The news on Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers would pause Dakota Access Pipeline construction near the Missouri River is viewed as bittersweet by those protesting the project, who fear the delay is temporary and that construction will ultimately resume.
The pipeline has been at the center of protests heralded as the biggest Native American act of unity in 150 years, drawing the support of hundreds of tribes and progressive activists to prevent the project from destroying Native lands.
The stoppage at the banks of the Missouri River affects those that have camped nearby, but the pipeline, which would stretch from Illinois to North Dakota, is mostly on private land. The companies behind the project—Energy Transfer Partners, Enbridge and Phillips 66—have not announced whether they will not suspend construction there.
The announcement Friday by the U.S. Army, along with the Department of Interior and Department of Justice, that it would be stopping work on land bordering or under Lake Oahu—and suggesting the companies voluntarily pause work within 20 miles of the lake—has “put a little bit of a damper on the situation,” said Winona LaDuke, a prominent Native American environmental activist, in an interview with CBC News on Saturday. “But you have to remember that we are standing our ground. That is what is happening here, and in fact, what is happening is that it is the state that has been escalating.”
North Dakota mobilized the National Guard on Thursday to prepare for a federal judge’s ruling on the same issue, based on the grounds that protests have been violent—a claim organizers there adamantly deny. The main demonstration on Friday was a “peace rally” in the state capital Bismarck as protesters, mostly Native American, reacted to the judge’s ruling against the Standing Rock Tribe’s demand to stop construction.
LaDuke also referenced an incident last week where private security guards unleashed dogs on those taking part in a direct action against construction, an attack which a state board is now investigating on suspicion that the officers were im properly licensed or registered.
The Army’s stoppage of construction applies until a ruling in December on whether the Corps properly consulted the Standing Rock Tribe before issuing the construction permit. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier expressed ”great hope” on future dialogue about treaty rights in a press release Friday, but LaDuke was more cautious.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has not been fair to these people for 100 years,” she said. Native American treaties have historically been violated by the U.S. government, she added, and the Department of Justice has a poor record of ruling on civil rights cases.
The announcement came minutes after the Judge James Boasberg ruled against the tribe, suggesting that they expected a negative decision.
“I don’t think that we expected justice from the court,” said LaDuke. “Native people often do not get justice from the court,” which she said is colloquially referred to as 'the court of the thief.'”
The decision was based on the grounds that the tribe “only” argued on the basis of protecting their cultural lands and heritage from “irreparable injury.” Boasberg ruled that not only is further consultation not required, but that precautions taken by pipeline builders would make damage “unlikely.”
The tribe argues that many cultural sites remain hidden and would require further exploration, but the judge was satisfied with research conducted by the Corps. Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II, who filed the injunction, could not be reached for comment.
Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer Jacqueline Keeler told teleSUR she suspects that the companies behind the pipeline will sue the Department of Justice over the stoppage, but admits the Corps saw the writing on the wall since Boasberg included in his ruling that an environmental argument would have been stronger one—and even won the case.
The ruling, hinting perhaps at the decision in December on the legality of the permit itself, admitted the tribe could have argued to “ protect itself from the potential environmental harms that might arise from having the pipeline on its doorstep.”
However, Boasberg also wrote that “DAPL needs almost no federal permitting of any kind because 99 percent of its route traverses private land,” with the exception of waterways. The Corps then, was able to approve the pipeline with the Nationwide Permit 12, which grants fast-track federal authorization with low standards for environmental and public review.
Meanwhile, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Sacred Stone Camp, established near construction sites in April, has swelled and attracted upwards of 5,000 occupiers. The Yankton Sioux Tribe also followed their lead with their own suit against the Corps, also resting on the violation of free, prior and informed consent and other federal statutes. The tribe’s lawyer, Jennifer Baker, told teleSUR that the only efforts to reach out to the tribe during the approval process were slapdash and incomplete.
The stock of Energy Transfer Partners dipped on Friday after the Army’s announcement to a month-long low, and the banks behind the funds have been targeted by national solidarity protests all week.Still, as President Barack Obama and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have largely remained silent on the issue, Energy Transfer Partners has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into lobbying in Washington this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company also has yet to comment on whether it will voluntarily pause work on the rest of the pipeline, which LaDuke said is already in the ground, sealed and ready to go.