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Native Americans Vow Legal Battle Over Trump Pipeline Orders

  • Cecily Hilleary

Hay is stacked up to feed horses at a protest encampment along the route of the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball in southern North Dakota, Jan. 24, 2017.

Native American activists and environmentalists say they'll fight President Donald Trump, who Tuesday signed executive orders which allow the construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) oil pipelines stalled by President Barack Obama in 2015.

"These actions by President Trump are insane and extreme, and nothing short of attacks on our ancestral homelands as indigenous people," read a statement by the Indigenous Environmental Network. "The executive orders demonstrate that this administration is more than willing to violate federal law that is meant to protect Indigenous rights, human rights, the environment and the overall safety of communities for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry."

FILE - Travelers arrive at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline as they walk into a tent next to an upside-down American flag in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Dec. 2, 2016.
FILE - Travelers arrive at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline as they walk into a tent next to an upside-down American flag in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Dec. 2, 2016.

The group says its resistance is stronger than ever before, and it is prepared to "push back" at the administration's "reckless decision."

Separately, Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law organization that represents the Standing Rock Tribe, called Trump's action "anti-democratic."

"This move is legally questionable at best," said Earthjustice president Donnell "Trip" Van Noppen. "He [Trump] should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting, and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects. We will see his administration in court."

Washington DC Protest Tuesday

Conflict of interest questions

He also questioned whether there is a conflict of interest at play.

"Based on what we know about Trump's financial dealings in the Dakota Access Pipeline, it raises serious ethical concern," Van Noppen said.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House in Washington, Jan. 24, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House in Washington, Jan. 24, 2017.

According to Trump's May 2016 financial disclosure report, he held between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Energy Transfer Partners — down from $500,000 to $1 million the year before — and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66. And, as the Washington Post reported in November, Energy Transfer chief executive Kelcy Warren donated $1 million to the Trump presidential campaign.

Trump has said he supports the pipelines because they benefit Americans, not because of personal financial interest. When he signed the order, he touted the number of jobs that construction of the pipeline would create.

"It's something that's subject to a renegotiation of terms by us," he said. "We'll see if we can get the pipeline built. A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs."

FILE - A vehicle drives next to a series of pipes at a Dakota Access construction site near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Oct. 30, 2016.
FILE - A vehicle drives next to a series of pipes at a Dakota Access construction site near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Oct. 30, 2016.

In addition to an order speeding up construction of the pipelines, Trump signed a second memorandum requiring the secretary of the commerce department to mandate that all steel used in pipelines be American made.

"We're going to put a lot of … steelworkers back to work," Trump said as he signed the orders Tuesday. "We'll build our own pipelines, we will build our own pipes."

‘Oil war’

As Trump took the oath of office in Washington last Friday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota called for the three DAPL protest camps to be dismantled and for protesters to go home.

Roughly a thousand protesters have remained, among them, lawyer, activist and former Democratic House candidate Chase Iron Eyes, who characterized the protests — and crackdown by law enforcement — as "an oil war going on in the middle of America."

"Trump has presented himself as a threat to all those who value constitutional rights, native nations who seek to liberate from domestic dependent nationhood which is imposed by the United States," Iron Eyes said. "Trump presents a threat to those who seek water security as a human right and who want to avoid the privatization of water."

Currently, about 1,000 protesters remain near Standing Rock, but Iron Eyes expects that number will swell.

"We are going to orchestrate a callout as soon as we know we can logistically provide for people who want to come and stand in the fight against tyranny, come and stand in the fight of the corporate takeover of our very democracy," he said.

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