Standing Rock Sioux Call Recent Court Decision A “Victory And Vindication”

The tribe is calling the decision a "victory," but there's one huge catch.

Credit: Jenni Monet

It’s been quite awhile since the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe or the Dakota Access Pipeline was covered by mainstream news outlets, despite emerging news of lawsuits being filed and the continuous fight to shut down the pipeline. The most recent news was when President Donald Trump spoke in Cincinnati several weeks ago to announce that the pipeline was up and running, offering crude jokes about his simple decision to approve the pipeline in an executive order just five days after becoming president.

“The Dakota Access pipeline is now officially open for business—a $3.8-billion investment in American infrastructure that was stalled,” he said. “Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. And I just closed my eyes and said: Do it,” Trump said in his speech on June 7.

Although the pipeline is now in use, a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the Native American tribe after more than a year of battling the U.S. government and multi-billion dollar corporations over their right to run a pipeline through sacred land. The ruling stated that the initial study into the environmental consequences of the pipeline, which was conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was inadequate.

The judge pointed to the Corps’ conclusion of “the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice” as being particularly inadequate, saying in his 91-page decision that another study needed to be conducted.

While the tribe is thrilled with this victory, which is the first legal battle they’ve won since first pressing the government and corporations with lawsuits, there are mixed reactions to another portion of the judge’s decision. Although the judge called for a new study to be conducted, he did not demand that the pipeline be shut down in the interim. Typically when a federal permit is found to be lacking, in this case it’s the environmental impact report, the judge will order a cease of operations. Instead, the pipeline will continue to be used while the tribe and court awaits the new study. Despite this setback, the tribe remains optimistic about the decision.

Credit: Michael Kennedy

“This is a a very significant victory and vindication of the tribe’s opinion,” said Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney for the case and an employee of Earthjustice, an environmental-advocacy group that represented the Standing Rock Sioux.

“The court slices things pretty thin, but there were three major areas that he found deficient, and they’re not insignificant. They’re central to the problems that we’ve been highlighting the whole time,” Hasselman told The Atlantic.

Not everyone is thrilled about this decision, however, and they have every right to be upset after such a long fight that involves high stakes. With so much controversy surrounding the pipeline, it came as somewhat of a shock that Trump so easily approved the continuation of the pipeline’s construction, but many have pointed to Trump’s recent speech as a metaphor for the entire push and pull of this controversy.

“That’s such a perfect metaphor for this whole process,” Hasselman said. “The government closed its eyes to the impacts of this pipeline on the people of Standing Rock—and their history at the hands of the same government.”

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