Standing Rock takes a win, prepares for DAPL response
By C.S. Hagen
OCETI SAKOWIN – Rexx Brady rose Sunday morning knowing it was going to be a good day for the fighters against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“It was a spiritual feeling,” Brady, a Cheyenne from Washington State, said. “Calm. I knew something good was going to happen today.”
His first clue was sunshine. After a week of storms and snow, the clouds parted, warming the prairies. Tension lifted, he said. A caravan of cars filled with Veterans for Standing Rock supporters stretched a mile south on Highway 1806. Police barricades disappeared en route to the camps, and Morton County Sheriff’s Department backed away from the militarized zone north of Backwater Bridge.
“This is what hope looks like, regardless of the color of your skin,” Brady said. “All these prayers are being answered. This is a big turning point for America.”
News on Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access Pipeline, the easement needed to drill across the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, took many by surprise. The Army Corps further stated a full environmental impact statement must be made and a new route must be explored.
“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,” Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said. The pipeline stretches 1,172 miles to Illinois and is projected to transport as much as 570,000 of crude oil per day, according to the Army Corps. Most, if not all of the oil transported eventually to Texas is for export and not for national consumption, activists and analysts say.
“It’s good news, this is a victory,” attorney Chase Iron Eyes said. He ran for congress in North Dakota this year, and has become active in the DAPL fight since his loss in November. “We were not ready for this, everything here has been so tense, so this comes as a sigh of relief.”
“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,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said.
Archambault further said more peaceful prayer is needed, but hinted that it may be time to return home. Activists on the loud speakers also began talking about how the area of Oceti Sakowin, which is in a floodplain, needed to be cleaned of all debris, tents, tipis, and equipment soon.
“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 sacrificed as well,” Archambault said. “We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.”
As hundreds of veterans with Veterans for Standing Rock slowly caravanned into the camps, Kenny Frost, who works with federal agencies on indigenous training said the day was historically important.
“It would never have happened if the veterans didn’t come here,” Frost said. “First time in history, with 350 tribes together, this is the first time on all our lives for something like this to happen. But more than 500 people have faced a lot of trauma, and right now we just need to move forward and on to a federal level.”
“We’ll take this as a win,” Tom Goldtooth said. Goldooth is the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “But we are going to wait and see what DAPL does.”
The decision by the Army Corps, while welcome to activists was President Obama’s attempt to secure his legacy before he steps down from office, Goldtooth said. The real fight has only just begun.
Few people are preparing to leave the camps off Highway 1806. After a brief celebration of fireworks, dancing, and singing around the sacred fire, activists resumed their work on sturdier housing. The Cannonball River is quickly freezing, and more snow and lower temperatures are predicted for the week.
John Bolenbaugh, a former oil company employee turned whistleblower after witnessing firsthand oil companies’ tactics behind constructing pipelines and cleaning oil spills, spoke to thousands gathered in an ever-widening circle.
“I’ve wanted to piss them off so much that they killed me, I wanted to be a martyr to start a movement that would bring something like Standing Rock to this world,” Bolenbaugh said. “For some reason God wanted me to stick around. I’ve had many attempts on my life, I’ve had death threats. I’ve been hit over the head. Bullets have been taken out of my wheels from my vehicles, tires have been slashed, brakes cut.
“For some reason, I’m still here. Maybe God wanted me to see this amazing time in history. This is a revolution.”
Bolenbaugh knows the fight isn’t over.
“I don’t believe them when they say they’re going to stop drilling,” Bolenbaugh said. “The National Guard should go and arrest them now.”
As the area’s second winter storm in as many weeks hit the camps on Monday, an announcement made by the Lakota People’s Law Project reported DAPL is currently digging under the river. “They are not going to listen to the Army Corps denying the easement. They don’t care about that. They’re still going to go ahead. All the people think this fight is over, but it is not over.
“To get the acknowledgement is noteworthy, however; the fight lingers on.”
Iron eyes and others reiterated the fight is only beginning, and now, more than ever, the camps must not be emptied.
“They are hard to beat,” Iron Eyes said. “This is not the end. The Army Corps denial of the easement means nothing until all law enforcement is gone, until DAPL is gone. Let us strengthen our presence.”
Iron Eyes is further calling for renewed talks with the federal government over treaty rights. “The US has been less than honorable when it comes to the treaties.”
Governor Jack Dalrymple stated last week that all work along the Dakota Access Pipeline has stopped, pending US Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of an easement. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Army Corps decision has little to do with his office.
“I have stated from the beginning that the easement is a federal decision and local law enforcement does not have an opinion on it,” Kirchmeier said. “Our role is to enforce the law and that is what we will continue to do.”
North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said if DAPL begins drilling illegally, he ensures their work will be shut down.
“We are not in DAPL’s corner,” Iverson said. “We absolutely would not allow something unlawful to continue. If that can provide a peace of mind to protesters out there, I am on record right now saying that will not be happening, so without the proper permits and easements, we would not allow that to happen.”
Congressman Kevin Cramer R-ND., called the Obama administration lawless. “Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling response to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. I feel badly for the Corps of Engineers because of the diligent work it did on this project, only to have their Commander-in-Chief throw them under the bus.”
Morton County Chairman Cody Schulz reiterated that the federal government should send financial resources and the necessary troops to deal with the situation outside of Standing Rock, and is placing his hopes in the President-elect Donald J. Trump.
“It appears the federal government let the citizens of Morton County, law enforcement, and protesters suffer for months while making a political decision that is likely to be overturned when the new administration takes office next month,” Schulz said.
“We still don’t have finality.”
Tribal leaders hope the new administration will respect the Army Corps stance, Archambault said. “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 consideration of the tribes.”