Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Tribe performs a grass dance at fifth annual Ponca sacred corn planting ceremony near Neligh, Nebraska on June 10, 2018. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Tribes sue Trump administration for approving Keystone XL Pipeline

The original version of this post incorrectly listed one of the tribal plaintiffs. The Fort Belknap Indian Community is one of the plaintiffs, not the Fort Peck Tribes.
Citing a need to protect their water systems and ancestral territory, the Fort Belknap Indian Community and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are taking the Trump administration to court for approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.

In a complaint filed in federal court on Monday, the two tribes say they were never consulted before President Donald Trump, just days after taking office in January 2017, revived the controversial project and quickly approved a key permit for the crude oil pipeline. Approval documents submitted with the lawsuit show no new outreach efforts took place in Indian Country prior to the decision.

“President Trump permitted the Keystone XL pipeline because he wanted to," attorney Natalie Landreth of the Native American Rights Fund, said in a press release on Monday. "It was a political step, having nothing to do with what the law actually requires."

The pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before connecting to existing infrastructure, is already under fire in court. As the result of a lawsuit filed by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast Rivers Alliance, a federal judge last month ordered the Trump administration to conduct a more thorough review of the project.

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Ponca Plant Seeds of Resistance, Sacred Corn

Foreshadowing arguments being made by the tribes in their new lawsuit, Judge Brian Morris said the Mainline Alternative Route in Nebraska, a key portion of the pipeline, was approved without following the law. The Trump administration released a less stringent environmental assessment, instead of a required supplemental environmental impact statement, the ruling stated.

Tribes along the route have long opposed to the project, which they thought had been killed by former president Barack Obama. Though the pipeline would not run through Indian Country, it crosses treaty territory and comes close to at least four reservations, including Fort Belknap in Montana and Rosebud in South Dakota.

One key document "does not contain any mention of any of the Fort Laramie Treaties or any other treaties signed by the tribes or any other tribes, nor does it contain any analysis of how alternative routes can avoid the Great Sioux Reservation or the ancestral lands of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes outside the Great Sioux Nation," the complaint filed on Monday alleges.

In the March 2017 record of decision and national interest determination for Keystone XL, the Department of State included a section on "Tribal Consultation." But all of the meetings cited took place in 2012 and 2013 -- nothing additional took place after Trump came on board.

The presidential permit, issued the same day as the record of decision, asserts that the "views" of tribes were considered before approval. Fort Belknap and Rosebud say otherwise in their complaint.

"The pipeline would cross through Tripp County, South Dakota, just miles from the boundaries of the Rosebud Indian Reservation and within yards of Rosebud’s trust lands and tribal members’ allotments," the complaint reads.

Despite coming close to Fort Belknap and Rosebud, the tribes say the Trump administration did not analyze the impacts of the pipeline on their water resources and on their treaty hunting and fishing rights. They are also worried about affects on cultural and historical places along and near the route.

The tribal lawsuit has been filed in the same court as the Indigenous Environmental Network lawsuit.

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