The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Dec. 4 it will not approve an easement to allow the proposed 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, near the Standing River Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
The pronouncement halted the project. Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said the decision was based on the need to explore alternate routes and conduct a thorough environmental impact study, complete with public input and analysis. Reaction to the decision could be heard all the way from the Oceti Sakowin, or Sacred Stone, camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota to Seminole reservations in Florida.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II released a statement supporting the decision and commended the Obama administration, the Army Corps and the Departments of Justice and Interior for taking steps “to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”
“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,” Archambault wrote. “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.”
Brighton Reservation residents Martha Tommie, Annette Jones and Theresa Frost spent time at the Sacred Stone camp in late August into early September and were encouraged by the news.
“I cried when I got the news,” Tommie said. “I was at a Christmas party, but my heart was still at Standing Rock. I feel like a big burden has been lifted. I have been standing strong and praying and praying.”
Jones, who went back to North Dakota in late November, said the camp had grown a lot since September and the feeling of love and solidarity was intense.
“They didn’t back down, people stood strong and prayed,” she said. “They didn’t let anything the police were doing to them break them down.”
In a statement Dec. 8, the Indigenous Environmental Network responded to Chairman Archambault’s plea for Water Protectors at the camp to return home during the severe winter weather. It said this is a critical moment in the fight against the DAPL and the Army Corps’ decision was a “tremendous victory, but it is a temporary one.”
“With the pro-pipeline politics of the forthcoming Trump administration, the struggle to protect the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s drinking water and indigenous sovereignty will most certainly need to continue in the coming year and beyond,” the statement read.
Joe Osceola, who also spent Labor Day at Standing Rock, agrees with the sentiment in the IEN statement.
“I don’t think it matters what the Corps says; they are going to start drilling anyway with the new administration going in there,” Osceola said. “Mr. Trump is in favor of pipelines in general and will keep it going, as far as I’m concerned. I think they need to keep doing what they are doing now in the camp. They just have to keep the fight going; it isn’t over yet.”
Jones and Tommie believe it is crucial to protect water for future generations.
“I want children to know what clean water tastes like. I am afraid they won’t have that in the future,” Jones said.
“If you see water being polluted, you have to protect it and Mother Earth,” added Tommie.
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the companies building the DAPL, released a statement Dec. 4 calling the Army Corps’ decision a political action and stated the Obama administration “has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way,” the statement read.
Florida State University sophomore Daija Baxley, vice president of the American Indian Student Union, believes the Army Corps’ decision could be ignored, as many treaties have been throughout U.S. history.
“For over a hundred years, we signed things with the government and they lie, or it never happens, or they keep half of the promises,” said Baxley, 20. “This is a small victory, but they will find a way to build it anyway.”
An anthropology student, Baxley wants to use her education to speak on behalf of people who cannot speak for themselves. She believes the Standing Rock Sioux don’t have the state on their side, unlike the Seminole Tribe, which she believes has a say in state matters.
“We built a name for ourselves and became very successful,” she said. “We are very lucky. Some places don’t get that lucky; North Dakota is one of them.”
In a statement published Dec. 6, United South and Eastern Tribes President Kirk Francis said USET recognizes the value of the collective efforts to secure the Army Corps’ decision, but “we must remain equally vigilant and steadfast in our determination to ensure that the next Administration does not reverse this decision and that we not let our guard down as the possibility for conflict continues.”
“Finally, the realities of DAPL serve to reinforce why it is time to replace the antiquated and paternalistic framework of the current trust model with a 21st Century model that recognizes Tribal Nations as sovereigns and equals within this special and unique Nation-to-Nation relationship,” the statement read.