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Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman to visit WVU as Leader-in-Residence March 26-28

Opposition to the nearly 1200-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline, intended to transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, is still drawing international attention following many months of widespread public protest.
The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, two of the country’s 567 federally recognized sovereign Native nations, have led the opposition in the courts and in their homeland. Thousands of supporters who joined the tribes in the DAPL fight gathered and camped at Standing Rock in numbers unprecedented in modern history, including fellow American Indians, as well as hundreds of U.S. military veterans, indigenous activists, and other supporters.

A strong voice in the ongoing controversy is Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault, II. He will be at West Virginia University March 26-28, to serve as the 2017 Native American Studies Leader-in-Residence and keynote the WVU Leadership Studies Program’s 10th anniversary celebration. 

Archambault’s free public presentation, “Standing with Standing Rock: Why Justice Looks Different in Indian Country,” is set for Tuesday, March 28 at 7 p.m. in G15 Life Science Building and will be streamed live at: Overflow seating will be provided in G11 Life Science Building where the webcast may be viewed on the large screen.

The tribal chairman will discuss the current status of the pipeline, including problems in the process of official consultation with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the government’s lack of an environmental impact study. 

Among the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ key concerns are: an oil spill would contaminate the Missouri River and its Lake Oahe reservoir, the water source for the two tribes; desecration of Native American burials and other sacred ground; and interference in the practice of certain religious rituals. DAPL had earlier been scheduled to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, but residents there successfully avoided the pipeline construction when a study showed their drinking water could be tainted if a spill occurred. DAPL was then rerouted to cross the river within a half-mile of tribal land.

Archambault has testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, led the Washington, DC “Native Nations Rise” march, and published two editorials in The New York Times. He was recently named a “Leading Global Thinker of 2016” by Foreign Policy Magazine and given the Native American Leadership Award by the National Congress of American Indians.

“Combining his leadership skills, intelligence, and overwhelming desire to help his people, Chairman Archambault has shown courage in critical times, keeping in mind the wellbeing of generations to come and respect for the dignity of tribal heritage,” said Bonnie Brown, coordinator of the Native American Studies program. 

During his visit, Archambault will also guest lecture in Native American Studies and history classes, and meet with faculty and the Leadership Studies Program’s Puskar Scholars. 

The USACE, tasked with evaluating applications for construction permits that impact the country’s waterways, lists among its Tribal Policy Principles “[to] involve Tribes collaboratively, before and throughout decision making” and “…preserve and protect trust resources and to consider the potential effects of Corps programs on natural and cultural resources. The Corps is determined to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and to ensure reasonable access to sacred sites.”

Brown said she hopes Archambault’s presentation will clarify the implications of building such a pipeline near tribal lands, but also stimulate thoughtful, civil conversations about how the country can discuss energy needs and reliance on fossil fuels while respecting federal treaty obligations and everyone’s need for clean water. 

“West Virginia’s 2014 Elk River chemical spill and news of Flint, Michigan’s lead-contaminated water supply are still fresh in the minds of everyone concerned about safe water,” she said.

Each year the Native American Studies Program, an academic unit in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, invites distinguished Native American leaders to campus to engage with the University and broader community. Archambault’s visit is provided by the Carolyn Reyer Endowment for Native American Studies, the Leadership Studies Program, the Puskar Leadership Fund, and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, with academic support via webcasting by the WVU Teaching and Learning Commons. 

Photo by Rob Wilson