Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Lawyer: Judge's Ruling Allows Dakota Access to "Desecrate" Sacred Ground

September 07, 2016


Stephanie Tsosie

associate attorney with Earthjustice. She is co-counsel with Jan Hasselman representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access pipeline.

In Washington, D.C., a federal judge has ruled that construction on sacred tribal burial sites in the path of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline can continue. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued a temporary restraining order that halts construction only between Route 1806 and Lake Oahe, but still allows construction to continue west of this area. The ruling does not protect the land where, on Saturday, hundreds of Native Americans forced Dakota Access to halt construction, despite the company’s security forces attacking the crowd with dogs and pepper spray. This part of the construction site is a sacred tribal burial ground. We get an update from Stephanie Tsosie, associate attorney with Earthjustice who helps represent the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access pipeline.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with an update on the fight by Native Americans to stop the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would run through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, and could contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand Native Americans from more than 100 tribes have traveled to the resistance camps on and around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. It’s the largest unification of Native American tribes in decades.

Well, on Tuesday, a federal judge ruled on a request for a temporary restraining order to halt some construction until the same judge issues a ruling later this week on an injunction that the tribe filed challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its approval of the pipeline. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued a temporary retraining order that halts construction only between Route 1806 and Lake Oahe, but still allows construction to continue west of this area. The ruling does not protect the land where this weekend’s mass protest occurred, which is an ancient burial and prayer ground. Jan Hasselman, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, responded to the ruling.

JAN HASSELMAN: We’re disappointed with what happened here today. We provided evidence on Friday of sacred sites that were directly in the pipeline’s route. By Saturday morning, those sites had been destroyed. And we saw things happening out at Standing Rock—dogs being put on protesters—that haven’t been seen in America in 40, 50 years.

AMY GOODMAN: As the ruling was issued in Washington, D.C., about 100 land defenders shut down construction on the Dakota Access pipeline by obstructing equipment. Some of them locked themselves to workers’ heavy machinery.

JULIE RICHARDS: My name is Julie Richards. I’m a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. I’m also the founder of the Mothers Against Meth Alliance. And I’m here this morning locked down because water is life. We need our water to survive. We need to put a stop to this pipeline.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tuesday’s limited temporary restraining order does not cover this construction site, either. Meanwhile, North Dakota authorities say they plan to pursue trespassing and vandalism charges against Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for spray-painting construction equipment at the Dakota Access pipeline action. In a photograph posted on Twitter, Stein is seen next to a spray-painted message in red paint on the blade of a bulldozer that says, quote, "I approve this message." Stein, who is antiwar and advocates for clean energy, camped out with the protesters Monday evening.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Tuesday’s hearing and actions, and what it means for the Dakota Access pipeline, we’re joined by several guests. In Seattle, Washington, Stephanie Tsosie is with us, an associate attorney with Earthjustice. She is co-counsel with Jan Hasselman representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access pipeline. Via Democracy Now! video stream, we’re joined by Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with the lawyer, talking about what the ruling means. If you can talk about what exactly the federal judge ruled yesterday?

STEPHANIE TSOSIE: Yes. Well, thank you for having me, Amy. We—as Jan mentioned, we are disappointed. It is important to remember that this land is an area that these tribes have inhabited for time immemorial, and there are sacred sites around the entire area. What this means is that construction can continue, and it can continue to desecrate these areas west of Highway 1806. And the tribe does not get an opportunity to go out and survey these areas for cultural sites.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But there will be a full hearing, won’t there be, later this week on the claims of the lawsuit? And what do you expect to happen there?

STEPHANIE TSOSIE: There will not be a hearing. There will be an order issued on Friday, that we’re looking for from Judge Boasberg, on the hearing we had on August 24th. But regardless of what happens on Friday and which way the order goes, there will still be the overall legal process that we’ve pursued, which has other claims, as well. And that will take some time.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just go to the moment on Saturday when the Dakota Access pipeline security unleashed dogs and pepper spray on the Native Americans who had come onto the site not expecting to see them actively bulldozing it on Saturday. They were just going to be planting their tribal flags there, but that’s what they found. This is a clip.

PROTESTER 1: This guy maced me in the face. Look, it’s all over my sunglasses. Just maced me in the face.

PROTESTER 2: These people are just threatening all of us with these dogs. And she, that woman over there, she was charging, and it bit somebody right in the face.

AMY GOODMAN: The dog has blood in its nose and its mouth.

PROTESTER 2: And she’s still standing here threatening us.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you letting their—her dog go after the protesters? It’s covered in blood!

VICTOR PUERTAS: Over there, with that dog. I was like walking. Throwed the dog on me and straight, even without any warning. You know? Look at this. Look at this.

AMY GOODMAN: That dog bit you?

VICTOR PUERTAS: Yeah, the dog did it, you know? Look at this. It’s there. It’s all bleeding.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have just a moment of what took place on Saturday when the security unleashed the dogs and the pepper spray. One of those dogs, both the mouth and the nose dripping with blood. This site that the Native Americans—they don’t call themselves "protesters," they call themselves "protectors." This site, Stephanie Tsosie, is not included in the temporary restraining order?

STEPHANIE TSOSIE: That’s correct. And that is exactly why the tribe is disappointed in the ruling yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, explain. This was just a hearing, an emergency hearing, after this violent crackdown on Saturday, you filed on Sunday and got the hearing yesterday with the judge in Washington. But what are you waiting to hear this week from Judge Boasberg?

STEPHANIE TSOSIE: We are waiting for a ruling on Friday that will either deny or grant our preliminary injunction that we filed in August. And he can scope it in any degree. And we’re just waiting to see what happens on Friday. And depending on how he orders it, construction may or may not continue after Friday. But we’re unsure as to what he’ll do.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the primary legal arguments that you’re using in the injunction request?

STEPHANIE TSOSIE: Specifically in the injunction request, we are pursuing claims under the National Historic Preservation Act. You know, that act is there precisely to protect areas like this and to protect—to prevent incidents like this from happening. Our larger legal claim also includes claims under the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as others, but for the scope of this injunction, it was just the National Historic Preservation Act.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then get reaction from the main camps of the resistance in North Dakota. We’ll be talking to Tara Houska. Stephanie Tsosie, thanks so much for being with us, associate attorney with Earthjustice. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

Watch Democracy Now!’s FULL Exclusive Report: Dakota Access Pipeline Co. Attacks Native Americans with Dogs & Pepper Spray

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