Republican lawmaker eagerly defends Dakota Access Pipeline


Republican president nominee Donald Trump, left, and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota). Photo from Facebook

A Republican Congressman who insists the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline will get built got a rocky start with Indian Country.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) was less than three months into the job when he got a lesson in the power of Native women. In March 2013, Melissa Merrick, a member of the Spirit Lake Nation, came forward with a shocking account of a meeting in which the freshman lawmaker demeaned tribal governments and questioned their ability to prosecute non-Indians for abusing women on reservations.

"As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now," Cramer told a room filled with domestic violence advocates, providers and survivors like Merrick, the widely-read post on Last Real Indians stated.

"We sat there in shock. We could not believe that he was doing this,” Merrick told Native Sun News Today as tribal leaders condemned Cramer amid widespread controversy over his remarks.

Cramer, who never really disputed the account, soon offered some regrets and the dust-up faded away. More than a year later, he welcomed Merrick to Washington, D.C., for a hearing on improving child welfare on the Spirit Lake Nation and won re-election in November 2014 with 55 percent of the vote.

Cramer's second term seemed to signal a change in his relationship with Indian Country. Upon returning to Washington, he soon introduced H.R.1168, the Native American Children's Safety Act, and it became law in June, based largely on the record gathered at the hearing that included Merrick.


A 2013 dust-up between Melissa Merrick, a member of the Spirit Lake Nation, and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) put the Republican on Indian Country's radar. Photo from Native Sun News Today

Coming off that fresh achievement, Cramer's eager defense of the Dakota Access Pipeline seems incongruous. After all, thousands of Native people -- including some children -- and their supporters have flocked to the #NoDAPL encampment in his state to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and put a halt to the costly project.

But Cramer -- who has since become an adviser on energy issues to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump -- told Oil & Gas 360 that their opposition doesn't really matter when the "facts" are separated from the "emotion" surrounding the #NoDAPL movement.

"I think DAPL will be finished due to the investment and amount of construction already completed," Cramer told the website. "Regardless of short-term decisions, I don’t see how you can’t eventually finish the pipeline."

"I’m optimistic that [the work] will be up and running in a few weeks," Cramer added.

Cramer even had a curious response when asked about the future of the #NoDAPL encampments. With colder temperatures approaching, did he think the thousands would stick around?

"That is something to consider given the presence of tribes from the Southwest," Cramer told Oil & Gas 360, suggesting they might not last long in North Dakota.

To LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a co-founder of the Sacred Stone Camp, it's not the numbers that matter. Back in April, she was one of the first on the ground, taking a stand to protect her people's way of life for future generations.

"I’m from North Dakota. Winter is nothing. We are already preparing. We know how to survive in the winter," Allard told Democracy Now!

"And who is staying? Oh, the grandmas, all the grandmas who are saying they’re staying, because the water is so important, their children and grandchildren are so important," said Allard, , a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "We have been here for thousands of years. We’re not going anywhere."


Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who is the Democratic nominee for North Dakota's lone U.S. Congressional seat, speaks at a #NoDAPL rally in front of the White House on September 13, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

According to Oil & Gas 360, the interview with Cramer took place on Friday, although it wasn't published online until Monday. But after the interview, there was a major development from D.C. that casts serious doubt on whether the pipeline could be up and running within "a few weeks."

Shortly before 8pm Eastern on Friday a federal appeals court ordered a halt to construction of the pipeline in key areas of North Dakota. Although the "administrative injunction" is only temporary, it disrupts completion of the project, whose backers hope to start transporting oil by January 1, 2017.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has since scheduled an October 5 hearing that will help a panel of judge determine whether a more permanent injunction on construction is warranted, if at all.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been allotted 15 minutes while U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the defendant in the case, gets 10 minutes, according to an order issued on Thursday. Dakota Access will get 5 minutes.

As for Cramer, he's back up for re-election in November and is facing Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who has has spoken forcefully about stopping the pipeline. He happens to have been a co-founder of the Last Real Indians site.

"We don't have national security without water security," Iron Eyes said at a #NoDAPL rally in front of the White House last week.

Native Americans represent about 5.5 percent of the population in North Dakota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If the race between Cramer and Iron Eyes becomes at all close, the Native vote could have an impact on the outcome.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals #NoDAPL Documents:
Injunction Blocking Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline (September 16, 2016)
Order Setting October 5 Hearing (September 21, 2016)

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