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PORT: Standing Rock has set themselves up to lose big

columnist Rob Port

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I'm afraid the good people of Standing Rock may have set themselves to be profoundly hurt.

The tribe organized a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, partnering with environmental extremist groups like Earthjustice, and turned it into a cause célèbre for a host of celebrities and left-wing interests across the nation and the globe.

Superficially that might seem like a win for Standing Rock and the interests of indigenous peoples generally. Realistically, I think the tribe is going to emerge from this more harmed than helped.

For one thing, the pipeline is almost certainly going to be built. The tribe and its activist partners have seen their legal arguments smacked down first by an Obama-appointed federal judge, and then by a panel of appeals court judges, including two appointed by Democratic presidents and one appointed by a Republican.

Honest observers must admit that a thorough review of the facts, which both courts rendered, finds that the pipeline company, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scrupulously adhered to the law.

As it stands now the obstacles blocking completion of the pipeline are not legal but political. The Obama administration bailed the tribe out after the first federal judge ruled against them, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to hold back on an easement for the roughly 1,100 feet of Lake Oahe reservoir crossing. Unlawful and sometimes violent protesters also continue to physically attack pipeline construction sites despite the best efforts of increasingly exasperated but utterly professional law enforcement officials.

But Obama's time in office is coming to an end. In January he'll move aside for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. While it'll probably be the latter, whoever wins is likely to be less ideological and more pragmatic about the pipeline's approval.

That will remove the official barrier to the pipeline's completion, and the activists harassing pipeline workers and vandalizing equipment can only hope to slow progress, not stop it.

The tribe largely eschewed participation in the permitting process for the pipeline, choosing instead to throw a temper tantrum about the project only after it had been approved.

History will not be kind to that choice, I'm afraid.

Which brings us to the second front where the tribe is going to lose. Once the political extremists go home, once the opportunistic celebrities begin to use some of the nascent political issue to promote their brand, it will be just we North Dakotans left to live with one another.

Only that relationship will have been severely damaged by the outsiders who rushed here to oppose the pipeline.

Democratic U.S. House candidate Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Tribe and critic of the pipeline, expressed just those sort of concerns to me this last week.

"This thing is disrupting people's lives. We've got to remember that a lot of this is from outsiders. They're people that don't live here. They don't know what it's like to be in North Dakota, they're not going to be in North Dakota after this thing is done and over with," he told me during an interview on my radio show.

Echoing those sentiments was Scott Davis, also a member of the Standing Rock Tribe and North Dakota's Commissioner for Indian Affairs. "I really have some concerns now of how outsiders have challenged us (Native American and non-Native Americans) on how we've learned to live together as citizens of the state and the city," he told the Bismarck Tribune. "I think we've come a long way with tribal and state relations... I am questioning how really peaceful this is."

These men are right to be concerned.

We cannot let the politics of extreme activists, or the narcissistic antics of celebrities, harm what should be our most important goal, which is comity between tribal and non-tribal communities and a unified, neighborly spirit as North Dakotans.

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