University of Baltimore Journal of Land and Development


Alina Yohannan


The issue of the Native American (“Indian”) tribes’ rights to their lands started with the application of the European doctrine of discovery, continued with series of wars and population decimations, and finished with broken treaties and territorial occupations. After centuries of struggle for land and sovereignty, Indians still fight for their rights to the North American territories.

The lawsuit brought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) is the latest and most publicized in recent years. The Tribe’s main concerns are the passing of a major crude-oil pipeline (Dakota Access Pipeline, or “DAP”) under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, which could have a great environmental impact on the only major source of water for the tribal lands, and the passing of the pipeline through sacred lands and burial sites, areas of great cultural significance for the Sioux tribes. In light of the Tribe’s tumultuous relationship with the U.S. government over the past 150 years, the Corps decided to use the advice of the Council on Environmental Quality and perform a heightened analysis of alternatives and potential oil spill risks and impacts. On December 4th 2016, the Corps announced that it would not grant the easement needed to construct the pipeline under the lake, required by the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. § 185, and moved to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, considering the Tribe’s treaty rights and alternative routes. While the Corps’ decision is a major victory for the Sioux, there are still questions to be answered: what happens to the Tribe’s lawsuit and to Dakota Access, LLC’s cross-claim against the Corps and how will the Trump administration influence the Corps’ decision?



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