'It’s not over': Dakota Access pipeline work restarts amid tribe's legal challenge
Pipeline at heart of protests and legal action could be transporting oil within three months – but Standing Rock activists say they will stay put
Crews remove waste from the camp opposing the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photograph: Terray Sylvester/Reuters
Dakota Access pipeline workers have begun the final phase of drilling across the Missouri river despite massive international protests and a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The restarting of the drilling operation, which a pipeline spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday morning, began soon after the US government gave the oil corporation the green light to proceed on Wednesday. The controversial pipeline could be transporting crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois within three months.
At the Standing Rock camps in Cannon Ball – where activists have been stationed since last spring to fight the project – indigenous and environmental organizers vowed to stay put and continue opposing the pipeline.
“We’re adamant about standing up against the pipeline regardless of the push to get us out,” said Irina Lukban, a 22-year-old activist. Late Wednesday night, she and other demonstrators, who call themselves water protectors, gathered around a table of maps at Sacred Stone, the first camp set up in opposition to the pipeline, and discussed strategy.
“We have to unify in the face of this adversity,” said Lukban, who is from California and is a member of an indigenous tribe in the Philippines.
The construction is a devastating blow to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose fight against the $3.7bn pipeline became a flashpoint across the globe for indigenous rights and climate change activism.
Donald Trump, who has invested in the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners and also received donations from its CEO, pledged during his campaign to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, which the Obama administration had halted.
Within days of his inauguration, Trump signed an executive memorandum calling for the expedited approval of the Dakota Access pipeline, reversing Obama’s decision in December to deny a key permit. Before Trump was sworn in, the US army corps of engineers was on track to conduct a full environmental impact study (EIS) of the project, which the tribe has long sought. That review would have assessed possible harms and alternative routes and could have taken years to complete.
But Trump’s administration canceled the EIS process, waived other regulatory requirements and allowed for immediate construction.
Sally Jewell, the former interior secretary under Obama, criticized the army corps on Wednesday, saying the agency’s decision “willfully ignores the government’s trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and the spirit and letter of the law”.
“The proposed route puts at risk the water supply and sacred sites for the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes downstream,” she said, noting that the company rejected alternative routes due to concerns from residents in Bismarck.
Jewell also said she supported the legal actions of the tribe, which is fighting in court to immediately stall construction and has an ongoing lawsuit challenging the project.
Prior to getting approvals, workers had constructed entry and exit holes for the crossing and put oil in the pipeline leading up to the river, according to the Associated Press.
“They were already ready to drill,” LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone camp, said in an interview on Thursday. At this stage in the fight, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe member said she was hoping to see continued mass actions across the country along with a renewed push to target the company’s finances with the #defundDAPL campaign.
“It’s not about Standing Rock anymore, it’s about the world,” she said. “No matter what happens, even as they’re drilling as we talk, we must all stand up for the water.”
Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, flew to Washington DC on Tuesday to meet with the Trump administration, but canceled his meeting once he learned the army corps was granting the pipeline company’s easement to cross the Missouri river.
Earlier in the week, Trump said he hadn’t received “one call” about the pipeline, saying: “I don’t even think it was controversial.”
Clarence Rowland, a 26-year-old Oglala Sioux tribe member who returned to Standing Rock on Wednesday, said that many families depended on the Missouri river. “Our kids’ water is at stake. We have to stand up for mother earth.”
At the camps on Thursday morning, some were chanting “Mni wiconi”, the Lakota phrase for “water is life”, while others were organizing supplies, saying they were preparing to stay for the long haul.
“It’s not over out here,” said Stephanie Big Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe, who recently came back to Standing Rock with her three-year-old son. “This is my ancestral treaty lands where my people have always been. I have to be out here.”
Big Eagle – whose ancestor signed the historic 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which established indigenous land rights – said she was trying to stay hopeful: “Nothing is impossible. That’s the kind of attitude we need to have. You never know what prayers can do.”
David Valdez, an activist from California who first arrived to Standing Rock last August, said he feared Trump would send in national guard troops and incite violence.
“They have the numbers to easily take us out,” he said. “There are children and women and elders here.”
If water protectors surrendered now, oil companies could be emboldened, added Brandy-Lee Maxie, a 34-year-old Nakota tribe member from Canada. “If we just stand down, that sets a precedent for other pipelines – that they are allowed to go to Indian land and just take it.”
“We have the world watching,” she added, “and people are coming back.”
So Drumpf has received no calls about the Dakota Pipeline...
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