By Miriam Raftery
Newsflasher photo courtesy Bobby Wallace
December 4, 2016 (Cannonball, North Dakota) — In a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of people who have converged in Cannonball, North Dakota to opposed the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the federal government has announced that it will not grant an easement to allow completion of the pipeline underneath Lake Oahe, a reservoir of the Missouri River.
Bobby Wallace, a Barona tribal member who has led relief caravans from San Diego to support the Standing Rock Sioux, was at the site when news of the decision came out. ”History was made,” he posted on Facebook.
While it’s possible that the incoming administration of Donald Trump could seek to undo the action, the decision marks a win for more than a hundred tribes that have stood with the Standing Rock Sioux to protect clean water and sacred sites.
In a press release issued Sunday, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary for Civil Works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, the Corps will “explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” She added that consideration of alternative routes will be best accomplished through an environmental impact statement with full public input and analysis.
The Standing Rock Sioux have said the pipeline construction on land historically protected by treaty rights and was done without appropriate tribal consultation with sovereign nation tribes.
In an interview on National Public Radio, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said requiring an environmental statement is a major step that “says we're no longer going to ignore the people of this - the original people of this country.”
That sentiment was echoed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who said the new approach “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, a swell as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.” The Environmental Impact Statement also builds legal ground that would make it harder for a Trump administration to undo the decision and have such action upheld in court.
Just days ago, the water defenders, as the protestors call themselves, had been issued an eviction notice to vacate the site by December 5th. Protesters were previously subjected to brutal treatment by a militarized police force including rubber bullets, sound cannons, tear gas and water cannons fired at unarmed civilians.
But when thousands of military veterans organized by Wesley Clark Jr., son of retired General Wesley Clark Senior, began arriving at Standing Rock to serve as human shields and protect the protesters, the Governor of North Dakota announced he would not have anyone forcibly removed. Then on Sunday, the Obama administration made clear that it will reroute the pipeline, giving victory to the Standing Rock Sioux—at least for now.
Tribal chairman Archambault praised protesters for helping to build awareness of the pipeline issues. “This awareness has become world-wide,” he said, adding that the water protectors can now return home. He concludes, “Now their purpose has been served, and it is time now for them to enjoy this winter with their families.”
But Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, is asking pipeline opponents to keep up the pressure because “while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration.” The owner of the Dakota Access pipeline gave $100,000 to help elect Donald Trump, who has investment holdings in the pipeline company.
Goldtooth concludes, “More threats are likely in the year to come and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated and our water and climate are safe.”