Still Sacred: Why Energy Transfer Partners' Cannonball Land Grab Doesn't Change Anything

The media was quick to report that Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the "Dakota" Access Pipeline (DAPL), purchased the Cannonball Ranch last Thursday.  

What wasn't reported was the extent to which Ranch is sacred to both Native and Non-Native society. Indeed, its sacredness spans both worlds. As the Rapid City Journal reported a decade ago:

The ranch, since statehood, has been the land that bridged North Dakota to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, on the other side of the Cannonball River.

Through the eyes of non-Natives, the ranch "was the first to be inducted in the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame."  The Sioux Peoples likewise believe it to be a sacred place; even according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

At the Cannonball Ranch, there are burials of notable Standing Rock memebers [sic] and their families including Maltida Galpin, Alma Parken, Louisa Degray Van Solen, and Charles Picotte, among whom are signatories on the Treaty of Fort Laramie. There is also an unmarked grave of Mrs. Harrison at the mouth of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers.

The Sacred Stone Camp's #NoDAPL movement has only enhanced the sacredness of the ranch.

Apparently Energy Transfer Partners believes the acquisition will allow it to "better access its construction sites and the pipeline, when [or, if] it is finished."  The company will surely also proclaim its newfound "private property"---as it did over and over again to the U.S. District Court in defense against an injunction sought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe--in hopes of stymying #NoDAPL activism.

But fundamentally, as Indian Country and its allies lock arms to defeat DAPL, the company's land grab at Cannonball does't change much.  It doesn't change the fact that:

  1. Any further destruction of Indian graves, cemeteries or cultural resources remains illegal under various North Dakota state laws, and Standing Rock Sioux customary laws.
  2. The ranch remains eligible for proclamation by President Obama as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, which would be legally unassailable. U.S. v. California, 436 U.S. 32 (1978); Cappaert v. U.S., 426 U.S. 128 (1976); Cameron v. U.S., 252 U.S. 450 (1920).
  3. The ranch remains eligible for designation by the Obama Administration as a cultural district on the National Register of Historic Places. 36 C.F.R. 60.3(d).
  4. The ranch remains "unceded Indian territory" reserved to the Sioux Peoples, to which reserved hunting and other usufructuary rights also attach, under the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie. Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians, 526 U.S. 172 (1999).
  5. Any destruction of the ranch (or any DAPL oil spill) could land Energy Transfer Partners in Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Court. Wisconsin v. EPA, 266 F.3d 741 (7th Cir. 2001) ("There is no case that expressly rejects an application of Montana to off-reservation activities that have significant effects within the reservation...").
  6. There are various legal strategies to protect the ranch from desecration. See "21st Century Indian Wars," Gabe Galanda and Debora Juarez, Indian Country Today, Oct. 25, 2007; "Off-Reservation Cultural Property Protection," Sharon Haensly, Indian Country Today, Nov. 1, 2017.

So to Energy Transfer Partners I say: Caveat emptor.

Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing lawyer of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe is a descendant of the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California.