On the evening of February 8, an estimated 500 protestors held up hand-painted signs that read “Water Is Life” and “Resist Dakota Access” outside of the White House. While forming a circle and making speeches, a Lakota Sioux man singing prayers, solemnity took over.
Earlier that day, the US Army Corps of Engineers gave the Dakota Access oil pipeline an easement to move forward with the project underneath Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
2016 saw thousands of Native Americans fighting to keep the pipeline from completion. Barack Obama ultimately halted construction during the final days of his presidency, giving people reason to celebrate and renewing hope that peaceful protesting can effect change.
But 2017 came with a major shift: the arrival of President Donald Trump, who, just days after taking office, called for the pipeline to move forward. Within two weeks, his order was granted through the Corps.
The swift and devastating easement seems to mock the months of protests, and then the incredible feeling of relief from the Sioux people upon hearing the pipeline had been halted.
“We are a sovereign nation and we will fight to protect our water and sacred places,” said David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Tribe in a statement.
The approval of the final 1.5 miles of the more than 1,700-mile pipeline by the Army cut short the impact assessment, as well as the public comment period associated with it that was supposed to last two weeks. The Army expedited the process under the consultation of Donald Trump.
The timeline being accelerated leaves little opportunity to challenge pipeline approval. The agency revealed it will also waive the typical policy of waiting 14 days after informing Congress of the decision to grant an easement. The easement could now be granted within 24 hours, which means Energy Transfer Partners could begin construction immediately.
In a letter to Congress announcing the decision, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul Cramer explained that the nature of the project, which involves drilling a horizontal hole under a part of the Missouri River known as Lake Oahe for a 30-inch diameter pipe, does not need a separate construction license.
A January 31 statement from the Sioux tribe announced it planned to “vigorously pursue legal action to ensure the environmental impact statement order issued late last year is followed so the pipeline process is legal, fair and accurate.”
Tribal Chair Dave Archambault said: “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get [back] up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.”
Archambault is urging allies to protest at state capitols and at a march on Washington on March 10th. Meanwhile, other indigenous water protectors and their allies have announced their commitment to taking direct action to ensure the construction does not move forward.
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