In Dramatic Reversal, White House Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Construction Under Missouri River

StorySeptember 12, 2016
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Jan Hasselman

staff attorney with Earthjustice. He is representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access pipeline.

Dave Archambault II

chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

To discuss Friday’s district court ruling in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against the U.S. government to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, and the White House’s dramatic intervention less than an hour later, we go to Standing Rock to speak with Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault. We are also joined by attorney Jan Hasselman, who brought the tribe’s case to federal court.

NEXTNative American Activist Winona LaDuke at Standing Rock: It's Time to Move On from Fossil Fuels
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our coverage of the standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans from hundreds of tribes across the United States and Canada are resisting construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. It’s the largest unification of Native American tribes in decades.

Well, for more on Friday’s district court ruling in D.C. in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against the U.S. government, and the White House’s dramatic intervention less than an hour later, we’re joined now by two guests. Dave Archambault is chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He’s joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from North Dakota. And in Seattle, Washington, we’re joined by Jan Hasselman, staff attorney with Earthjustice, representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access pipeline.

Let’s go first to Standing Rock. Chairman Dave Archambault, your response to what happened on Friday?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: First, we were disappointed by the judge’s decision. But then, a few minutes later, we were elated. It was something that was encouraging, because we knew that we were standing for something that was not right. And there were a lot of prayers, and I think those prayers were answered. And so it was a good feeling. And it still is a good feeling knowing that there’s the opportunity for us to look at public policy and reform, so that our indigenous lands and our indigenous rights are not infringed on.

And with the ruling, I know that it was something that we had to do. I felt that, all along, the deck was stacked against us. But we had to do it to start building awareness, and we had to look at whatever laws we could to get the issue to the forefront. And it’s just an ongoing battle. We’ll appeal. We are appealing. And we’re going to be asking for a full EIS, environment impact study, for the project. And the work isn’t done. We have a long ways to go, and we’re going to be doing whatever we can.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the joint statement released Friday, just 15 minutes after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was defeated in federal court, the statement released Friday by the Obama administration, by the Departments of Interior, Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers. It reads, quote, "[T]his case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals." Chairman Dave Archambault, what does that mean to you?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: It means there’s a crack in the door. And we’re going to start nudging, and we’re going to see what we can do to open it as wide as we can so that our indigenous rights and our indigenous lands are no longer infringed on.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Jan Hasselman for a moment. You’re the lawyer who brought the case of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to federal court. Can you just describe for us this dramatic series of events that took place on Friday?

JAN HASSELMAN: Yeah. Well, good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me back. Everybody knew that the court case was an uphill struggle. And we took our best shot. But we were reading this opinion that denied the relief we were asking for, and it was crushing, because everyone had put a lot of effort into that. And then, 15, 20 minutes later, the world turned upside down with this announcement from the administration, which is really what the tribe has been asking for all along. This is a situation that calls out for intervention and leadership at the highest levels to de-escalate the tensions out there, to address the really fundamental unfairness of the process. And so, we were very heartened that the Obama administration stepped in and took that leadership role, so there’s going to be a timeout on additional permitting, and we’re going to have the kind of conversation that the tribe has been asking for from the very beginning.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to understand this—I don’t know if this is unprecedented. You had—the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was fighting the Justice Department in federal court. So, it was the Justice Department lawyers who experienced this victory, for them, when the federal court ruled against the tribe. Was it, what, 15 minutes later that their own department, the Justice Department, together with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior, made this announcement?

JAN HASSELMAN: Yeah, that’s right. This is pretty stunning, a pretty stunning move, that changes the equation of where are we going from here. We’re going to take them at their word that this is going to be a serious top-to-bottom review of the permitting. And what that means, under the law, is that they’re going to have to consider all of the options that are on the table. And one of those options is not building a pipeline. Another option is put it back in its original route, north Bismarck, and let’s see how much the politicians in Bismarck are excited about crude oil pipelines when it’s their water supply that’s at risk instead of the tribe’s. So, all of that is going to take a little bit of time, and the tribe is ready to begin engaging in that process and begin having that conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: But just to be clear, when it comes to the Dakota Access pipeline, the statement, the triple statement from Army, Justice and Interior—so, clearly, from the White House, from on high—is asking the pipeline to voluntarily not build on the places, for example, that we recorded that standoff at—on September 3rd, on Labor Day weekend, where the pipeline security unleashed dogs and pepper spray on the Native Americans who were there. They’re asking them to voluntarily not build? They can build?

JAN HASSELMAN: Well, let’s be clear about exactly what the statement was. So, the area where the federal government has the clearest permitting authority is the tunnel underneath Lake Oahe, and they’ve said they’re not going to issue that without a permit. So they can’t do that work. They’ve asked the company to stand down on construction on 20 miles on either side. This will be a test of the company’s good faith in the process, if they heed that. Now, we are going to be asking the federal appeals court to enforce that 20-mile no-build zone through court order. We’ll be filing that today. And we’ll see where that happens. But to the extent that the company needs additional permits from the Army Corps, it would seem to me that thumbing their nose at them and ignoring this request would be a very bad strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, can you describe what happened on Thursday? In preparation, the governor of North Dakota called out the National Guard. And then, describe the scene—in preparation for the court ruling decision. Could you then describe the scene—increase in road checkpoints, which you’ve had for a long time now? Describe that scene for us and what happens to people as they drive.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: OK, Amy. When the governor first set up the blockade and started rerouting our members, I immediately called him, and I asked him to take the blockade down. And I had multiple calls with him, and my requests were the same every time. In our discussions, I had let him know that—let him know that you can—if your concern is safety—and that’s what he said, his concern is safety with pedestrians on Highway 1806—I said we could add additional signs, and you could—you can allow people to go through, but just have them be aware. Give them notice that there may be some people on the roads, and we could have multiple signs to slow the traffic.

Now, before this, Amy, about a—when everything first started on Standing Rock, I have about eight officers total for my reservation. And there’s 2.3 million acres, 12 communities, eight officers, maybe two or three at a time working five days a week, 12-hour shifts. And as the camp began to grow, attention with the officers began to circle around the community of Cannon Ball, where—close to camp. So I made a request for additional BIA law enforcement, not to patrol or to observe or to monitor the camp, but to assure that safety is throughout Standing Rock. So I was able to get 31 additional BIA officers. And it helped, because now there’s a—

AMY GOODMAN: Bureau of Indian Affairs.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement. And it helped, because there’s safety in the communities. And that was my concern for my nation, was to make sure that safety is a priority now.

When the governor made the announcement, I called him immediately, and I asked what this was about. And the resources that the governor has within the state, with Highway Patrol and within the counties, Burleigh County and Morton County, were all focused on the blockade. And so, what his—he had said was that it’s not a full-blown National Guard deployment. It’s minimal. And what it is going to be used for is to inform traffic. We’re going to open up the blockade, so they can go through, but just inform them—this was the ask that I had—to allow people to come through 1806 rather than rerouting them. And the Highway Patrol, the Burleigh—the law enforcement in Burleigh County and Morton County can then be used throughout the state, throughout other parts of the state.

So, I understand where the governor was coming from. And there’s a lot of emphasis that "The National Guard is deployed, and we’re going to—we’re going to shut this camp down." And that wasn’t the case. The National Guard that’s manning the blockade and allowing people to go through 1806, they’re really friendly guys. And they’re informing people that there may be pedestrians on the road, just be cautious. It’s 25, 30 miles down the road. There’s an encampment there. And everybody knows what’s going on, so—

AMY GOODMAN: Is facial recognition technology being used?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: That’s a crazy question, Amy, and I’m glad you ask it, because when you have a lot of people in an area, there’s all this paranoia that is present. And we don’t have to be paranoid anymore. We need to be proud of who we are. This is a big time in history. We need to hold our chins high and show our faces. We’re not doing anything wrong. And if facial recognition technology is out there, I would doubt that it’s here. All authorities have to do is go on Facebook, go on the Democracy Now! videos, and they’ll see people’s faces there. And that’s where authorities are getting information. The people who are videoing incidents determine—we create the evidence on ourselves with these—with our iPhones and social media. I would highly doubt that facial recognition is something—we have our own websites, we have our own Facebook pages. We give all the information that is out there to the authorities through social media.

AMY GOODMAN: But, for example, if someone has a warrant out for their arrest, that’s the place where they will be picked up. If they’re just driving, they won’t be. But if there is a roadblock, for—a checkpoint, that’s where they get picked up.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, if they have something that they’ve done wrong, you should own up to your—you should be accountable for yourself. And if there’s a warrant for your arrest, why are you out? Why aren’t you going to authorities and getting it taken care of?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to read a joint statement released Friday by the Obama administration, which notes that, quote, "[W]e fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. Of course, anyone who commits violent or destructive acts may face criminal sanctions from federal, tribal, state, or local authorities. The Departments of Justice and the Interior will continue to deploy resources to North Dakota to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety." You know, in the case, for example, in my own case, Chairman Archambault, where the state of North Dakota has issued a warrant for my arrest, it’s for covering the protest on September 3rd. And as I understand it, others who are wanted for—who are wanted, that is where the point of contact is, where you won’t be picked up on the road, in general, but if there is a checkpoint, in that interaction, that’s what happens.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, again, you know, I think that there are things that are legal and are completely wrong, and it’s OK to stand up for them. There are things that are illegal but are completely right, and it’s OK to stand up for them. And so, if you do something in that way, like you did, Amy, it’s OK, it’s good, because the coverage that you did is valuable to the cause. And so, when you do something, when you commit an act, and it’s viewed as illegal, but everybody knows there’s a natural law that it’s right, then it’s OK to own up to what you have done.

AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Archambault, you yourself were arrested, is that right, at one of the protests?


AMY GOODMAN: So, what are your plans now? The decision came down against the tribe, but then the Obama administration released this joint statement of Army, Interior and Justice. Are the camps going to continue? You’ve got thousands of people now at the camps, and more and more joining every day.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, like I said, the door is cracked open. And so, what I feel is, until it’s blown wide open and this pipeline does no longer—no longer infringes on our lands and on our rights, I can’t tell you an end date. But I know that there are more tribes, there are more organizations. It’s worldwide now, people coming from all over. We just had tribes from Ecuador and the chief from Ecuador come in, and the same concerns. You know, there’s this building awareness on indigenous people and the lands that they have and the protection that they want to offer. This awareness is coming around. We have people from Hawaii trying to protect their mountain, their sacred mountains, from development, from corporations or their government. So, it’s a shared concern. And it’s—what I like to call is it’s a spirit awakening. And so, to try to say there’s going to be—

AMY GOODMAN: Has the Dakota Access pipeline folks told you they are going to voluntarily stop the construction and the bulldozing?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: I haven’t spoke to Dakota Access pipeline folks. And that’s a good question for them.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jan Hasselman, as the lawyer who has been fighting the pipeline, have you gotten any word?

JAN HASSELMAN: We don’t know. I think they were probably as surprised as we were with the announcement on Friday. Like I said, we’ll be going back to the court and having that conversation. So I think, the week ahead, we’ll know a lot more about where things are going.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaking to us from Bismarck, North Dakota, and Jan Hasselman, attorney with Earthjustice, speaking to us from Seattle, Washington. When we come back, we’ll hear voices of that largest gathering that we’ve seen of Native tribes in decades. We’ll hear, among others, from indigenous leader Winona LaDuke. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "We are a Nation of Animal Lovers" by Ewan MacColl. Happy birthday to producer Sam Alcoff’s father, Larry Alcoff.

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