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North Dakota Commissioner: Standing Rock Sioux Sat Out The State Process


The protest camp in Cannonball, N.D., continues to draw demonstrators against a pipeline they say threatens the water supply and sacred sites of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Last week, we heard from tribal chairman David Archambault II, and he looked back at treaties the tribe signed over 150 years ago.


DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: What happened was that the federal government entered in a contract with our tribal nations, the Great Sioux Nation. They identified lands that we agreed to because we knew that there are sacred sites there.

MONTAGNE: One question looming over this controversy is just how much the tribe was consulted before pipeline construction was allowed to proceed on those lands just outside the reservation. To find out more, we reached Julie Fedorchak. She's chair of the commission that permitted the North Dakota Access Pipeline project. Good morning.

JULIE FEDORCHAK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You held - the North Dakota Public Service Commission held 30 hours of public hearings before the pipeline was approved. You didn't - in all these 30 hours, you didn't hear from members of the Standing Rock Sioux. But did you consult with them or attempt to get them to be part of these public hearings?

FEDORCHAK: That is true. The Standing Rock tribe did not participate in our public hearings or, quite honestly, at any point throughout our 13-month review process. Here's the situation, though, we notified the tribes. We had a personal call go out to the tribes urging them to participate, and we had a hearing 45 minutes from Cannonball.

MONTAGNE: Cannonball, the area where the protests are, right.

FEDORCHAK: Correct. And they didn't attend, nor did they proceed to provide us with any additional information after the fact about what their concerns are. Meanwhile, there's hundreds of other people who did participate in our process, so we had a lot of different issues we were working through on this pipeline throughout that 13-month process, including careful scrutiny of the river crossings, including careful examination of the cultural resources and consultation with our historic preservation officers. So we had a lot of concerns we were dealing with, among them was not concerns expressed by the Standing Rock tribe.

MONTAGNE: Do you know for sure that the tribal chairman, David Archambault, was notified of this in those 13 months?

FEDORCHAK: His office was notified, yes.

MONTAGNE: When you say you looked into cultural resources, were they Native American cultural resources or they were general cultural resources as defined by the state?

FEDORCHAK: The cultural resources we look at are all of the above. The entire route of the pipeline was examined on foot by certified archaeologists. They identified more than 500 different cultural resources that needed to be protected, and the pipeline route was altered 140 times to avoid cultural resources. So those include Native American resources, but they also include other historic artifacts.

MONTAGNE: The tribe having established that it wants to be treated as the nation that it is, you know, legally, does that suggest, you know, that it shouldn't be subjected to state or local entities?

FEDORCHAK: Well, you know, that's one way that the tribe can look at this. And I think in this case they chose to engage with the federal agencies and express their concerns through that process. That's perfectly appropriate. We have no issues with that at all. And I have great respect for their sovereignty.

I think where we could have had some productive conversations is in some of their concerns, and we could have talked about how the state was looking at the cultural resources, how the state was looking at, you know, the water quality issues and what kind of questions we were asking to ensure that those are being protected.

And so I think it could have been beneficial to have them involved on the process at the state level. And they do engage in the state level on things on a regular basis. The tribes are all in communication with state government officials at various levels throughout our legislative process. And that's because we're living and working in communities right next to each other, and we have all the same interests at heart.

MONTAGNE: Julie Fedorchak is the chair of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which reviewed the Dakota Access Pipeline before permitting the project. Thank you very much for talking with us.

FEDORCHAK: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.