Today the US Army Corps of Engineers announced in a press release that it is denying an easement that builders of the Dakota Access pipeline need in order go forward with their plans to drill under the Missouri River. In response to the decision, Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II has issued this statement:
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"This is something that will go down in history and I know that it's a blessing," Archambault said.
Activists who have been camping out in the cold for months are ecstatic. Benalex Dupris, a film producer I met at camp and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes from Washington State, described the scene to me like this:
The scene at camp is electric, with eagle feathers on top hats, army jackets that don't camouflage from the snow, and wild ass Indians war hooping at each other non stop. Everyone is singing or crying, and in the distance it's either cries of "Mni Wiconi" or "black snake killa."
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians, put out a statement thanking the Obama administration for the Army Corps' decision. US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell also released a statement saying that there would be "an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts."
The Army's Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, announced that alternative routes would be "best accomplished" through an environmental impact statement, a process that takes months and would incorporate public and tribal input. "Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said.
Even though the Army Corps of Engineers has denied the Dakota Access pipeline project the easement to drill under Lake Oahe, a man-made reservoir on the Missouri River, much of the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline has already been completed. Dupris, the filmmaker I quoted above, says people are celebrating a "cautious victory." Donald Trump has expressed his support for the pipeline project, and it remains to be seen whether a Trump administration might just re-issue an easement for a pipeline that impacts tribal rights and access to clean drinking water.
"We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point," Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement.
Update: Here's the full statement from Archambault:
Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes. We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.
We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need.
Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well. We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.
We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point. When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes. Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward. We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our Indigenous peoples.
To our local law enforcement, I hope that we can work together to heal our relationship as we all work to protect the lives and safety of our people. I recognize the extreme stress that the situation caused and look forward to a future that reflects more mutual understanding and respect.
Again, we are deeply appreciative that the Obama Administration took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns. In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship, and we will be forever grateful.