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Bill calls for tribe to support Standing Rock

The bill would affirm the Navajo Nation's support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota

Noel Lyn Smith
nsmith@daily-times.com
A man sits by the Cannonball River at the Oceti Sakowin camp where thousands have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Wednesday.
  • Navajo lawmakers are being asked to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for a full environmental impact statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • The $3.8-billion, 1,168-mile pipeline is projected to carry more than 470,000 barrels of oil a day from oil fields in North Dakota to terminals in Illinois.
  • Navajo Nation veterans are traveling to North Dakota to join the protesters, hoping their presence will help maintain peace as a Monday deadline for evacuation of the Oceti Sakowin campsite approaches.
  • U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall are asking President Barack Obama to address the increased violence at the protest site.

FARMINGTON — A bill working its way to the Navajo Nation Council asks delegates to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for a full "environmental impact statement" on the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline.

The tribe has expressed concerns that the pipeline — which would go under the Missouri River and a lake on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation — will endanger its water supply as well as cultural lands and tribal burial grounds.

The $3.8-billion, 1,168-mile pipeline is projected to carry more than 470,000 barrels of oil a day from oil fields in North Dakota to terminals in Illinois.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a less rigorous "environmental assessment," which concluded there would be "no significant impact" on federal land where the pipeline would be built. The assessment was released on July 25, but the tribe sued the corps, and construction near the lake was put on hold.

The bill was introduced as some Navajo Nation veterans prepare to travel to North Dakota to join the protesters, some of whom refer to themselves as "water protectors." The veterans hope their presence will help maintain peace as a Monday deadline for evacuation of the Oceti Sakowin campsite approaches. Law enforcement tactics have included the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said last week that the group Veterans Stand for Standing Rock paid for two charter buses to transport veterans from Shiprock to the protest site and back. Organizers hoped to transport 22 veterans from each of the five agencies on the Navajo Nation.

Smokey, a member of the Sioux Native American tribe, rides the horse Prophecy, a descendant of the horse belonging to war chief Crazy Horse, on Tuesday at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D.

For months, tribal members and supporters have camped at the site along the Cannonball River to demonstrate against the pipeline.

"The Navajo Nation finds it in the best interest of the Navajo people to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota," states the bill, which is sponsored by Delegate Nathaniel Brown who represents Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso and Kayenta chapters in Arizona. It has been assigned to the Naa’bik’íyáti’ Committee.

Brown said in a telephone interview Thursday he proposed the bill after hearing stories from Navajos who are at the site about mistreatment of individuals by law enforcement.

Although there are international laws to protect indigenous people from such action, they are not enforced in situations like Standing Rock, he said.

"This is about giving some support," Brown said.

Veterans called to stand with Standing Rock

In addition, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall are asking President Barack Obama to address the increased violence at the protest site.

Heinrich wrote a letter to Obama on Wednesday requesting that the president work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Justice to reduce the conflict in North Dakota.

The senator also questioned the Nov. 25 decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to close the campsite alongside the Cannonball River.

The Army Corps of Engineers notified the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the portion of land north of the river, which is managed by the corps, would close for all public use on Monday.

Heinrich asked Obama to overturn the decision to close the area and to de-escalate the violence at the site.

"I ask that you seek a peaceful resolution to this conflict that respects the desire of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protect their water and historic sacred sites," Heinrich wrote.

Sean Ptolomek, of Los Angeles, prays while touching the road leading to the Dakota Access oil pipeline site after a demonstration near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Wednesday.

Udall has also called on Obama to take action to protect protesters and to address the tribe's concerns about the pipeline.

In a letter sent to Obama on Wednesday, he also condemned private security forces that allegedly used attack dogs.

Udall said he appreciates Obama's decision to temporarily halt a portion of the pipeline project.

"I am asking President Obama and his administration to take action now to resolve the situation in a way that respects the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and the civil rights of those gathered at the site," Udall said in the statement.

The senators have also urged the Obama administration to develop an alternative route for the pipeline.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.