Honor the Earth, a Native American nonprofit organization, argued in hearings before Judge Eric Lipman on May 7 that 10 treaties signed between 1825 and 1864 by Minnesota Native American tribes give the tribes a say in where to build crude oil pipelines. They said that the pipeline would produce “inevitable oil spills and environmental degradation” on ceded lands. Spills could endanger Rice Lake near McGregor and Sandy Lake in Aitkin County where the Chippewa tribe harvest wild rice, as well as hunt and fish. They proposed a different route running south of the current proposed route as an alternative.
But, on May 20, Judge Lipman ruled that an 1855 treaty does not bar the later acqusition of a route. In his ruling, he stated: “The treaty does not forbid creation of new rights of way on the land that was sold in 1855.” Lipman further went on to say that evidence presented so far does not support the claim that treaty rights will be harmed, but If Chippewa property rights were impaired by the pipeline, the remedy would be to compensate the Indians.
Peter Erlinder of the International Humanitarian Law Institute and co-counsel for Honor the Earth in the suit, responded: “For a long time, in the analysis of these treaties, they have been treated like documents from outer space that somehow existed apart from regular law. They are just plain, regular contracts.”
The fight isn’t over. While Lipman’s ruling may have some impact in the final decision, that decision will be made by the Public Utilities Commission, and there’s a good chance that the PUC’s decision will end up being appealed in federal court no matter which way they decide.
We’ve seen the same thing happening everywhere with pipeline projects; the governments deciding that the treaties they signed with the original residents of the land are null and void when it comes to allowing the oil companies to make a profit. Alberta, British Columbia, Nebraska, Minnesota – the list of broken promises continues to grow.
Of what value are we as a society if we can’t keep our word?