The long struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not over by a long shot, but last night the First Nations at Standing Rock celebrated a hugely significant and hard fought victory after the Army Corps announced it would not be granting the easement for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe.
This is the hotly disupted area that the First Nations have been trying to prevent the pipeline crossing for months, arguing it threatens their water and sacred burial grounds.
Instead the Corps announced they will be undertaking an environmental impact assessment to examine possible alternative routes. This would be done with “full public input and analysis.”
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Others in Government agreed with this analysis: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also released a statement adding: “The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts”.
In response, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault II, replied that “We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”
He also thanked “everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause.”
He continued: “We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need.”
But after being brutalised with attack dogs, beaten by batons, sprayed with freezing water, shot at with rubber bullets and stun grenades, this is a moment to saviour. As the news spread across the Standing rocks camps, you could hear cheers and chants of “mni wichoni” or “water is life”.
“I just cried when I heard the news,” said Sylvia Picotte, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “We have been stepped on for so long, all I could do was hope.”
Other politicians and environmentalists also lined up to express support for the decision, saying it could be a pivotal moment in the fight against the fossil fuel industry and reconfirming that non violent peaceful direct action can have an impact.
“In the year 2016, we should not continue to trample on Native American sovereignty,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We should not endanger the water supply of millions of people. We should not become more dependent on fossil fuel and accelerate the planetary crisis of climate change.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “The fight to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline is not over, but the administration’s announcement today ensures Energy Transfer cannot continue its assault on the Standing Rock Sioux’s home, history, and heritage,”
Bill McKibbon, from 350.org added that it shows what “nonviolent unity can accomplish” and that the protest at Standing Rock “won’t ever be forgotten, and it will influence events for centuries to come. Standing Rock, like Little Big Horn or Wounded Knee, or for that matter Lexington Green and Concord Bridge, now belongs to our history.”
But we know the fight is not over.
First of all the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer partners, can appeal and secondly, we have an energy-loving, climate denying President just weeks from the White House. And we know that Trump supports the project.
You could argue that all Obama has done is pass the decision onto Trump, although how easy it will be for Trump to approve is uncertain.
As one commentator noted: “No, the DAPL is not dead … What it means is that they will do a limited Environmental Impact Study before allowing the drilling. The EIS could take months, by which time Trump will be president and they hope all the water protectors leave so they can finish the pipeline quietly with no media attention.”
And in a defiant message, Energy Transfer Partners said that that the anouncement was “just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
It said that it remained “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.”
The First Nations know the fight is not over yet.
As Danny Grassrope, a member of the Lower Bruce Sioux Tribe said: “We know DAPL can appeal. This battle is won but the war isn’t over. We’re not done yet. This is just the beginning of something extraordinary.”