re-posted from Earth First! Newswire
Written by Julia Carrie Wong in Cannon Ball, North Dakota / The Guardian
Native American activists at the Standing Rock “water protector” camps vowed to remain in place the morning after the US Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit for the Dakota Access pipeline, with many expressing concerns that the incoming Trump administration and potential legal action from the pipeline company could reverse their victory.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that it would not grant the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the Missouri river, handing a major victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe after a months-long campaign against the pipeline.
However, the companies behind the pipeline, who have the backing of the incoming Trump administration, have insisted the project would still go ahead. “Nothing indicates for us to pack up and go home,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our native people have reason to be distrustful.”
Tara Houska, a member of the Couchiching First Nation, was similarly circumspect.
“I celebrate with caution,” the national campaigns director for Honor the Earth said. “We know that Trump is coming and with that, we know our fight will continue.”
Nothing indicates for us to pack up and go home. Our native people have reason to be distrustful,” Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network.
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, the companies behind the project, called the ruling a “purely political action”, accused the Obama administration of abandoning the rule of law “in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency”, and said the pipeline project would go ahead.
“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,” the companies said in a statement. “Nothing this administration has done today changes that in any way.”
Monday was supposed to have been a day of resistance and prayer at the sprawling encampment where opponents to the project have gathered. Hundreds of supporters, including a large contingent of Native American and non-Native American US veterans, have travelled to the banks of the Missouri river to defy the army corps’ stated deadline for people to vacate the camp by 5 December.
Some feared a confrontation. Frank Archambault, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who has lived at the main camp on army corps land with his five children since August, moved his children to a hotel in Bismarck in anticipation of a repeat of violent clashes with law enforcement.
But the announcement of the permit’s denial on Sunday afternoon turned that tension into jubilation and awe, as activists who have braved the freezing North Dakota winter and aggressive tactics from law enforcement realized that their efforts had been recognized at the highest levels of government.
As snow began to fall, activists said that they wanted people to remain at the camp and called for more to arrive.
“It’s solid. They say that Trump can come in and change it but he can’t,” said Jumping Buffalo, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe whose English name is Troy Fairbanks.
Still, as snow began to fall, Jumping Buffalo said that he wanted people to remain at the camp and called for more to arrive. “This becomes a healing camp now,” he said. “Now is the beginning of the healing camp for people to heal from all the historical traumas.”
Few shared Jumping Buffalo’s faith that the fight was over.
“Do not take anything for granted,” said Elouise Brown, a member of the Navajo Nation and an army veteran. “Do not trust anything they say. I think what happened yesterday was their move to get us to back up and leave. We’re not that stupid.”
“I think what happened yesterday was their move to get us to back up and leave. We’re not that stupid,” Elouise Brown
But the sense of wariness could not entirely dampen the enthusiasm for a major breakthrough in the months-long fight to halt the pipeline from crossing the Missouri river just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The tribe fears that the pipeline would contaminate their water source and destroy sacred sites.
“We don’t ever win,” Houska said. “Indigenous people never win, but we did.”
“A new nation of water protectors has been created here at Standing Rock,” said Cheryl Angel, a member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe. “This newly formed alliance will not decrease and will double then triple until the numbers of the masses increase to the point where safety measures to protect water in every nation becomes a reality.”
The Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that it would explore “alternative routes” for the pipeline by undertaking an environmental impact statement – a process that can take years.
While the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been pressuring the Obama administration to deny the easement, the election of Donald Trump complicates the future.
Trump said Friday that he supports the 1,720-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois.
The president-elect is an investor in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, but he denied his investment was a factor in his position. Kelcey Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, donated more than $100,000 to help elect Trump.
Several protesters voiced suspicion that Sunday’s announcement was a “trick” to encourage the thousands of Native American and environmental activists gathered in encampments near the drill site to go home.
Others expressed concern that Trump would simply reverse the army corps’ decision when he takes office, and Heidi Heitkamp, a US senator from North Dakota, appeared to concur.
“The pipeline still remains in limbo,” she said in a statement. “The incoming administration already stated its support for the project and the courts have already stated twice that it appeared the corps followed the required process in considering the permit. For the next month and a half, nothing about this project will change.”
Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the tribe, said that a Trump reversal would not be automatic, however.
“That the new president is in favor of fossil fuels is not a basis on which to reverse an agency decision,” Hasselman said.
The corps would instead have to show a court that reversing itself six weeks after making a decision was a “rational decision based on appropriate factors”.
“I’m not saying that they can’t get away with it,” he said. “All I’m saying is that it will be reviewed by a court.”
The pipeline company could also bring some kind of legal action against the army corps. On 15 November – one day after the corps announced that it was delaying its decision over the easement for “additional discussion and analysis” – the company filed court papers asking a judge to intervene on its behalf.
In court filings, the company has claimed that the delay at the Missouri river crossing has cost it “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
“Dakota Access has fought every step of the way,” Houska said. “This is the company that unleashed dogs on Native American men, women, and children protecting sacred sites. I would not trust that they’re done with this.”
Goldtooth said that his organization was asking the thousands of activists – who call themselves “water protectors” – to remain in place at the encampments until they receive guidance from the tribe, traditional leaders, and Native youth.
“If DAPL completely dismantled their drilling pad and took out their pipes and asked North Dakota law enforcement to take down the barricades,” he said, “Then I might reconsider our decision to stay here.”