OMDAHL: It’s Time for State to Resolve Pipeline Impasse

If North Dakota doesn’t take the initiative to settle the conflict at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the confrontation will become uglier and the likelihood of a wholesale outbreak of hostilities will result.

Omdahl COLUMN BOXIf North Dakota doesn’t take the initiative to settle the conflict at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the confrontation will become uglier and the likelihood of a wholesale outbreak of hostilities will result. With guns galore at the site, a senseless killing is just around the corner.

It is the nature of mobs that participants are willing to do more unlawful deeds as a group than they would if confronted face-to-face on some main street.  The mob mentality on Highway 1806 means that peace is at the mercy of the most radical agitators at the scene.

The demonstration is another cultural confrontation between Native-Americans and the white immigrants. As the conquering people, the dominant white immigrants are obligated to deal with the Sioux in a considerate empathetic manner. This is not a time for arrogance.

We can cite the law but a steamroller resolution will leave torn relationships in North Dakota when Dakota Access and the celebrants have long gone.

Instead of depending on the federal government to rescue North Dakota from this impasse, the state’s chief executive, Governor Jack Dalrymple, must assert the state’s authority and his leadership in the crisis.

The first order of business should be a gubernatorial invitation to the Standing Rock Tribal Council to meet with the Governor in a calm reconciliatory private meeting to begin a tempering of the issues. Nothing can be negotiated in the vitriol along Highway 1806.

By dealing with only the Standing Rock Council, the discussion would exclude all of the protestors who have no legitimate stake in the issues at hand. That means all of the out-of-reservation demonstrators would have no part in the dialogue.

It is important to acknowledge at the outset that Dakota Access Pipeline went through all of the legal steps required for construction.  Relying on the formalities of the law, they proceeded to build the pipeline.

The situation must still be handled with empathy for the Standing Rock people. To the extent that they did not know about the legal processes, they are innocent victims of the process as well as Dakota Access.  At the same time, the Tribe must understand that everyone involved is under a government of law and that the law will eventually prevail.

Some of the protestors’ claims are specious. For example, the claim that the Sioux have some right to control “sacred land” outside of the Reservation is questionable. It was never suggested or identified before the current controversy started. It was an add-on.

The legitimacy of this claim needs to be treated with respect.  The specifics of the claim should be explored and evaluated. What makes land sacred?  How is it determined to be sacred? Are other sacred lands crossed by public utilities? Could the pipeline be built in a way that preserved the integrity of sacred land?

As for the security of the water supply, it seems that a documented presentation should be made to the Tribal Council about the safety of running pipelines under rivers.

How many underwater pipelines exist?  How many have ruptured? What new technology guarantees the safety of underwater pipelines? Is an alternative water source available, such as the Southwest Water Authority?

At this juncture, it does no good to talk about past errors and misunderstandings.  We must deal with the facts as they exist today. The conflict must be deescalated and the Governor pursue a peaceful resolution that permits everyone to come out of the experience gracefully.

Lloyd Omdahl was the 34th Lt. Gov. of North Dakota under Gov. George Sinner. He has also worked as a professor of Political Science for the University of North Dakota. His column has been featured in newspapers in the state.







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