On the evening of December 4, the camp at Standing Rock celebrated. Traditional songs and drumming resounded through the valley and speakers offered congratulations and prayers of gratitude around the sacred fire. Earlier that day, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will deny the easement for a crucial section of the Dakota Access pipeline to be built under the Missouri River.
“This represents an enormous victory for the communities of Standing Rock, and 18 million people living downstream of the proposed pipeline crossing,” said a representative of Oceti Sakowin, Standing Rock’s main camp. Indeed, this decision was unprecedented show of support by the government. It is a demonstration of the power of peaceful, prayerful resistance, and a step towards restoring the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples. However, it is not the end of the fight.
“Unfortunately, the lights are still on, and the helicopters are still buzzing overhead. Until we can go to the drill pad and see they’ve left — this is not over … Energy Transfer Partners has a responsibility to their investors. We have a responsibility to protect water for future generations. We are not going anywhere.” These were the final lines in the Oceti Sakowin press release, and a sentiment that was mirrored by others, including representatives from the International Indigenous Youth Council, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Lakota People’s Law Project. That is, despite this great step forward, there are several reasons Water Protectors have to be skeptical that this alone will produce the desired result.
The first of these is a statement from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), saying that they plan to continue construction regardless of the Corps’ decision. “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,” said ETP in their response. A statement from Sacred Stone Camp pointed out that, despite the denial of the easement, the Obama administration did not guarantee they would use force to prevent ETP from drilling under the river if they chose to proceed with construction.
Secondly, the upcoming change in administration could mean a reversal of Sunday’s decision. Trump spokesman Jason Miller indicated as such, saying, “With regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline, that’s something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House to make appropriate determination at that time.” ETP’s CEO Kelcy Warren said that he had “one hundred percent” confidence that Trump would help get the pipeline completed, and donated $103,000 to Trump’s campaign.
Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said, “While President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration. More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
Eryn Wise of the International Indigenous Youth Council said, “We know that the next presidency stands to jeopardize our work but we are by no means backing down. We will continue protecting everywhere we go and we will continue to stand for all our relations.”
Thirdly, the US government has a very bad track record when it comes to promises made to Native Americans. In fact, every single treaty the US government has ever made with Native tribes has been violated. So, Native people here may be taking the government’s words with a grain of salt, and rightly so.
The mood of Oceti Sakowin camp was difficult to read this morning. Amidst celebration, there was worry that the media would tag this as final victory and that those in the outside world, thinking the fight was over, would withdraw support.
There is also the pervading question of what the camp’s leadership will ask of the thousands of allies who have come to stand with Standing Rock. A statement by Chairman Archambault of the Standing Rock tribe indicated that he considered the main fight to be over, saying “With this decision, we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones.” However, Oceti Sakowin’s preliminary statement was also clear, saying, “We are not going anywhere.” Many members of the camp at Standing Rock are not yet sure what their role will be in the coming weeks and months.
Regardless of how allies are asked to proceed, the camp’s various leaders and participants have been unified in this: We are here to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, we are here in prayer and we are here until the end. Whether that means working from Standing Rock or our own respective communities, there is little risk of Water Protectors backing down until the definitive end.
Thomas Lopez of the International Indigenous Youth Council said, “This fight is not over. After this pipeline, we [still] have dozens of other pipelines that endanger the wellbeing of this earth and the water. The Indigenous people of this hemisphere now have a voice. We now have our power. And we will not stop until every single pipeline is put to rest.”