Native American Tribes Win Fight To Block Oil Pipeline After Obama Steps In

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protesting against the pipeline crossing through their sacred burial grounds. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The heated debate over the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has reached a fiery conclusion... for now. Construction has been halted indefinitely on federal tribal land, and the company behind the pipeline has also been asked to "pause" construction on a larger tract of land deemed important by native tribes. This is seen as a major victory for the Native Americans who have been arguing that the project will cut through sacred burial grounds.

Last week, it was reported that the federal government was to make a final decision over whether or not the local tribes had a case to prevent the construction from passing through their sacred land. On this issue, US District Judge James Boasberg actually ruled that the move to fast-track the construction of the pipeline, which the tribes argue meant that they were not notified of the pipe's exact route, was not illegal and that it should go ahead. But just minutes after this, the Obama Administration stepped in to block it from higher up.

“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act,” a joint statement by the departments of Justice, Army, and the Interior said. “However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”

The key issue was that the building of the pipeline would not only destroy the burial grounds and prayer site of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but also put at risk the water sources for many others as it crosses rivers and passes within 32 kilometers (20 miles) of Lake Oahe.

More than 200 other Native American groups protested against its construction, alongside other environmental groups who are also against the pipeline as it transports oil and gas through four northern states. Last weekend, this all came to a head, as protestors attempting to halt construction were met by private security guards who deployed pepper spray and dogs.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have called the move by the government “stunning”, while the company behind the project have declined to comment. “This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects,” the joint statement from the government added. Perhaps this case will spur greater reform over the rights and control native peoples have to their historic lands.

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