Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today calling on the relocation of the Dakota Access pipeline and urging for an end to the violence against the Standing Rock Reservation. Below are his remarks:
This month is Native American Heritage Month. During this month, we honor the contributions of American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives.
But we do not have to look far to see how Native Americans continue to have to fight to protect their heritage.
Pick up a newspaper, or turn on the news and you will see what is happening at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is opposing the construction of a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline that passes near their reservation where it crosses the Missouri River.
They are concerned that construction of the pipeline could not only destroy ancestral burial grounds, but also contaminate the water supply for the tribe, as well as millions of others who depend on water from the Missouri River.
The Standing Rock Sioux are standing up for their land, their right to clean water, their right to clean air, and their history.
And they are not alone. The Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by thousands of others, including members of hundreds of tribes and throughout the United States.
When I was in Nevada last month, members of Nevada’s 27 Native American tribes made it clear to me that they stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.
I do too. And here is why I join with the Standing Rock Sioux in calling for an alternate route for the pipeline’s completion.
It is past time that this situation be resolved peacefully. It has lingered for months and the debate has descended into violence.
Private security guards have unleashed attack dogs on protestors, resulting in men, women and children being bitten. Police have used rubber bullets, tear gas and compression grenades on the demonstrators. 300 people have been treated for injuries as a result of the violence against the protestors.
The most severe injury took place one week ago today, when a young woman had parts of her arm and hand blown off by an explosive.
The violence at Standing Rock must end. I am confident that President Obama’s administration are taking the necessary steps to address the situation. They’ve done well so far.
What is happening at Standing Rock is a movement that has captured the attention of the entire country. But we should understand the context of what is taking place.
We should be mindful that the history of this region is fraught with disputes between Native Americans and the United States government – disputes that originated more than a century ago, but are still very much alive.
Last week, Kevin Gover, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian – which is a wonderful place – put the clash at Standing Rock in historical perspective. This is what he said:
“Take Standing Rock, for example. …if you know what the history of the Sioux Nation is, you know that treaties were made with the Sioux Nation concerning these lands that no longer belong to the Sioux Nation. And you know that the development of the Missouri River for the past century has always, always involved taking of Indian land. They were building dams up and down the Missouri, and every Indian reservation along the way was flooded. Some of the best land was flooded, which only deepened their poverty and made it that much harder to climb out. So we should know that kind of history.”
This is the history to which Mr. Gover is referring:
In the 1890s, Congress pushed the Sioux to reservations – took them off their ancestral land and jammed them into reservations.
Two decades later, the United States built dams along the Missouri River that shrunk the size of these reservations. And then in the 1940s, the United States built yet another dam, putting the Standing Rock Sioux’s most fertile land under water.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. But, I do know from experience that progress is possible when cooperation and respect form the foundation of fairness. Especially on issues related to tribal rights and environmental concerns.
Take one example I know a lot about, and that’s what happened in Nevada with a very large coal power plant called the Reid-Gardner coal-fired plant. It was one of the dirtiest power plants in the United States.
This coal plant was located within less than a football field of the Paiute reservation. Every day it dumped thousands of pounds of toxins into the air – such as arsenic, mercury and lead. Tribal members got sick. Of course they did.
Three-hundred people on the reservation were poisoned daily by the pollution. Working with the Moapa Paiutes, I called for the closure of the plant. This was the right thing to do for the environment, but more importantly it was the just thing to do for the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
Since that time, three of Reid-Gardner’s four generating units have been shut down, closed. And the whole coal facility will be out of business within the next 90 days. That’s pretty good. It’s gone. Why? Because you had government – local and state government, Indian government – and the power company all work together to address this issue. It couldn’t have been done without all three of them working together. I have said this publicly. I have had a lot of disputes with a monopoly power company in Nevada, but on this issue, I have complimented them because they did the right thing.
And with the Paiute tribe, instead of having this toxic dump in the form of a coal-fired generating plant right next to them – which they had to breathe ever day – they now have a huge solar farm. It’s created lots of construction jobs. That electricity is now being sent to the city of Los Angeles. It’s been good for everybody. Good for the air in Nevada, good for the Indians with the work. It’s helped the environment. And the power company has made other arrangements for that power, and they did it fairly easily.
The simple truth is that Indian tribes – whether the Moapa Paiute or the Standing Rock Sioux – are exposed to more pollution than their fellow Americans. That is the way it is. We don’t talk a lot about the people who are severely impacted by the century of practically limitless pollution – Indians.
This is not an urban-rural phenomenon. It’s everywhere and it’s dangerous. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found the difference in exposure to nitrogen dioxide alone is equal to roughly 7,000 deaths a year from heart disease.
From South Dakota to Nevada, Native Americans are on the front lines of these environmental and public health catastrophes.
To make matters worse, heavy polluting industries are fighting to return to the days of limitless pollution under the next administration.
Can the people of America expect our newly-elected president to intervene on their behalf against the big polluters?
Can the Standing Rock Sioux depend on the man who was financially invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline? Probably not.
But this is about more than President-elect Trump, pipelines or fossil fuel profits.
What is happening at Standing Rock is about respect for people, where they build their homes and raise their families.
The violence and aggression against the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota is a tragic example of the failure to respect people who have long-standing grievances for how they and their natural resources have been treated. No one can see this more than Indians.
The Standing Rock Sioux’s protests of the Dakota Access pipeline has everything to do with a history of broken promises and institutionalized disregard for their rights on their own land, as well as the trust relationship between Indian tribes and the United States.
While most stakeholders want a speedy end to this situation, they must understand that overreaction to protesters, violence and disregard for our history undermines the likelihood of a mutually acceptable solution and rubs salt in already festering wounds. Profits should not be a factor in how this is resolved.
The Obama Administration has recognized that this history means that the Dakota Access pipeline is much more complicated than a water crossing permit. They are doing the right thing by working with tribes to develop a better consultation process.
I appreciate the very much what the Obama administration has done. They recognize that history means that the pipeline is more complicated than simply a water crossing. I appreciate the president showing the Standing Rock Sioux the respect to which they are entitled.
President Obama has less than two months left in office, and it is becoming clear that the dispute at Standing Rock likely will not be resolved before he leaves office.
I encourage the new administration to commit to looking at alternative routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
What better way to begin his Administration than for President Trump to protect the rights, dignity and health of the Standing Rock Sioux?
I encourage his Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to find an alternate route. This should not be hard. There is no reason that this situation cannot be remedied in a manner that is fair to all.
Our nation’s Native American tribes are looking to the federal government for help, which they rarely have gotten.
They want to believe that after centuries of wrongs, the United States will finally get it right. Indians want to believe that after so long of being treated with no respect, that the United States will help and not hurt.
Relocating the Dakota Access Pipeline to a more suitable area away from the Standing Rock reservation would be an easy and historic step in the right direction. For the sake of our country, I hope that happens.