— -- The Federal government invited tribal leaders today to government-to-government consultations, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues its fight to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of the Army and other federal agencies extended an invitation for consultations on "how the Federal Government can better account for, and integrate tribal views, on future infrastructure decisions throughout the country," as a direct response to what has become one of the biggest Native American demonstrations in decades over a 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline.
The movement to block the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline, being built by Texas-based Energy Transfer, has united tribal groups and environmental activists from across the nation, with hundreds still camped out near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation in North Dakota.
The camp site even hosts a school and an increasingly organized system for meal and water delivery, The Associated Press reported.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued to block construction of pipeline earlier this summer, citing concerns over potential water contamination and destruction to what they deemed to be culturally sacred sites. While a judge in Washington denied the tribe's request for a temporary injunction, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior intervened with an unprecedented joint statement requesting "that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe."
Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe responded to today's invitation, calling it a "historic moment."
"The Obama Administration’s call for national reform on this issue is a historic moment. We welcome the Administration’s invitation to all tribes to consult on the process for decision-making on infrastructure projects," Archambault said in a statement.
"We have already seen the damage caused by a lack of consultation. The ancient burial sites where our Lakota and Dakota ancestors were laid to rest have been destroyed. The desecration of family graves is something that most people could never imagine," Archambault added.
The chairman said this invitation is "a good start," but a lot more has to be done to protect those who rely on the Missouri River for water.
Kelcy Warren, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer, denied the tribe's claims, writing in an internal memo, "concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded," and "multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route."
President Obama is set to meet on Monday with Native American leaders in Washington, D.C., when he hosts his final Tribal Nations Conference as president.