Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chair: Obama's Legacy Rests on Whether He Stops Dakota Access Pipeline

October 17, 2016


Dave Archambault

chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

A federal appeals court recently rejected a bid by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to permanently halt construction on part of the Dakota Access pipeline, paving the way for the Dakota Access company to resume construction on private lands adjacent to Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. A decision on whether the pipeline can proceed under the river rests with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe argued that construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline is destroying cultural artifacts and sacred sites, including a sacred tribal burial ground that was bulldozed on September 3, Labor Day weekend, when Dakota Access pipeline’s guards unleashed dogs and pepper spray on the Native Americans. Since then, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others have set up a permanent encampment across the street from the bulldozed burial ground. They call it the Sacred Ground Camp and say they’ll continue to fight the Dakota Access pipeline. We are joined by Dave Archambault II, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Except now I’m in your state.


AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about where this all stands right now? There has been a court decision, a federal appeals decision, and then there’s been executive agency intervention, as well.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: When I look at the court, I don’t have any confidence in the judicial system, because it has failed Indian country for over 200 years. So I have to start looking at: What are these three agencies really considering? And they’re looking at reviewing the whole process, the way this—the way the permit was given. They’re also looking at how do we consult with tribes better, which I think is a good thing, because anytime there’s an infrastructure project coming near or close or within tribal lands, we should have a say. And that’s what everybody is starting to look at. But it also put a stay on everything from going underneath the Missouri River.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, but the court decisions, both Judge Boasberg in Washington—and you testified in this court—and also the appeals court, they completely ruled against the tribe? They said you would not get the injunction?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Right. The first—the first hearing, they said there’s no injunction. And then, the second one was just to keep the construction from happening within 20 miles on both sides of the Missouri River. We had to prove irreparable harm, and we had to say it’s the best interest of the public. We weren’t able to do that. But in the ruling, they were able to tell us that the company does not have an easement. Because they don’t have an easement, that sent a message to us saying that there might be something there. They’d understand that something’s wrong. And the administration needs to pick up on that signal. And we’re hoping that the Department of—or, the Corps of Engineers, Department of Army hear that, and when they see that, they don’t grant the issue, easement.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to go back, right after the first decision, like 15 minutes after the first decision, and then right after the second decision, either Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Weekend, this three-agency unprecedented letter, from the Justice Department, the Interior and the Army, reiterated that they would not give this permit under the Missouri River at this moment and that there needs to be government-to-government negotiations, Standing Rock Sioux—you’re the chair—and the U.S. government?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes. And I think that’s something that we could consider a win, because this is something that hasn’t happened for over 200 years. Tribes have not been recognized. They have been ignored. And anytime infrastructure projects like this come near, we are invisible. And so, to have this consultation, government-to-government relationship, now surface, it means a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: Has it begun?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: The consultation has begun. And they’re trying to get feedback on what is meaningful consultation to tribes. There was a consultation in Phoenix, and they’re having five more coming up, in Minnesota, Billings, Rapid City.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is consulting from the U.S. government side, and who’s consulting from the tribal side?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: We’re asking that tribal leaders be present and anybody who’s interested in assisting in defining what meaningful consultation means. And we are hoping that the department heads are there at the consultations, so they can actually hear what it means to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, one of the things I learned covering this that I was surprised by is that the pipeline actually originally was not slated to be going through Native country, but above Bismarck, above the city of Bismarck, and right here in Mandan, North Dakota. And both city councils said, no, they didn’t want to risk the possibility of contamination.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, and we are told that this route that they chose, that is just feet away from our reservation, is the least impactful. But when you look at why is it the least impactful, they’ll say because there’s wetlands, there’s drinking water for a population, there are cultural sites. We have all those same things where we’re at. And there’s always this attempt to say, "We can make this the safest pipeline ever," but if they can do that, then why not leave it here? Why not put it up here north of Bismarck, if it can still be so safe, but it’s no—we want to make it safe, and you won’t have to worry about anything, there’s no risk to you or your people? I can’t buy that. If they can make it safe, then they should put it where it’s out of our treaty lands.

And what I look at is that these pipelines that are being proposed—there’s this one and the other one—we need to start looking at pipelines that are already under the river. There’s pipelines that are dredged only six feet underneath the bed of the river, and they’re built with—in the '70s and ’80s—steel, that isn't the best steel. And those pose a threat to us. So, there’s an opportunity for us to take a look at what pipelines are currently there and not continue to build new pipelines, but upgrade the existing ones to reduce the threat. And that’s what Standing Rock’s position has always been: protect the water.

AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Archambault, what are the treaties that are violated here?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, we had a treaty in 1851, and it was a peace treaty. As long as we remain peaceful with people coming into our territory, they’ll define the boundary, and they’ll protect that boundary for us. This is with the federal government. And it was by the U.S. Congress, ratified by the president of the United States. More and more people kept coming and encroaching on it, so they had to reduce the land base and enter into a new treaty in 1868. Then there was gold discovered in the Black Hills. So what it is, is it’s looking at economic development, national security, and looking at the resources around and whose lands are going to be used to achieve that, to accomplish that. And more than often it’s indigenous peoples’ lands. And those are violations on those original treaties.

And we see the same thing happening today. We have lands, treaty lands, that are being encroached on. And we know that there are sacred places there, and we know that the pipeline needs to stay away from those sacred places, but they keep—they continue to come and desecrate those sacred places.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about where we are right now, Mandan, North Dakota, just about an hour from the reservation, from Sacred Rock. Right behind us, the county jail and the county courthouse. You’ve been arrested for your resistance to the pipeline. Why did you choose to get arrested?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: I can’t say that it was a choice that I made. I would say that it’s a—it was a moment, and there was a lot of emotion going on on that day. And I reacted to some things that were going on, and one thing led to another, and then I was arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were brought here?


AMY GOODMAN: Brought to the jailhouse?


AMY GOODMAN: What were you charged with?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Disorderly Conduct.

AMY GOODMAN: So it’s a misdemeanor, low-level misdemeanor.


AMY GOODMAN: Were you strip-searched?


AMY GOODMAN: Is this common that for disorderly conduct you’re strip-searched?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: I wouldn’t know, because that was the first time I ever got arrested. But, you know, when I was, I thought it was humorous, because I had to take all my clothes off, and then they wanted to check my braid for—and I don’t have a very thick braid for any weapons to hide, but so I thought it was pretty crazy and unnecessary to do a strip search and to check my hair. But I accepted. That’s how it was.

AMY GOODMAN: And just as we are here today, more police have come to the courthouse, and they’re carrying their riot gear. We certainly saw a lot of that on Saturday, a huge police presence, as these nonviolent land and water defenders marched down the road, again, expressing concern about the Dakota Access pipeline. What about this militarization?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: You know, it’s something that I don’t really understand, because if you look at resistance in other states, this pipeline goes through five different states, and you don’t see neighboring highway patrol coming in to assist those states. You see—and we’ve always tried to maintain that this is a peaceful and prayerful demonstration. But what you see is instances where the risk is getting heightened, and it’s being created like that because of the additional law enforcement, the additional riot gear, and neighboring states coming in, neighboring counties, a call for sheriffs across the nation to assist the Morton County sheriff. All of that is unnecessary if you look at the actions that have been taking place in North Dakota and compare them to other actions in other states.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, the Dane County, Wisconsin, sheriff said he’s withdrawing his deputies. We bumped into them on Saturday, actually. They’re going home because I think one of the legal advisers was arrested, who was here from Wisconsin, and said, "This is controversial. We shouldn’t be a part of this."

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, you know, it’s just disturbing, because law enforcement—this isn’t a fight between the protectors and the law enforcement. This is a simple issue. That is, protect the water. And it’s always been about protect the water. And it seems like it’s a distraction to say the protectors are being unlawful and they’re trying to incite riots. There’s no riots happening here. So we take our attention away from protecting water, look at the number of law enforcement who’s coming, look at what they’re using, and then start making the issue about riot. It’s not riot.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you about President Obama coming to Cannon Ball, coming to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I believe it’s the first sitting president to go to a Native American reservation. Is that right?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: There were three presidents. Roosevelt, I think, was one. Bill Clinton went to the Oglala reservation. And then, President Obama had come to Standing Rock.

AMY GOODMAN: And he came to Standing Rock, to your tribe, 2014. What did he promise you then, and what is he telling you now?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: You know, when the president came, I wanted to show him what reality was, and I asked our children to share stories with him. And they did. And I felt that the president and the first lady was moved by their visit. And what we saw was a lot of, for the first time, policies to help Indian country, to help Indian children. Today, I don’t know if we would have have—if we would have had three administrations stop what’s happening, if it wasn’t for the sitting president.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the three agencies.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, Department of Interior, Department of Army, Department of Justice. Those are all underneath the administration. And the president was posed the question: What is he doing about this? And he had to learn more. He had information. And the next—one thing led to another. And he did so much for Indian country that it’s resting on this issue on what he does now, his legacy. And then, we’re just hoping that he does the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would that right thing be?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Stop this pipeline. Don’t give an easement. Ask for a full environmental impact statement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Chairman Dave, thanks so much for being with us, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dave Archambault. When we come back, we’re going to speak to two members of Honor the Earth. We’re broadcasting from North Dakota. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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