The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it will greenlight the final phase of construction for the Dakota Access pipeline, prompting indigenous-led water protectors to call for a “last stand” against the $3.8 billion project. In a letter to Congress, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer said the Army Corps will cancel an environmental impact study of the Dakota Access pipeline and will grant an easement today allowing Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The Army Corps also said it would suspend a customary 14-day waiting period following its order, meaning the company could immediately begin boring a tunnel for the final one-and-a-half miles of pipe. We speak to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council Chair Dave Archambault II.
AMY GOODMAN: An honor song performed for the members of the Seattle City Council after the vote to divest from Wells Fargo, a funder of the Dakota Access pipeline. During the song, they gave the members a gift bundle with water from their river. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it will greenlight the final phase of construction for the Dakota Access pipeline, prompting indigenous-led water protectors to call for a “last stand” against the $3.8 billion project. In a letter to Congress, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer said the Corps will cancel an environmental impact study of the Dakota Access pipeline and will grant an easement today allowing Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The Army Corps also said it would suspend a customary 14-day waiting period following its order, meaning the company could immediately begin boring a tunnel for the final one-and-a-half miles of pipe.
In response, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe promised a legal fight. Tribal Chair Dave Archambault said in a statement, quote, “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get [back] up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back,” unquote. Dave Archambault is asking allies to protest at state capitols and at a march on Washington on March 10th. Other indigenous water protectors and their allies have vowed to take direct action to stop construction at the drill pad on the west bank of the Missouri River, less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Meanwhile, activists are planning solidarity actions in cities across North America and beyond.
To begin, we’re joined by Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He’s currently in Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to the word that just came down yesterday?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, Amy, this is something that we wasn’t thinking—or, we didn’t think was going to happen yesterday. We had a status conference with Judge Boasberg. And judge asked the Department of Justice when a decision was going to be rendered. And the Corps of Engineers said they were reviewing the process, and most likely will be Friday or maybe next week. So, I made plans to come out to D.C. and try one more time, one last attempt, to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers before they made a decision, and also to try to meet with the White House. I had a meeting set up with Intergovernmental Affairs, William Kirkland. As soon as I landed, I got notice. And it was just disheartening. I just canceled my meeting with the White House, because, obviously, they’re not willing to listen. They don’t want to hear from the tribe, which is unfortunate. And this is something that we were so thankful that the previous administration at least took time and looked at all angles and all perspectives of this argument.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain what is happening today? The easement being granted, what does this mean? Can Dakota Access pipeline, the Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, begin drilling today?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, they don’t have the easement yet, Amy. And if they’re going to get the easement, I would wait to see whether or not the notice to Congress is going to be waived or not. So, every time something comes out in the news, it appears that people take it as definite. But we always stop and take a look. And we’re going to start working with the Congress and say, “Don’t waive the 14-day period. Give us time to inform Congress of what’s going on and what has happened.” And what’s happened is our treaty rights are violated, our human rights are violated. Our legal law—the laws are being violated. Federal laws are being violated. And this is just a complete disregard for the environment, for what keeps people safe. And it’s just unfortunate, sad. But we need to get that out there. We need to be heard by decision makers. And it seems like the process is trying to expedite and facilitate something that’s unlawful.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in the letter, your letter, of the Standing Rock Tribe, it says, “Next steps for Tribe and allies: The Tribe will challenge any easement decision on the grounds that the [environmental impact statement] was wrongfully terminated.” So, President Obama said that the environmental impact statement should be done, and talked about the possibility of rerouting. This whole process has now been canceled? There will be no environmental impact statement?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes, see, what we were asking for was: What would the impact be to our nation if there was an oil spill? And that’s what the environmental impact statement would do, is what—how is it going to impact our people, our culture, our heritage? And that was never looked at. An environmental assessment does not look at that, when it comes to indigenous people and the encroachment to indigenous peoples’ rights. So, we have been asking for that. And for once, this government said, “OK, let’s pump on the brakes, and let’s do an environmental impact statement and see what the study shows. How will it impact tribal lands, treaty rights, human rights, the environment for this nation? What will that do to them?” So we—it was progress for something that we’ve been asking for.
And for the administration—or not even the administration, for the federal government to say, “We’re going to do this,” and then come back and say, “We’re not going to do this because of Donald Trump”—and Donald Trump has been—he’s a puppet. I would say he’s a puppet, because the Koch brothers are running this country now. They feed all of Congress—not all, the majority of Congress. And this president is taking direction from corporate America, from the Koch brothers. And it’s something that this country has to start to realize. And it falls in line with all the other executive orders that he’s given. And so, there’s going to be a trend here. And we’ve seen it in the first two weeks. It’s started. And I don’t think any leader of a nation should make decisions without hearing all perspectives. And if you’re not doing that, you’re a surrogate, and you’re going to base your decision off of who’s telling you what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: You haven’t spoken with the Trump administration?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: No, I haven’t. And I was—I set up a meeting for today just to meet with Intergovernmental Affairs. We’ve been trying for the—ever since the election. And no one would listen to—no one will meet with us. Finally, we got a meeting. It was scheduled for Monday this week, and then it got pushed to today. So I came in to get this meeting done and let them hear our side, why are we standing up against this pipeline, what is the cause. And it’s important for you, as a decision maker, to understand why there is a movement, why we are standing up, so you can respond. But—
AMY GOODMAN: They canceled this—
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: —it never happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren predicted the pipeline will go forward under a Trump administration. This is Warren speaking in November to Mark Albert of CBS News.
MARK ALBERT: Once he takes over, January 20th, what are the prospects?
KELCY WARREN: Oh, it’s 100 percent.
MARK ALBERT: A hundred percent that?
KELCY WARREN: That the easement gets granted and the pipeline gets built.
MARK ALBERT: Have you spoken to Donald Trump about the pipeline?
KELCY WARREN: I’ve never met the man.
MARK ALBERT: You’ve never met him?
KELCY WARREN: No.
MARK ALBERT: But he’s invested in you, and you’re invested in him.
KELCY WARREN: Well, I wish him well.
MARK ALBERT: Doesn’t help the United States if it leaks, right? It doesn’t help the people who live downstream.
KELCY WARREN: I’m not going to win that argument with you, because pipelines do leak. It’s rare. I think the chances of this pipeline leaking is extremely remote.
MARK ALBERT: You think all the protesters are going to go away once you’re done?
KELCY WARREN: Absolutely. What is there to protest?
MARK ALBERT: They’re determined to stop your project.
KELCY WARREN: They will not stop our project. That’s naïve. They’re not stopping our project.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the Dakota Access pipeline. Chairman Dave Archambault, you write in your letter response, “If DAPL is successful in constructing and operating the pipeline, the Tribe will seek to shut the pipeline operations down.” He says you won’t stop it. What do you say?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Amy, what is unfortunate is that when I visited with Kelcy Warren and I shared with him why we are concerned and all the wrongs that took place to our people, he agreed that this pipeline should not go there, this pipeline should not be there, and if he knew the information prior to any of the scoping, he would have rerouted it. So he knows and he understands why we resist this. And he has—and he understood that we are going to move forward with our resistance, and we are going to—we’re going to—with the Obama administration, we’re going to do whatever we can, and we’re going to do whatever we can with this new administration. And our only chance now is to go through court with them, with a decision that Donald Trump is doing. So, we understand that the court system has never been favorable for the tribes, but we’ve got to do something. And we know we have a lot of support from around the nation, from around the world, and we’re thankful for that support. And we’re going to keep pushing forward. We’re going to keep fighting this thing. It’s not over until it’s over. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: A Native Nations march, the tribe put out in the statement, your statement, a Native Nations march on Washington is scheduled for March 10th. What are the plans?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, I think this march is very important, because we need to start focusing on more, because I believe that Donald Trump is going to start attacking all of our rights, all of our treaty rights. Not just this one pipeline is going to be the issue. We’re going to have to start battling for our law enforcement, our education, our healthcare. All of these things are going to be under attack. So, having this march is building awareness on—for this nation that our indigenous people are still here, and we’re not going anywhere, and we’re going to be here. And we are the first occupants of these lands. We are the ones who—like, President Trump is having this issue with immigrants. He’s an immigrant himself. He’s occupying our lands, and he’s setting—breaking the rules and the laws, the federal laws, that keep people safe. So we need to build awareness about that. And we need to come to D.C. and let the world know who are the first occupants and that we are not going anywhere, and we’re going to be here for the next four years, if not sooner, if we—this president is not good for this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, you have been arrested protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, arrested for civil disobedience. Do you plan to do that again?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, well, I felt that—what I encourage is nonviolence. What I say is I don’t think violence is necessary. And I did get arrested. And from that time, I said that arrest—one arrest is a lot. One arrest is enough. And I don’t think it’s necessary. We did make enough noise. This movement is louder than ever before, anyone—louder than anyone anticipated. And I’m thankful for all the support that came. And it’s something that we never anticipated.
Now, because of this movement, we have to take the lessons that were given to us at that time, when it was healthy. And so we’re going to continue to thank our allies and encourage them to march on their capitols, to go to their state Congress representatives and ask them to listen to the tribal nations. We’ve got to keep making sure that this noise, this momentum that we have, is still there. And it could go away on a whim if we’re not strategic about our next steps.
So, one of the other things is to continue the divestment, the things that happened in Seattle. Those are exactly what has to happen. If we know that the Koch brothers are running this nation, then we have to encourage anyone and everyone we know. We need to take our nation back and divest from these types of organizations, these types of countries—or these corporations, who are feeding lawmakers, are feeding the president of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, we want to thank you for being with us, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We’re going to continue this conversation when we come back from break with Standing Rock Sioux member Chase Iron Eyes and indigenous leader Dallas Goldtooth. Stay with us.