tax revenue by $13.5 million per year after the pipeline is in service sometime in 2016. It also creates 12-15 full-time jobs while enhancing the oil producers’ ability to move the oil in an energy-efficient manner from the Bakken Formation in northwestern North Dakota. The Bakken oil field is one of the largest contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States.
However, Archibault followed the trail of promises made by ETP / DAPL at the 2014 meeting and pointed out in his recent response that the meeting produced no record of the apprehensions expressed at the gathering. “A document prepared by DAPL never mentions any of the concerns stated in this meeting, nor does it mention the Standing Rock Tribe. Energy Transfer Partners’ assertion that they ‘didn’t know’ of our concerns is false,” said the chairman.
After the resolutions passed at the Shiprock Chapter meeting, Biyáál’s mother received a phone call from her son at Standing Rock. She held the phone next to the mic at the lectern while he expressed his gratitude to the people for their support, describing what help they need now in the camps as they prepare for winter.
A veteran from the Iraq War took the lectern. “What I have done in war gives me nightmares. Imagine what is happening to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and how it will affect them,” he said. “I took an oath to protect the U.S. constitution and now what has happened in Standing Rock is more than about water. It is about human-rights violations. . . . The veterans are gathering in uniform at Standing Rock on December 4. We are not done. We are reminding ourselves of our oath and standing with Standing Rock.”
The day after Thanksgiving, the Sioux tribe was notified by the Army Corps of Engineers that on Dec. 5 all lands north of the Cannonball River, the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty land location of the Oceti Sakowin camp, will be closed. The letter states that the closure is for safety concerns, and that they will allow a “free speech zone” south of the Cannonball River on Army Corps lands.
Chairman Archibault responded in a statement, saying, “Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the [Missouri River crossing into] Oahe Lake [the tribal source of water], and deny it now. We ask that everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits, and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands.”
Forbes magazine published a recent article about the economic pressure on the DAPL pipeline company because of the Standing Rock opposition. Their timeline is short, explained author Bob Eccles, which affects their ability to pay back loans and build profitability. He describes the oil reserves that have already been discovered, such as those the pipeline will transport from the Bakken oil fields, as “stranded assets,” meaning that, as a result of the Paris climate accord that went into effect November 2016, these reserves cannot be extracted.
“Why provide financing to a project that may not be completed?” Eccles writes.
The Sioux tribe has asked the NGO First People Worldwide to coordinate a shareholder advocacy campaign. According to First Peoples Worldwide Founder and President Rebecca Adamson, “The tribe is demanding that the market capture the full social and environmental costs of the pipeline, and investor response has been overwhelmingly positive. The standoff shows the pressing need for integrated reporting and better Environmental, Social, Governance data. Nothing in the company’s quarterly filings would have enabled investors to foresee a problem of this magnitude.”