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The desecration we feared for months came to pass this weekend.
Since April, citizens of my tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, have camped on the edge of our reservation to protect our ground, water and sacred sites.
Energy Transfer Partners is attempting to construct a 1,200-mile oil pipeline through the land our tribe has called home since time immemorial.
A U.S. District Court judge is expected to rule soon on our motion that the Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked approval for the pipeline without properly consulting the Standing Rock Sioux.
Last Friday, we filed court papers showing the route of construction would destroy known and significant burial sites, cairns, stone prayer rings and artifacts.
Within 24 hours, Energy Transfer Partners brought their bulldozers.
On a holiday weekend — only days away from a decision in our case — they ransacked the ground, clearing topsoil across a two-mile stretch. Our sacred sites were ravaged and ruined by an oil company focused solely on profit.
On Sunday morning, under the cover of dark, they came back to finish the job.
Imagine heavy machinery invading your family cemetery, plowing through graves, demolishing headstones, knocking down the church next door.
Our people are heartbroken. Our history is destroyed. That ground is now hollow.
Federal law requires that Tribes be consulted before construction is approved. As the Chairman of my Tribe, I sent numerous letters to the Corps, requesting consultation and expressing our concerns that the proposed pipeline would threaten our lands and contaminate our water.
Our concerns were ignored.
So we set up camp to protect our ancestors’ resting places. We also came to protect the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers from the half-million barrels of oil slated to pass through the pipeline.
We’re doing that not just for the Standing Rock Sioux, but also for the 17 million people living in communities and on farms downstream, whose continued existence depends on the protection of our rivers.
Without clean and dependable sources of water, our Tribe will cease to exist. Without clean and dependable sources of water, we all will cease to exist. As we say, water is life.
Thousands of people understand how critical this fight is, and they’ve come literally to stand with us at our camp along the river. More than 200 Native nations — including the Pawnee and Crow, with whom we have disputes dating back two centuries — have taken action to support us.
Our Native brothers and sisters understand that as sovereign Tribal nations, we have the right to protect our sacred grounds and waters. That right is recognized in the treaties we signed with the United States, and is codified in federal laws.
Our cause is universal. Indeed, last week, the United Nations agreed the Standing Rock Sioux must be consulted before this pipeline is built. Proceeding without doing so violates Article 19 of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the United States endorsed in 2010.
Our cause is also local. It’s worth noting that Energy Transfer Partners initially proposed routing their pipeline just north of Bismarck.
Community members there expressed concerns that the pipeline would leak or spill, harming the city’s drinking water. So Energy Transfer Partners moved the route to the border of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
We stand with the people of Bismarck in their opposition to a pipeline that threatens their drinking water and, in return, we ask them to stand with us.
Most Americans would like to think the historical U.S. policies that sought to destroy Tribal nations have been discarded and replaced with laws that instead recognize our inherent right to exist. And they have, for the most part.
But when leaders of governments — or corporations like Energy Transfer Partners — threaten to repeat the mistakes of the past, our people and our supporters have a duty to raise their voices.
We have voiced our opposition to this pipeline. We have voiced our opposition to a process that excluded us, in violation of federal law.
Our sacred land was desecrated this weekend.
If this pipeline is built, even more lands will be destroyed and our water will be poisoned. We cannot let this happen.
We are responsible for these resources. We are responsible for each other and for our ancestors, as we have been since the beginning of time.
We will protect the sacred grounds and the water. And we will protect our sovereign rights, so that those of all Tribal nations are never ignored again.
David Archambault II is Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.