President Barack Obama goes all the way to Laos to field a question about the Dakota Access pipeline. A woman in the audience asked the President yesterday what he’s doing to address concerns about sacred tribal sites allegedly disturbed by the pipeline project. The President appeared not to have been briefed on recent developments with Dakota Access:
…The way that Native Americans were treated was tragic, and one of the priorities I’ve had as President is restoring an honest and generous and respectful relationship with Native American tribes. So we have made an unprecedented investment in meeting regularly with the tribes, helping them design ideas and plans for economic development, for education, for help that is culturally appropriate for them. This issue of ancestral lands and helping them preserve their way of life is something that we have worked very hard on. Now some of these issues are caught up with laws and treaties. I can’t give you details on this particular case; I’d have to go back to my staff and find out how are we doing on this one. But what I can tell you is that we have actually restored more rights among Native Americans to their ancestral lands, sacred sites, waters, hunting grounds—we have done a lot more work on that over the last eight years than we had in the previous 20–30 years, and this is something that I hope will continue as we go forward [President Barack Obama, response to public question, town hall in Laos, 2016.09.07].
I know the President has a lot more to pay attention to than any blogger, and with the Dakota Access pipeline cutting across my state and members of my Internet circle participating in the protests at the Missouri-Cannonball confluence in North Dakota, it’s easy for me to think the Dakota Access pipeline and protests should be near the top of everyone’s news awareness. But with thousands of protestors raising a ruckus near a reservation the President visited just two years ago, and with various tribal and environmental advocates calling on the President to take some action, it seems odd that the President did not have a specific response to an issue that has provoked the largest gathering of American Indian tribal members in over a century.
Either the President wasn’t ready for this question, or he is avoiding comment on an issue currently in the federal courts (although wouldn’t he have said that to demonstrate he was at least aware of the issue?), or he does not want to throw his weight behind either side in this pipeline debate.
Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have directly addressed the Dakota Access pipeline or the tribal protest. However, Trump endorser and energy advisor Harold Hamm is CEO of Continental Resources, which tells investors this month that Dakota Access will carry its oil from the Bakken fields.