CANNON BALL – Audio released by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from a September 2014 meeting with Dakota Access Pipeline representatives contradicts recent claims made by a pipeline company executive.
Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access LLC, told The Wall Street Journal the pipeline route that crosses just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation could have been changed if the tribe had engaged in discussions sooner.
“I really wish for the Standing Rock Sioux that they had engaged in discussions way before they did. I don’t think we would have been having this discussion if they did,” Warren said in a Wall Street Journal interview published Nov. 16. “We could have changed the route. It could have been done, but it’s too late.”
However, the recording provides audio from a Sept. 30, 2014, meeting in which Standing Rock officials expressed their opposition to the pipeline and raised concerns about its potential impact to sacred sites and their water supply — nearly two years before they raised similar objections in a federal lawsuit.
Phyllis Young, a former tribal council member, was among those who strongly objected to the project, saying she would never submit to any pipeline going through her homeland and adding the tribe would do “whatever it takes” to stop it.
“We are not stupid people. We are not ignorant people. Do not underestimate the people of Standing Rock,” Young said. “We know what’s going on, and we know what belongs to us, and we know what we have to keep for our children and our grandchildren.”
The meeting with Chuck Frey, vice president of engineering for Energy Transfer Partners, and Tammy Ibach, who has worked with North Dakota media relations for Dakota Access, occurred three months before the company applied for a permit with the North Dakota Public Service Commission and nearly 20 months before pipeline construction started in North Dakota.
Ibach arranged the meeting, which was meant to provide information from the company about the pipeline and answer questions. The meeting did not include any federal or state officials who have oversight over the pipeline.
Frey emphasized the company avoided the existing tribal boundary when selecting the pipeline route and worked to avoid known cultural artifact areas.
Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II pointed out that while the pipeline crosses less than a mile north of the reservation boundary, the tribe recognizes its treaty boundaries and passed a resolution in 2012 opposing pipelines within the those boundaries.
Waste Win Young, the former tribal historic preservation officer, told the company about the cultural significance of the area near the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers, which was at one time home to several tribes.
“We have a really rich history here, and our history and ceremonies are who we are,” she said.
Win Young also described some of the significant sites in the area, including 66 villages along the Missouri River, areas with human remains or other cultural artifacts and sacred prayer sites.
“I thank you guys for coming, but the risks are too great for our children,” she told the company.
Frey asked if the tribe had maps available that would indicate sites to avoid. Tribal officials said they did not have maps publicly available, but asked the company to consult with Standing Rock’s tribal historic preservation office.
“We ask that you consult with Standing Rock because we do have the expertise and we have knowledge of where the sites are,” Archambault said.
Dakota Access has emphasized that the project follows the existing corridor of the Northern Border Pipeline. But tribal officials said the natural gas pipeline was installed about a decade before changes to a federal law gave tribes a voice in the process.
The meeting did not include mention that Dakota Access had earlier considered a pipeline route that crossed the Missouri River north of Bismarck.
In a map included in Public Service Commission documents, a proposed route dated May 2014 crosses the river north of Bismarck. A change to that route dated September 2014 — the same month as the meeting with the tribe — showed the proposed pipeline crossing the river north of the reservation, the document shows.
Frey, the primary company representative who testified about the project to the PSC, did not tell state regulators about the tribe’s opposition, according to Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak.
However, Fedorchak said it was the tribe’s responsibility to attend the public hearings and express their objections. Three public hearings were held in 2015, including one in Mandan, but Standing Rock did not participate.
“It is still difficult for me to understand why the tribe didn’t intervene in the process and have a seat at the table,” Fedorchak said, noting that tribes and environmental groups intervened on the controversial Sandpiper Pipeline in Minnesota.
Energy Transfer Partners did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
During the September 2014 meeting, Standing Rock officials also expressed frustration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that has jurisdiction over the pipeline crossing of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.
“We have actually been having a hard time setting up a meeting with the corps for this particular project,” said Win Young, who added that the agency did not consult with the tribe on previous projects.
The tribe’s lawsuit against the corps alleges the agency failed to properly consult with the tribe and follow federal laws including the National Historic Preservation Act.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sided with the corps in a ruling on a preliminary injunction last September, saying the agency “documented dozens of attempts it made to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2016.” Boasberg also noted instances in which tribal leaders withdrew from meetings or didn’t respond to opportunities to provide input in a timely manner.
Protests of the four-state, 1,172-mile pipeline have been ongoing since mid-August near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The project is primarily finished, except for the Lake Oahe easement that the corps continues to consider.