Letter to the Editor: Pipelines coerce American Indian landowners

    Letter to the Editor,

    Stephanie Woodward’s article in the online magazine, In These Times, quotes Bureau of Indian Affairs central office’s Nedra Darling as saying no one coerces landowners into signing consents for pipelines. Evidence says otherwise. Attached is a letter sent to me and other owners of an allotment by Blackfeet Agency BIA Superintendent, Stephen Pollock, on Feb. 11, 2011.

    I am an allotted landowner. My brothers and sisters and I were asked by the superintendent to sign consents to a lease “renewal” for a ConocoPhillips pipeline right-of-way (ROW) without showing us the terms that we would be agreeing to. I did not sign. Some of my siblings did but revoked their consents. We later found out the ROW description wasn’t the same as the original right-of-way and needed a new application not a “renewal” under 25 C.F.R. 169.19.

    After some period of time, the superintendent sent a second letter telling us that ConocoPhillips had served him with papers showing that a condemnation action had been filed against six allotments. One was ours. The superintendent did not send us a copy of the condemnation papers he had received. At no time did we ever receive a copy of the proposed right-of-way lease agreement we were supposed to consent to. We have still never seen the agreement even though it was somehow approved with an “iffy” number of consents.

    It angers me that Indians’ own “trustee” expected us, the owners of trust allotments, to consent to a ROW renewal contract in the blind. I am outraged that an official of the federal government actually used a threat of legal action to scare (induce) us, the trust beneficiaries, into giving consent to an agreement none of us had ever seen that used a compensation rate that had never been negotiated with the actual landowners based upon what we later learned was an out-of-date appraisal procured by Conoco-Phillips, that was appraised in relation to a use that had never occurred on the property.

    The superintendent’s actions violated 25 U.S.C. 202. It is illegal under 25 U.S.C. 202 for anyone to “induce” an Indian to execute any agreement or instrument relating to trust land. It is a misdemeanor for which there are penalties ranging from a fine to incarceration. The agency superintendent behaved toward us like DOI’s now-defunct Minerals Management Service (MMS) did toward royalty payees.
    MMS was abolished for blatantly working on behalf of the industries it was supposed to regulate.

    “Government officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars’ worth of royalties from oil and gas companies accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees of the energy firms, federal investigators reported yesterday.” Investigators said they “discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” in which employees accepted gratuities “with prodigious frequency,” reports the Washington Post in “Report Says Oil Agency Ran Amok,” Sept. 11, 2008.

    Misconduct in Indian Affairs and conflict of interest are serious problems at the Department of Interior. According to the Hearing Report Memorandum of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, “Investigating The Culture of Corruption at the Department of Interior,” dated May 30, 2016, “ethical violations are commonplace” and there is a “lack of accountability for…employee misconduct.” Even DOI’s Inspector General wrote that anything goes at Interior.

    Since the U.S. wasn’t seeking to condemn our land, a major oil corporation was, the superintendent can only be viewed as having acted on behalf of the company when he used the threat of legal process to frighten Indian people. Failure to provide copies of cited filings was apparently intended to keep us in the dark and to serve as weapon to instill fear that would “induce” us into consenting to an agreement we knew nothing about.

    The superintendent’s conduct was a variation on the theme of misconduct committed by Secretary of Interior, Donald Hodel, who manipulated administrative proceedings at Interior for the benefit of Peabody Coal in a way that enabled the corporation to lowball the royalties the Tribe would receive. The claims court found that the Secretary had flagrantly dishonored the government’s general fiduciary duties to the tribe by acting in Peabody’s best interests rather than those of the tribe. U.S. v. Navajo Nation, 537 U.S. 433, 501 (2003) (Navajo I).

    The agency superintendent ignored both the regulations and solicitor’s opinions in facilitating the ROW renewal and not disputing the applicant’s abuse of public process for private gain. ConocoPhillips is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The pipeline across our allotment is not a” public project” with a “public purpose.” Its corporate purpose is to create shareholders’ profits. The pipeline is not a “common carrier.” It is part of an “integrated system” with other limited partnerships that are referred to as a “joint venture of joint ventures” including those (Phillips 66) involved in DAPL.

    It is obvious who is behind this push and what these lines are for. The entire system is the Alt Keystone according to The Verdict Op-ed, “Pipeline Protesters on Standing Rock Reservation Need Our Support, written by Judge Tom Davies, Aug. 17, 2016.

    Corporations traded on the NYSE should not be allowed to use the ruse of “public purpose” to for private ways of necessity to condemn allotments according to DOI Solicitor’s Opinions from early in the 20th century. A matrix of private joint ventures controls every part of pipeline use and compensation from start to finish (wellhead to refinery) from the Canadian border to Texas.

    Examine Energy Transfer Partners for a description of ETP’s pipeline systems and subsidiaries and press releases.The agency superintendent told us that in 1997 “there was a legal decision that established precedence on this.” He likewise did not provide us with copies of the 1997 decision while working as the intimidation agent for the applicant. I was ultimately able to track down a copy of the so-called “precedence” decision at the federal court archives in Denver, Colo. I paid a fee for a copy of the “default judgment.” I didn’t know what that was so I asked a lawyer. Default judgments have no value as “precedent” because they are wins simply because someone did not show up in court.

    Based upon the legalese of the letter, I realized that the agency superintendent, my supposed “trustee,” in addition to working for the pipeline company instead of the government’s Indian beneficiaries, was “playing at” practicing law (obviously without a license). The department’s legal analyst and advisor is the solicitor’s office. It alone issues legal opinions for DOI agencies. All legal statements about rights and issues should must come from that office not agency superintendents.

    As a result of this dodgy “renewal” process, I received $123.00 for nearly a half century’s use of my share of the land through which an expanded pipeline ROW that would transport billions of dollars’ worth of oil. If my family’s situation is not “fraud, waste and abuse” and “improper inducement to contract,” I don’t know what is.

    I was denied records, charged heavy fees that I couldn’t pay for records for my own lands and thereby denied the opportunity to develop appropriate arguments challenging the ROW renewal at proper points. I was generally dismissed as unreasonable because I actually attempted to take actions departmental policies since 2007 said that I am supposed to take. The Secretary of Interior and the Attorney General of the United States informed the Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that allotted landowners were expected to assume a greater role in allotment management yet I was cut off at every turn when I attempted to do so.

    As with theft at the gauge of Indian oil examined in Senate Hearing Report 101-216, 101st Cong., 1st Sess., Nov. 1989, the Interior Department’s Inspector General, FBI and DOJ need to investigate the renewal of the now “Phillips’” pipeline on my reservation for fraud, waste and abuse and for violations of 25 U.S.C. 202 and 25 U.S.C. 348. Violators of 25 U.S.C. 348 are wrongdoers, Heckman v. U.S., 224 U.S. 413 (1912). The Secretary of Interior has the authority to approve agreements involving allotted lands but only those that comply with statutes and regulations. The ROW across our lands did not. The ROW renewal in my case violated the regulations and BIA’s Guidelines for Rights-of-Way Easements (May 2006).

    Problems like ours are everywhere in Indian Country. This type of misconduct must stop. Indians in the U.S. retain only 2 percent of their original land base and continue to be preyed upon by others. For this reason, I support the Standing Rock protest because it resists continued violations of Indian rights including the mandatory requirement of government consultation with tribes contained in over four decades of Executive Orders and Messages and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013.

    Leona Gopher, Allotted Landowner