The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has lost ancestral lands in one broken treaty after another, and even in outright theft.
For the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline recalls a bitter history the tribe does not want repeated.
“We want to protect our land, and we want to protect our water,” said Dave Archambault II, tribal chairman. “Our concerns and interests don’t matter and this is how we have been treated for over 150 years.”
Once roaming the Great Plains, living in teepees and hunting buffalo, the great Sioux leaders such as Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse are household names for many. Their bloodiest moments are, too: Wounded Knee. Custer’s Last Stand.
But the history of the Sioux people and the United States is also one all too familiar: of broken promises, and a relentless taking away of lands for white settlement, gold mining and development. Those lands were promised to be reserved for the Indians’ sole use forever, in peace treaties that were supposed to be the highest law of the land.
The first treaty, in 1851, established the Great Sioux Reservation. It was quickly abrogated with one rewrite after another, each resulting in further land takeaways from the Sioux.
If enough tribal members wouldn’t agree to a new treaty, acts of Congress took back the Sioux people’s land instead. Some of the Sioux’s most sacred lands, the Black Hills, were simply stolen after the discovery of gold brought miners streaming in.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court was appalled. In 1980, it upheld a U.S. Court of Claims decision in favor of the Sioux. The majority opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun quoted from the lower court’s decision: “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”
The value of that claim is now $1 billion.
The money sits today untouched by these, some of the poorest Indian people in the U.S. They would rather have the land.
Still more losses came when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded much of the Sioux’s remaining and best agricultural lands, impounding a vast reservoir behind a dam. That was in 1958. The Sioux people were never consulted.
That is the same reservoir Energy Transfer Partners wants to tunnel under today to complete its oil pipeline. And now the Army Corps holds the last easement the company needs to finish its project. Archambault says he is just hoping the agency will “do the right thing.”
“We are not opposed to economic development and industry; what we are opposed to is threatening our land and threatening our water. Do this somewhere else,” Archambault said. “You did it to us for over 200 years and you continue to do it. We are taking a stand and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’?”
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- March 28: What the completed Dakota Access pipeline means for key players.
- Feb. 23: Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp closed; 46 holdouts arrested.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 13: Judge rejects tribes’ bid to halt Dakota Access Pipeline; feds plan to shut down protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.