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Tara Houska: Denying #DAPL Permit is “Momentous Occasion,” But We Must Remain Vigilant

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On Sunday, celebrations erupted at Standing Rock after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had denied the Dakota Access pipeline company a permit to build the final segment of the $3.8 billion project and would study a possible reroute of the pipeline. But what alternative routes will be considered? What will the process of an environmental impact statement look like? Can this decision be reversed once President-elect Donald Trump takes office? And what’s next for the resistance movement? To answer some of those questions, we speak with Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

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AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, celebrations erupted at Standing Rock after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had denied the Dakota Access pipeline company a permit to build the final segment of the $3.8 billion project that would study a possible reroute of the pipeline. This is Cannupa Hanska Luger.

CANNUPA HANSKA LUGER: I think—I think this sort of opportunity here—the thing that has happened here is that we’ve recognized that we have agency. We have given a lot of our power to other entities, saying, “Please help us. Please save us.” But when we come together as living things, as people, well, then, suddenly we recognize that we have—we have power. And that’s what this country was supposed to be built about. That’s what we were supposed to be promised from before. And so, you know, whoever is president, we’re human beings. We’re the people. We’re the reason. We’re the living things here, you know? And hopefully that will move forward and can be shared. I mean, if you look down the road here, there are lights as far as the eye can see. People have come to this place to recognize that we have agency, you know, we have power. And when we come together, we recognize it’s easier to share—

UNIDENTIFIED: Mni wiconi!

CANNUPA HANSKA LUGER: It’s easier to share than it is to take away, you know? Sharing is so much easier. I just got a kiss from that guy. This is easy. I just stood here.

AMY GOODMAN: But what alternate routes would be considered? What will the process of an environmental impact statement look like? Can this decision be reversed once President-elect Donald Trump takes office? And what’s next for the resistance movement?

To answer some of these questions, we’re joined by Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She’s Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation. We saw her both times we were in North Dakota, and she joined us on our show.

Tara, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, where were you when the news came down yesterday? And what’s your response?

TARA HOUSKA: I was actually—I got a call from [inaudible] that this call with the White House had taken place. And I immediately got into my vehicle and went out to camp. I happened to be in service. I was actually driving down Highway 6, instead of 1806, which remains blockaded. Yeah, I mean, it’s an incredible, incredible moment of grassroots organizing reaching the highest levels of government and effectuating change. We saw that with the entire, like, review of this permitting process. That was a huge win. But specific to this project, now we’re seeing this, you know, decision not to grant an easement under Lake Oahe and to look into an environmental impact statement, which is what the tribe has asked for all along.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the—Energy Transfer Partners says they’re moving ahead, they actually don’t need this permit to build. What’s your response to them? And are you concerned—though the chairman says there’s no way they can build right now—that they will move forward?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, it’s really not surprising to hear Energy Transfer Partners say those things, seeing as they openly stated in federal court—Dakota Access’s attorney stated that the permit was a formality, and the judge said, you know, “Well, it’s clearly not of formality now, is it?” So they kind of have this very arrogant attitude of what they believe to be a rubber-stamping process to their incredibly destructive project. You know, if Energy Transfer Partners is planning to proceed without a permit and be in total flagrant violation of the law, then I would want to know, you know, what’s the administration’s response to protecting—protecting the lands, you know, protecting the public interest. That’s what an environmental impact statement is about. If someone is violating the law, they’re tasked with enforcing it. So, I wonder if federal marshals are going to be sent out or how the Army Corps intends to address a violator of that nature.

AMY GOODMAN: So what about this rerouting idea, the rerouting of the pipeline, and the environmental impact statement process?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, you know, one part of this process that’s been very difficult for me is I actually worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality as an intern, which is tasked with NEPA, administrating NEPA. So, an EIS considers, you know, different—it will consider alternate routes, it’ll consider a no-build option—all of these different things that should have been done in the first place for a 1,200—almost 1,200 mile pipeline. So, you know, I’m really hopeful that this impact statement is done, it’s done very effectively, and it’s done very all-encompassing, which is what they’re supposed to do, you know, cumulative impacts considered. It sounds like they’re just going to use—do an impact statement on just that one little piece and that one little crossing, instead of doing a cumulative impact statement. And that’s very unfortunate that they continue to use Nationwide Permit 12. But I hope it opens the door to more litigation, to, you know, taking that part out of the process.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens with a Donald Trump administration when he becomes president, who has said he supports the pipeline? Can he just reverse all of this?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, you know, that’s a—that’s a reality of—you know, this victory is, I think, a momentous occasion of feeling the power of the people, but at the same time we are very aware that the next president coming in is in support of Dakota Access and will probably, you know, just cancel whatever environmental impact statement is in progress and attempt to push this pipeline through. And that’s where I think, you know, it’s really incumbent upon us to remain vigilant, to recognize the power that’s within us of organizing and coming together. You know, this wasn’t just indigenous people; this was people from all nations that came together in support of the water, in support of future generations, because this is an issue that affects us all. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Does the Energy Transfer Partners lose something by not building by January 1st?

TARA HOUSKA: They do. You know, as this—they recently just brought a suit in court saying that, you know, so far we’ve cost them $100 million, that the demonstrations against their project has cost them dearly. And, you know, it’s a reality that this will eventually become a stranded asset. So, you know, if they can’t reach their January 1st build deadlines and are forced to push this project back, I hope that many of their funding partners, which we have, you know, looked at and we know—there’s a full list of them, and people have gone and done direct action, nonviolent direct action, at those places—don’t support a project that impacts negatively so many people. There’s 17 million people that live along the Missouri River. This is indigenous lands. This is sacred sites being destroyed. No investor should want to be part of a project like that. Move to renewable energy.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what are you saying about the resistance camps? There are thousands of people who are there. The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault, says now you can go home and enjoy your winters at home, because this pipeline, at this point, cannot move forward. Do you feel the same way?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, I feel like I think it’s—you know, the response of the administration, from President Obama, was due to a lot of pressure. You know, they put out this Army Corps letter saying that they were going to treat indigenous people as trespassers on treaty lands. More people came. They said they were going to subject us to local law enforcement. More people came. The veterans all showed up, you know, thousands and thousands of people, to effectuate this change. And so, knowing that the Trump administration is coming in, this fight is not over. And so, you know, I think maybe people might need a break. Some folks probably need to go home and like, you know, regroup, after such violations have happened, you know, really violent altercations on behalf of the police. And, you know, I think that we need to remain vigilant at the same time and know that this could happen in just a few short months.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, I want to thank you for being with us, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She’s Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation, has been living in North Dakota now for many months. You’re not actually at the resistance camp now; you’re in Mandan at the Honor the Earth jail support house. Very quickly, in 20 seconds, are there anyone—is there anyone else in jail now who was arrested for protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, the jail being in Mandan, where you are?

TARA HOUSKA: Red Fawn remains in incarceration. She was the woman that was originally charged with attempted murder. The prosecutor had to drop that charge, and now they’re charging her with felony possession of a weapon. So, her case remains ongoing. But there have been over 500 charges brought, so we have a long road in front of us to actually defend these folks.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska is also an indigenous lawyer.

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