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Standing Rock Sioux Chairman: Dakota Access Pipeline “Is Threatening the Lives of My Tribe”

Protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline.

In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its approval of the pipeline. For more, we’re joined by Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He’s in Washington, D.C., where there is a hearing in the tribe’s lawsuit on Wednesday.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at North Dakota, where indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River.

INDIGENOUS ACTIVISTS: Respect our water! Respect our lands! Honor our treaties! Honor our rights!

AMY GOODMAN: More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. Protesters have included Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: The need to protect this water has grown way beyond Standing Rock. I’m Oglala and Northern Cheyenne. Many red nations are here. Many more red nations are coming. We put the call out for water protectors to come, land defenders to come. And the word “resistance” is being used. And sometimes we have a problem with the English language, deciding which word to use, but if we just listen to our spirits, we’re here to protect sacred water. People will come from all along the river to protect the river that they belong to.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, has also taken part in the protests against the Dakota pipeline. Banks also was part of the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff.

DENNIS BANKS: What’s happening here is equally as important, because of the stand that you’re ready to make. When they threaten the environment, they’re threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they’re threatening you. You have to be in that mindset like that. That’s who you are. That’s who we are. And our culture, our heritage is what has made us warriors.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dennis Banks. We’re joined now by Dave Archambault, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who’s joining us from Washington, D.C.

Chairman, thanks very much for being with us. Can you explain for us what this whole controversy is about?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There’s a lot of different components that all lead up to one, and it is a pipeline that is threatening the lives of people, lives of my tribe, as well as millions down the river. It threatens the ancestral sites that are significant to our tribe. And we never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes. And the things that have happened to tribal nations across this nation have been unjust and unfair, and this has come to a point where we can no longer pay the costs for this nation’s well-being. We pay for economic development, we pay for national security, and we pay for energy independence. It is at our expense that this nation reaps those benefits. And all too often we share similar concerns, similar wrongdoings to us, so we are uniting, and we’re standing up, and we’re saying, “No more.”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what exactly the Dakota Access pipeline is and how it ended up going through your land?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: Dakota Access pipeline is a pipeline that goes 1,200 miles, taking Bakken crude oil from the northwest side of North Dakota down to Illinois. And we were brought — made aware of this in 2014. And our biggest concern was it was — it crossed the Missouri River twice, once north of — once in Lake Sakakawea and once north of our reservation. And right away, when we first learned of it, we said, “We don’t want this. We don’t want it here.” But it’s a private pipeline from a private company out of Dallas, Texas. And so, there’s a big corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, out of Dallas, who are making decisions for the state and for North Dakota, for my reservation, and they have no sensitivity or no acknowledgment of what is in place. All they see is dollar signs and greed. So we are not happy with this private-based company.

There are portions of this pipeline that cross federal lands, like water, and so they have to get permits, but they get easements on private property. And the private landowners who do not approve of the pipeline, there’s the eminent domain taking. So, the landowners where the pipeline crosses kind of have their hands tied. But in the federal permitting process — and it’s like, of the 1,200 miles, 200 waterways, maybe 300 miles are on federal lands. That’s what we’re saying: If we can’t do anything on the private lands, we’re going to ask the federal agencies to reconsider and take a look at this, because we never had the opportunity to express our concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist, speaking at the Sacred Stone camp.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: We’re putting a call out for warriors to come here to do direct action, to stop them from boring under this water, because that’s going to contaminate it. We can’t stand for that. We can’t let that happen. I, for one, made a commitment. They’re going to have to kill me, or they’re going to have to lock me in jail, but I’m going to stand to protect the sacred water. And I’m guided by spirit.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Debra White Plume, who participated in the 1973 standoff in which members of the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee to demand their treaty rights. She called for focus in the action at Sacred Stone.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: I understand that rage. I fought with cops before. I’ve been shot at by police. I’ve been shot by police. We got it on with the police on Pine Ridge back in the day. So I understand that rage. But when we’re here together to protect sacred water, let’s do it with dignity, let’s do it with training, let’s do it with unity.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chairman Dave Archambault, explain what this camp is, where it is, and how many people are coming out to it, and how the state is responding.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: This camp is along the Cannonball River, close to the mouth of Missouri River. And the camp is — started out in April of 2016 as a prayer camp. And the prayers have been answered. There has been power in prayer. And it opened the eyes to everybody that, through prayer and unity, great things can happen. Since the — about two — the demonstrations started, more and more people began coming and showing overwhelming support for this, and we had to anticipate large masses of people coming, so we occupied a space just north of the Cannonball River off the Standing Rock Reservation, which is core land, and it’s on a nice flat.

Right now what’s going on is it’s about peace, and it’s about prayer, and it’s about uniting. And there’s a really good feeling, if you were to walk through the camp. There are no guns, no violence, no drugs, no alcohol. And it kind of took a life of its own. It evolved into something very special.

The state, on the other side, has taken action, which there’s no cause for. They created a barricade just south of Mandan, right before you get into Fort Lincoln, Custer’s park. It’s about 25 miles north of the camp. And this barricade creates a hardship for the members who live on Standing Rock. The state also removed its emergency assistance vehicles, that we initially got to establish and accommodate large masses of people.

AMY GOODMAN: You were arrested there, Chairman?


AMY GOODMAN: I want to play Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s comments, claims he made that there have been reports of weapons at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, and get your response.

SHERIFF KYLE KIRCHMEIER: It’s turning into an unlawful protest with some of the things that have been done and has been compromised up to this point. We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the sheriff. Dave Archambault, your response?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There never was any shots fired. There never were any pipe bombs. There were never any incidents of unlawful activity taking place. When you have a large mass of people in an area, especially with social media, you have Facebook, that can create rumors. And I would ask that the sheriff and the governor validate any rumors that they come across, before they make haste decisions to create a blockade or to declare a state of emergency or to remove any of their emergency assistance vehicles. I understand they have safety concerns, but you just have to be present at the camp, and you’ll see that it’s a peaceful place, and there are happy people who share a common prayer. And that is —

AMY GOODMAN: Chairman, can you explain the lawsuit?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: So, what we’re filing a lawsuit on is the destruction of our ancestral burial sites and never being given the opportunity to protect them, as well as the nationwide permitting process. Rather than permitting the project as a whole and doing a full EIS, the Corps of Engineers asked that they permit chunks and pieces of it. And they require an EA. Now, the EA is less intensive as the EIS, so they’re able to kind of do unlawful things, that — such as destroy our sites that are sacred to us.

We don’t agree with the fact — they’re going to say they had consulted with us on this matter. To us, consulting doesn’t mean corresponding through letter or mail, or it doesn’t mean presenting us a final draft of what you’re going to do. Consulting, to us, would mean that we need to have deliberation and share our concerns and hope that they hear us and see a reflection of our concerns in the final plan. None of that has taken place. We asked for consultation prior to any final drafts and to survey the routes to make sure that none of the sites that we cherish would be destroyed. It’s not until after they finalized what they want to do, this Dallas-based company who is doing the EA for the Corps of Engineers tells us how or where they’re going to go. Now they come and invite us to do surveys, and we don’t think that’s right. We think it’s unlawful, and we think it’s unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. When we come back, indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke will also join us. Stay with us.

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