- Click here for the article.
VM: A major component of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests is the fact that the pipeline isn’t just an environmental hazard; it’s one that is being implemented with pretty much no regard for the Standing Rock Sioux. How does this fit into a broader discussion of tribal sovereignty?
AB: This is such a great question, because the issue of tribal sovereignty, which is just as important as the environmental hazard, is getting lost in the pipeline story.
Too many people tend to think of tribal sovereignty as something that’s allocated, which can be given or taken away depending on the circumstance. But it’s not. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s tribal sovereignty, which essentially precedes colonization, is permanent, and it’s recognized (as opposed to granted) by the federal government.
The nation is concerned that its waters would be contaminated and that its sacred sites will be desecrated by this pipeline project. On the surface, that claim can easily look like a specific racial group got together to lodge an environmental complaint, but there’s a lot more than that: It’s actually a tribal sovereign nation that’s making an important claim about self-determination and its ability to survive and exist in the future.
But this isn’t just lost on journalists. It extends to the highest office in the federal government. During his trip to Laos this week, President Obama was asked about the pipeline. He issued, at best, a lackluster answer. Obama gave great lip service to his culturally appropriate communication with indigenous peoples, but he added that he couldn’t even provide an answer "on this particular case."
Aside from asserting ignorance on a topic I can’t help but think he’s already been briefed on, Obama also missed an opportunity to publicly recognize the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s tribal sovereignty. That’s a real shame, as is his decision to skirt the environmental and climate hazards the pipeline presents.