Where were the OST leaders?Opportunity to address environmental threat from Wyoming wasted
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today PINE RIDGE—Two weeks ago, the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) met with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel at the Prairie Winds Casino for an extremely important meeting that would have an impact on the lives of all tribal members. Tribal leadership, including the absence of the Tribal President, was glaringly evident. According to the official OST press release, dated March 25, 2018, “the Oglala Sioux Tribe responded to the Draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) prior to the March 12 deadline, and voiced its concerns about air and water pollution that will directly impact the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from flaring natural gas and from hydraulic fracking that will directly impact tribal water rights and fishing rights in the Cheyenne River.” OST Tribal Attorney Mario Gonzalez drafted a comprehensive resolution, 18-55XB, that was adopted by the Executive Committee on March 21. This resolution called for government-to-government consultation between OST, BLM and the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the findings of the EIS for the Converse County, Wyoming oil and gas project. Although all of the above is factual it does not begin to touch upon the elemental underpinnings that prompted the OST reaction, or the last second, save-the-day intervention that preserved the tribe’s ability to challenge the Converse County oil and gas project’s potentially dangerous operation. On February 11, 2018, Chrissy Nardi put up a post on the Shoshone Facebook group page. In this post she wrote, “YOUR tribal governments were informed in 2016 of a 1.5 million acre 5000 well oil and gas project in western Wyoming.” Gonzalez Law Office Manager, Leon Gonzalez, read this post with alarm. He had never heard of this threat, despite Tribal Historic Preservation Officer’s (THPO’s) for all member tribes of the Oceti Sakowin having been informed of such as far back as 2014. He contacted his father, OST Tribal Attorney Mario Gonzalez, who had also never been informed of this threat. Equally alarmed, Gonzalez took action, forwarding the information to “a bunch of key people—‘hey, we need to do something, and nobody seemed to know anything about it.’”
Had Leon Gonzalez not been visiting his wife’s Facebook group a month before the March 12 deadline to act, had he not then promptly informed the tribal attorney, who promptly informed tribal leaders, that date would have come and gone, and five fracking oil companies would have begun full operation in earnest, and the tribe would have had no recourse to oppose them, other than protestors scrambling like mad to block the operation of over 5000 wells on 1.5 million acres. Whether the THPO’s failed in their due diligence, or tribal leaders ignored their warnings, only the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe took action early on. Even after last week’s two-day consultation was set at Prairie Winds, providing OST with a golden opportunity to consult with a dozen key members of the Wyoming BLM, tribal leadership began to distance themselves from participation, or even understanding, of the consultation, meaning: what the consultation was about. The resolution was impressively detailed—(Gonzalez: “I wanted to make sure we asserted all the rights we have. I think we got everything we needed that protects the tribe in that resolution”)— but most of the tribal council must not have read it.