On Sunday, we finally got a break from the dark news of 2016.
Around midday, the Army Corps of Engineers denied The Energy Transfer Company the permit to drill under the Missouri River, effectively ensuring the pipeline will be rerouted away from the land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
It was a powerful and celebratory day for the Water Protectors and allies that have been standing ground in freezing North Dakota for months to protect the land, water, and sacred burial sites from The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The news broke out in Oceti Sakowin (the main camp of water protectors) and people linked arms and cried out in joy. They cheered, wept, and gathered in a powerful drum circle, while allies from all around the world shouted their support over social media. As night fell, fireworks were sent off with celebratory energy lighting up the camps. It was finally, finally a victory for indigenous people.
But is it over yet?
For a brief moment, it seemed the water protectors could say goodbye to the dangerous snowy conditions and head home to their families and jobs. “It’s time now that we move forward,” Mr. Archambault said, according to New York Times. “We don’t have to stand and endure this hard winter. We can spend the winter with our families.”
The thought, unfortunately, only lasted through the night as The Energy Transfer Company (ETP) released an angry press release, stating they have no intention of listening to government’s decision to halt the pipeline.
"The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which 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."
Even before the press release, suspicions were whispered throughout the camps that this decision was announced just to get the thousands of veterans to go home—who flocked to Standing Rock to act as “human shields” between the protectors and police force—so police could kick out the water protectors.
The veterans, though, have no intention of leaving. Emboldened by the ETP’s press release, they marched in blizzard conditions to Blackwater Bridge in solidarity—the site where police use water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas against the water protectors.
The Water Protectors are not leaving just yet.
What About When Trump Becomes President?
The Trump presidency is looming over the pipeline. Although Trump has been silent since the government’s decision, it is unlikely he will remain quiet once he takes office. He has previously stated that he will absolutely ensure the pipeline, and future pipelines, get constructed. Trump also has investments in the pipeline (no surprise).
Proponents of the pipeline are looking to Trump for hope to bypass Obama’s administration decision and continue to build fracking infrastructure throughout the states. Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, a pro-infrastructure group, is infuriated by “a purely political decision that flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law," according to the New York Times.
“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left,” Mr. Stevens said in a statement. “With President-elect Trump set to take office in 47 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline."
So, this fight may continue for the next 4 years.
Is it a Win for the Environment?
Not exactly. The Army Corps announced the pipeline could not cross near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal land but it didn't say it couldn’t be completed. So, even if ETP reroutes DAPL, it could still leak and damage the environment.
Also, other pipelines are being built as I write this. Back in September, in the fervor of the news surrounding DAPL, the government quietly approved two other pipelines. It's still an uphill battle for water protection.
What Does The Decision Mean for Native Sovereignty?
The most important aspect of Obama administration's decision Sunday was that it listened to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s voices and treated it as an equal government to government relationship. It is a historical moment that attempts to repair the deadly history the US government has with Indigenous Nations.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said they were, “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.”
There is a lot of work to do but we can celebrate this historical decision that is a victory for Native American agency and peaceful activism. A decision that paints a dark light of the human right abuses of big oil companies. Sunday, Dec 4, will forever be etched in history as a day for indigenous rights and remembered for the power of non-violent resistance.
Top photo from brontewittpenn
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Patricia is a writer, activist, and aspiring journalist. She likes writing about politics, sexuality, and feminism. She is a bit of a wanderer and has lived in Morocco, Australia, and India. Recently moved to Brooklyn, she is currently learning to navigate NYC subways.