Water Protector Katrina Silk and Water Protector Legal Collective attorney Patricia Handlin stand outside the courthouse in Morton County, North Dakota, after the conclusion of Silk's trial in connection with the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Silk's was the last case on the docket and it was resolved with a mixed verdict on February 5, 2019. Photo by Teena Pugliese

'These cases should never have been brought': Water Protector Legal Collective wraps up #NoDAPL work

The criminal cases connected to the Dakota Access Pipeline have concluded in North Dakota, two years after the Trump administration gave the final approval for the controversial project.

Authorities arrested hundreds of opponents of the $3.8 billion pipeline starting in August 2016. More than 830 cases were filed but nearly half of them resulted in dismissals, according to the Water Protector Legal Collective, a legal defense group set up at the height of the #NoDAPL movement.

“These cases should never have been brought and should not have proceeded,” attorney Patricia Handlin said as the last case on the docket was resolved on Tuesday.

Yesterday marked the conclusion of the criminal defense portion of WPLC’s work here in North Dakota. We extend a...

Posted by Water Protector Legal Collective on Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The state claims it spent more than $38 million responding to the situation. With the help of key members of Congress, including Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), an Indian Affairs member who lost her re-election bid in November, the federal government gave $10 million to the state under a little-used "emergency" law enforcement program that isn't available to tribes. The state also accepted a $15 million "donation" from the wealthy backers of the project.

By that time, the crude oil pipeline was already in operation thanks to President Donald Trump and his administration. On February 7, 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the final portion of the project without consulting the affected tribes in advance.

Then-chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was told of the decision after his plane landed in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with the White House that had taken weeks to secure. Leaders of the the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe were told in a phone call after the fact.

A federal judge subsequently ruled that the approval process was flawed because tribal concerns weren't taken into account. But the decision came two weeks after oil started flowing through the pipeline on June 1, 2017.

The Army Corps studied the issue but once again went against the tribes in a revised decision that was issued after a lengthy delay. Even then, the Trump administration kept the document from the tribes for another month.

The final portion of the pipeline lies less than a half-mile from the northern border of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, on land promised to the Sioux Nation through treaties with the United States. The tribes retain water, hunting and other rights on the territory.

The tribes continue to challenge the approval with an ongoing lawsuit in federal court.

Read More on the Story
Dakota Access criminal cases wrapping up in North Dakota (The Associated Press February 6, 2019)

Dakota Access Pipeline Approval Documents
Department of Justice Notice | Department of the Army Approval Memorandum | Notice of Termination of EIS for Dakota Access Pipeline | Easement Letter to Congressional Leadership

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