The new chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is a man who has placed himself squarely in opposition to the Native American-led movement to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said in a statement Thursday he was “honored” to be serving as chairman and noted that he planned to make “economic growth” a priority. He announced his election in a joint statement with committee Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
The committee’s purpose is to “study the unique problems of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples and to propose legislation to alleviate these difficulties,” its website states.
But Hoeven has condemned protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a movement led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux and joined by other Native Americans and allies from across the country. Protesters say a leak would be catastrophic for the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux and others, and argue that the construction violates an 1851 treaty with the U.S. government.
In November, Hoeven characterized the protests as sometimes “violent” and called for President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline’s final easement and put an end to the demonstrations.
Of course, there are Native Americans, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, who do not agree with the protesters. But the fight against the pipeline is arguably the most prominent Native American-led social movement in recent history, and the protests have become emblematic of the fight for Native American rights.
Hoeven’s views on the issue are also at odds with Udall’s. After federal authorities announced a halt to the pipeline’s construction in December, Udall applauded the decision.
“Over the last seven months, thousands of people, including Indian nations from New Mexico and across North America, have demonstrated their deep concern about the lack of consultation by the federal government and the potential environmental hazard this pipeline poses for the water,” Udall said in a statement.
While many people celebrated the decision to halt construction as a major victory, it’s not totally clear what the future holds for the project, especially with incoming president-elect Donald Trump. Last month, Trump’s transition team said he supported the pipeline and would review options when he takes office.
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