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Interior secretary responds to Kiowa member questions

CARNEGIE  Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke offered his thoughts about issues affecting American Indians, as well as about his boss and the culture of Washington, D.C., during a Thursday evening visit with the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. 

Zinke was joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III, a Kiowa tribal member, and the Carnegie-based tribe's leadership, for a short event that was livestreamed for tribal members via the Kiowa Tribe's official website: 

After addressing tribal issues from a meeting with the Kiowa Business Committee that preceded the affair, Zinke fielded questions from tribal members. He was asked his thoughts on a small range of subjects, including treaties, tribal water rights and culturally important sites.

"They (treaties) should be honored; in Oklahoma, I know it's complex," Zinke said. "It's my obligation to honor them."

When asked about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that was protested by Native Americans from all over the country in 2016, Zinke said the company that did the construction "could've done a lot of things better." However, he said the primary issue was the running of the pipeline "70 feet below the water" (the pipeline runs under the Standing Rock Sioux's tribal reservation water supply at Lake Oahe). He said cultural sites were a moot issue in that instance. 

"I don't see a cultural issue with the pipeline being 70 feet below the water," Zinke said, "but not every place is appropriate for a pipeline."

The pipeline's installation had been protested since late spring 2016. In what has been called the largest unified American Indian alliance in history with hundreds of tribes represented in the multi-month protest of the DAPL, it was Zinke's boss, President Donald Trump, who signed executive actions in January 2017 that quashed an Army Corps of Engineers -issued denial of the last easement needed by Energy Transfer Partners to finish the pipeline. The pipeline, intended to carry a half million barrels of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has since gone into operation and several leaks have been reported.

"The company could've done a lot of things better," Zinke said.

Protesters believe their concerns that the pipeline threatens the Missouri River and the water it provides to those who live on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation have been validated, although there has not been a devastating event to ruin the water supply. Its original route was diverted after residents of Bismark, N.D., voiced concerns it would affect that city's water supply.

Water is an issue that concerns the secretary and, he said, he understood the concerns of tribal leaders as well as state government. Zinke called water compacts often "brutal" affairs between state and tribal governments because "water is life." 

"In Montana, whiskey's for drinking," he said, "and water is for fighting."

The secretary was slated to meet with members of the Chickasaw Nation Friday. They, along with the Choctaw Nation, reached an agreement in August 2016 with Gov. Mary Fallin over control of water in Southeast Oklahoma. Following five years of court proceedings and confidential negotiations, the deal cleared a path for Oklahoma City to pump water from Sardis Lake to supplement its water needs. The tribes first blocked the deal with a 2011 lawsuit in federal court in Oklahoma City. 

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