Tribal government leaders against the Dakota Access Pipeline appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights today (December 9), where they asked the commission to protect their human rights, which they allege have been abused at the hands of law enforcement.

Those speaking included Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Councilman Chad Harrison, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier, Yankton Sioux Tribe Chairman Robert Wayne Flying Hawk and Yankton tribal member Faith Spotted Eagle. U.S. government officials also testified at the hearing, including representatives from the Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers. 

During the hearing, tribal members spoke of an overwhelming failure for the U.S. government to consult them when moving extractive projects like the pipeline forward. Frazier was most explicit about this, describing the minimal communication the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe received from U.S. agencies, even though its people rely on the Missouri River.

The lack of consultation was concerning to Commissioner Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli. He emphasized to U.S. officials that Indigenous peoples have collected rights over their territories and lands. They “must be consulted” on projects that could infringe on their rights and identities, he said. And, as Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay pointed out, “extractive industries can cause a lot of harm.” Macaulay also expressed her concern about law enforcement’s “seemingly excessive use of force” and mass arrests.

Arguably, most compelling was the testimony of Spotted Eagle of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. She reminded the commission that that excessive force left a 21-year-old woman fighting to keep her left arm and a 32-year-old woman battling to retain vision in her right eye. “The rape of Mother Earth is the rape of women,” Spotted Eagle said. She emphasized the trauma Native women have historically received by the U.S. government.

The U.S. representatives responded by telling tribes that the #NoDAPL fight has highlighted the importance of tribal input. The Department of Justice representative made clear, as the department has done in the past, that they must reanalyze how they consult Native people for future projects.  

This meeting came after the tribes petitioned the commission on December 2 to hold a hearing. Pipeline construction on the Missouri River currently remains on pause after the Corps denied the company, Energy Transfer Partners, a permit it needed to finish the project.