David Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has been working tirelessly for several years to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River just several hundred feet upstream from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation border, threatening to contaminate the entire water supply of his constituents.
The Standing Rock Reservation has been the center of a whirlwind of media attention the past few weeks as indigenous people, activists and environmentalists from all over the world have swarmed there to support the Tribe by attending demonstrations and cultural activities at the prayer camps set up near the pipeline’s construction site north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The efforts of the #NoDAPL supporters—known as water protectors—have proven effective so far, as pipeline construction has been temporarily halted in that area by the owners, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Co.
In July, the environmental justice group Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The issue will face a critical juncture on Wednesday afternoon August 24, as a federal judge will decide the next step in the pipeline’s progress. The Tribe is seeking an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which authorized the pipeline’s construction despite the Tribe’s stating that the environmental assessment did not take people’s health, well-being or spiritually significant sites (such as burial grounds) into consideration while choosing the pipeline’s crossing route.
From Washington D.C., the chairman took a few minutes to speak with ICTMN by phone, sharing some thoughts on recent happenings and expectations regarding the hearing.
What will happen if the judge grants the preliminary injunction?
If the judge grants the preliminary injunction, what we can anticipate is that the Energy Transfer Company and possibly the Department of Justice will file an appeal. They can appeal. But they won’t be able to continue construction. I can’t tell you the length of time. Those are unknowns.
If the judge does not grant the injunction, what will happen?
We’ll look for all of our legal options, and of course we would appeal as well. We would explore what options we have so that they don’t drill right away. Those are unknowns.
Will the result definitely be issued on Wednesday, or will it possibly take a few more days in court?
That’s up to the judge. He could rule right away after hearing the arguments, or he could take as long as he needs. Either way I’m leaving D.C. [on Wednesday].
Should the injunction not go in the favor of Standing Rock, what do you think will happen on the ground at the prayer camp? [Note: Neither the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nor Archambault are official organizers or affiliated in an official capacity with the Cannon Ball Prayer Camp or any other demonstration sites, though the chairman has attended some events at the camp and continues to encourage those who are protecting the water in a peaceful manner].
There will probably still be some active prayers and demonstration. I don’t see any violence happening, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s an opportunity for tribes and members of Indian country to show how proud we are as nations. This is just one battle. Regardless of the outcome, we hold our heads high, and we move forward.
When you put out the call to action, were you anticipating such a high volume of support from other tribes in support of Standing Rock? What are your thoughts regarding the amount of support that Standing Rock has received?
It’s very heartwarming. What I think is that all of our Nations have been faced with wrongs—usually projects like this where tribes don’t have the opportunity to have any consultation on something that will affect their homelands. We are never afforded the protection that the companies are afforded when they get their easements. Tribes across this nation are continually paying the costs for the benefits or gains of others.
You will hear, from time to time, people say that this [Dakota Access Pipeline] project is necessary because it provides jobs or economic development. You will hear people say that this project provides an opportunity for energy independence. You will hear people say that this project bolsters national security because it decreases our reliance on foreign oil. All of that is good as long as they don’t reap these benefits at our cost, but tribes across the nation see all the time. Over and over, our lands reduced, our lands are inundated with floodwaters, and there’s no concern for tribes. This is another example of that.
This pipeline is making its way through our territory—even though there was an alternative route north of Bismarck, until someone claimed that they are concerned with safe drinking water for that community. They rerouted it north of Standing Rock. We complain too, because we’re concerned for our future generations and their drinking water. They don’t listen.
This is a Dallas-based company making all these decisions—Energy Transfer Partners are deciding what takes place for Dakota Access Pipeline. There’s no sensitivity, there’s no understanding of what our tribes and what our folks have had to deal with for over 100 years. It should be a rude awakening to them, and it should also be a message with all the support that tribes no longer want the government to run over us. Tribes no longer want big corporations to take advantage of us.
Do you have any message for so many of the people out there, especially the youth, who are so passionately putting forth efforts to protect the water?
This whole thing brought about the power of unity and the power of prayer. Whatever problems or internal battles we may have, there’s a way to overcome them. It may seem hopeless sometimes, but it’s not. There’s a way to live life in a good way, without drugs, without alcohol, without violence, and bring back our prayers and our peace and to live in a good way for your relatives. It’s important to know and understand that we have to remain a proud nation. There are a lot of wrongs that are done to us, and all those wrongs are never going to get an apology. But we have to move forward, and we have to forgive them. We have to learn how to forgive and be thankful for what we have, because we have a lot to live for and a lot to cherish.