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Native Americans Continue Fight Over Oil Pipelines

The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, where thousands of people protested installment of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in 2016, was once part of the Great Sioux Reservation. (MarkHefflinger/BoldNebraska.org)
The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, where thousands of people protested installment of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in 2016, was once part of the Great Sioux Reservation. (MarkHefflinger/BoldNebraska.org)
November 29, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. – It's been three years since Native American communities attempted to block an oil pipeline in the Standing Rock protests.

After a spill from Keystone XL in North Dakota and a proposal to expand the Dakota Access Pipeline, those protests continue to echo.

Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, says the four tribes of the Great Sioux Nation are standing together to oppose pipeline development.

But that won't be easy. Iron Eyes says tribal members know from experience what happens when people try to stand in the way. Take the Standing Rock protests.

"Eight-hundred-fifty people went to jail over it,” he points out. “I was facing six years in prison over it. The president of this Oglala Sioux Nation was facing a year in jail over it. Sophia Wilansky lost her arm over it. And a couple others lost their eyeballs over it. So, no small matter to us. We're preparing to fight again."

Last month, the Keystone XL Pipeline leaked about 383,000 gallons of oil into the ground in northeastern North Dakota. It was recently discovered the leak affected almost five acres of land – 10 times larger than what was first reported.

North Dakota officials also are considering a proposal from Energy Transfer Partners to double the capacity of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Iron Eyes and other tribal leaders in the region are pushing back hard on this proposal.

Pointing to the Keystone as an example, Iron Eyes maintains leaking is natural part of the process for pipelines. He says the legal system needs to adapt to properly punish companies when a pipeline leaks.

"How can these guys destroy our children's very lives?” he questions. “And they're paying maybe a fine, but they're not facing any jail time or public humiliation and shame. Those things work and we have to do them. It's our civic duty."

U.S. House Democrats have called for an investigation into TC Energy's management of the Keystone Pipeline.

Iron Eyes says he knows it's an uphill battle to take on the oil industry, and notes supporters in the fight will have to stand strong on all fronts.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD