Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 18, 2019

Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap file suit against Keystone

Native American Rights Fund

Attorney: Natalie A. Landreth, Matthew L. Campbell, Wesley James Furlong, Dan Lewerenz

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) and the Fort Belknap Indian Community (Assiniboine (Nakoda) and Gros Ventre (Aaniiih) Tribes) in coordination with their counsel, the Native American Rights Fund, on September 10, 2018, sued the Trump Administration for numerous violations of the law in the Keystone XL pipeline permitting process. The Tribes are asking the court to rescind the illegal issuance of the Keystone XL pipeline presidential permit.

Case Updates

September 13, 2019:
Today, the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division, heard arguments in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Trump.
Keystone XL attorneys and clients stand in front of courthouseAt the hearings, the US government argued that the treaties that the United States signed with tribal nations are not relevant to the Keystone pipeline. In fact, the treaties were created specifically for this sort of violation.
“When the Tribes negotiated their treaties, they gave millions of acres of land to the United States—including, ironically, the land on which the courthouse now stands. In return, they asked that the United States protect their lands from trespass and their resources from destruction. Today, the Presidents of Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Fort Belknap Indian Community were in federal court to invoke their sacred inheritance from these treaties—because the KXL pipeline is exactly the kind of depredation the Tribes sought to prevent,” NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth explained after the hearings.
tribal supporters stand in front of the US District Court, September 2019
September 6, 2019:
At the end of July, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Fort Belknap Indian Community (the Tribes) filed their response to the defendant’s motions to dismiss in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Trump.
“The federal government argues that the treaties don’t matter. Obviously, that is not the case. Like the US Constitution, treaties are the law of the land, and no one is above that law,” said NARF Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell.
Treaties are more than solemn promises between nations. They are also solemn promises between the citizens of those nations. Over the years, the United States government willingly made very specific promises to tribal nations. In exchange for measures like “safe passage of emigrants” and “peaceful construction of the railroads,” the US government and tribal nations signed treaties to prevent intrusion on or destruction of tribal nations’ lands and natural resources. The United States formally agreed, among other things, to keep outsiders off Sioux and other tribal nation’s territory and protect tribal natural resources. Those treaties are binding to this day, and we expect them to be honored. Rather than honoring these legal obligations, the United States has chosen to blatantly violate them.
When they entered into treaties with the United States, the tribal nations meant to protect their natural resources (water, grasslands, and game) and keep people from crossing their lands. The 2019 pipeline approval violates both of these provisions.
Maps issued by TransCanada (TC Energy) clearly show the proposed KXL pipeline crossing tribal lands. They are proposing to do so without the tribal consent required under the treaty law. The Tribes argue that the 2019 permit, which would allow a Canadian company (TransCanada) to build another dirty tar sand crude pipeline across American soil, also creates a substantial risk of
  • the desecration and destruction of cultural, historic, and sacred sites;
  • the endangerment of tribal members, especially women and children;
  • damage to hunting and fishing resources, as well as the tribal health and economies associated with these activities;
  • the impairment of federally reserved tribal water rights and resources;
  • harm to tribal territory and natural resources in the inevitable event of Pipeline ruptures and spills; and
  • harm to the political integrity, economic stability, and health and welfare of the Tribes.
The United States must answer to the Tribes for violations of the treaties and be instructed to honor them. NARF will not allow the US government to ignore or forget the agreements made with tribal nations. Neither the president nor wealthy foreign corporations are above the laws of our country.
Hearings on the motion to dismiss will be held Thursday, September 12, 2019, in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division.
June 7, 2019:
On June 6, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case that sought to revoke the permit for TC Energy’s (TransCanada) Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline. In that case, brought by a coalition of environmental organizations, the District Court had decided that the federal government did not follow the law when it issued its 2017 permit for the pipeline. The District Court blocked pipeline construction until the government and TC Energy met those legal requirements. All construction was stopped.
After the District Court’s decision, President Trump took the extraordinary step of revoking the original KXL permit issued by the State Department and issuing a new permit himself. If the President’s goal was to avoid complying with the District Court’s decision in that case, it worked. With the original permit revoked, the Ninth Circuit yesterday decided to dismiss as moot the case based on that original permit. The injunction blocking KXL construction has now been lifted.
However, for the Tribes, the KXL fight is just beginning. The Fort Belknap Indian Community and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, represented by the Native American Rights Fund,  have separately sued TC Energy and President Trump—Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Trump. Regardless of the new permit and political maneuvering, the President is required to honor the treaties and the Constitution. And TC Energy still must abide by federal and tribal law. The case is now up to the Tribes, and they will not allow a foreign company to break American law, take land that does not belong to them, ignore the voices and laws of the tribal citizens, and destroy an aquifer that feeds millions of Americans. See the related statement from Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Bordeaux.
“People must understand that the Ogalalla Aquifer that this pipeline will cross covers 8 states and waters 30 percent of American crops. It is the largest underground water source in the United States. And the President and TC Energy would like to run a pipeline of highly toxic, cancer-causing sludge called ‘tar sands’ right through it.  The Tribes are taking a stand for their people, their culture, their water and their future, but they also are taking a stand for YOU,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth.
Want to do something to help the tribes and protect the Ogalalla Aquifer? Donate now.
May 28 and 29, 2019:
May 21, 2019:
Although, TransCanada, now known as TC Energy, has said that it has lost
the 2019 construction season for the KXL pipeline, the company has asked the courts to lift the current injunction so that they can immediately begin to build their man-camps and pipe-yards. TC Energy has indicated it will be looking at a very ambitious 2020 construction season to make up for the lost time, as well.
Therefore, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Utility Commission is holding a public hearing on the proposed TransCanada KXL Pipeline on Tuesday, May 28, and Wednesday, May 29, 2019, beginning at 10:00 am.
The location of this two-day hearing is the St. Francis Indian School Gym, 502 Warrior Dr, St Francis, SD 57572.
Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux sent the following letter to tribal leaders:
Rosebud Sioux Tribe flagTC Energy Must Comply with Rosebud Law
Authored by Rodney Bordeaux, President, Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Greetings my friends and relatives,
Čante wasteya nape čiuzapelo (I take your hand in friendship). As the elected President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, I write regarding a critical issue affecting not only our Tribe, but all of the United States.  The Rosebud Sioux Tribe—also known as the Sičangu Lakota Oyate—is one of the seven tribes that make up the Očeti Sakowin (the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota people).  Together with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, we brought a lawsuit to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through our territories.
We are ensuring that TC Energy (TransCanada) follows and respects our law. We have been mistreated in this process, and TC Energy has never sought or obtained our consent to build a pipeline in our territory, including on lands held in trust by the United States.  In granting a permit for the pipeline, the President has ignored his obligation to protect the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, ignored federal right of way and mineral statutes, and ignored basic principles of federal Indian law.
Although TC Energy had twice been denied a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, on January 24, 2017, President Trump invited TC Energy to resubmit its application.  Once resubmitted, the U.S. State Department did not bother to seek any new information or public comment, but instead quickly granted TC Energy a permit.  Now, after the courts have told the United States it must follow the law, President Trump has attempted to circumvent the courts by issuing a new permit.  But, the President must comply with the Treaties, and TC Energy must comply with Rosebud law.
Like that of the United States, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe also has laws that require us to ensure that any company seeking to build a pipeline in our territory must obtain our consent.  We must ensure our people are safe, and that the economic security, health, welfare, and general well-being of Rosebud and our members are protected.
TC Energy must follow the law, and that includes our laws and regulations with respect to the construction of this pipeline.  Our Land Use, Environmental Protection, and Public Utilities Codes directly apply, and TC Energy has failed to comply with them.  To that end, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Utility Commission will be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, and Wednesday, May 29, 2019, to address the Keystone XL pipeline and its impacts on our territory and people. We invite anyone interested in providing testimony to attend.  For those of you that will not be able to attend, I ask that you submit a letter about your concerns and in support of our lawsuit.
The promises made to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, as well as the Oceti Sakowin, were broken before the ink on Fort Laramie treaties dried.  The lands, water, and promises made in those treaties were paid for, literally, with the blood of our ancestors and relatives.  The obligation of the United States to uphold those treaties is paramount, and Keystone XL’s current path cannot be approved without the Sičangu Lakota’s consent.
Hečetu yelo. (This is true.)
Rodney Bordeaux

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