This week, the Obama administration released through the Department of Justice webpage an official statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline, stating that they will be halting the construction until “it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. “ Some have hailed this announcement as a victory: Standing Rock Tribal Council Chairman Dave Archambault II told Democracy Now that though Obama has the capability to completely squash the project once and for all, this is a progressive step in the right direction. “What the president is doing is he’s starting a process that is needed, and that is to respect indigenous peoples’ rights.”
Nonetheless, not all Natives and allies saw this statement as the victory that some are claiming it is. Dustin Munroe, a full time student at University of Montana, and a member of both Nakoda and Amskapi Pikuni (The Blackfeet People) has been traveling back and forth between Standing Rock. He noted that while some see rerouting as a laudable effort, it simply means that another state will suffer the environmental consequences of the pipeline. “I wish they had said nothing at all. Rerouting? That just means it comes to my state instead.” Munroe points out that the Dakota Access Pipeline is dangerously close to completion, and that even with the Obama administration stepping in, there is looming animosity between water protectors and the heavily militarized police presence.
Just last week mounting tension boiled over between indigenous leaders and police forces at Cannon Ball, North Dakota when armed with military-style weapons and vehicles, aggressively closed in on protesters, beating and pepper spraying men, women, youth, and elders. Munroe flew back to stand in solidarity with injured comrades and peaceful water protectors, “It was crazy,” he said. “Vehicles were on fire still, they were shooting people in the face within point blank range with rubber bullets. They even fired an actual lethal weapon at a horse and took it down.”
The police remained, even after the camps were cleared out and people’s personal items were raided. There were rumors of infiltrators that had instigated violence to trigger reactions from the crowds. “We came together the next day, Chief [Arvol Looking Horse of the Cheyenne River Sioux] came to the camp to talk about healing,” said Munroe. “He said that even if there are infiltrators at the camp site hopefully they’re learning – and they see how much the people at Standing Rock care about our land and water.”
Many of the water protectors suffered strenuous conditions during their arrest; reports came in of women and elders before being locked in dog kennels. Gisele Forrest, an organizer from Missoula, Montana had family members at the pipeline site when heavily armed police squads entrapped people at the camp grounds. “Several of the women were taken from the sweat [tent] without clothing and forced to sit in public viewing space to wait for transportation for several hours,” wrote Forrest in a Facebook chat with this reporter. Forrest said she attempted to bail her aunt out afterwards. “My aunt finally was found over 12 hours after being booked.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department made it difficult to track down and free arrestees, Forrest said that in the process of attempting to free her aunt only all-cash bonds were accepted. “Her own daughter could not post a credit card bond!”
The pipeline itself is a $3.7 billion project that is being corporately funded by multiple backers, and while the Obama administration requested that the pipeline company “voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe”, the standoff continues. Indigenous communities at Standing Rock have called for people from all over to come and stand in solidarity with the tribes. They have lost a number of personal items and necessary survival resources during the militarized sweep of the various camping sites. They have asked allies to donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List and contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund. While the halting of construction allows water protectors to take a breath in a hard fought battle, the continue to stand their ground until President Obama (or the newly instated US president in early 2017) agrees to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline. For the people on the frontline, this is more than just a protest. It is about preservation of the land and water that nurtures the essence of life. “That’s why we don’t call it the revolution,” says Munroe. “It’s an awakening of the spirit within.”