The announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers will not grant the Dakota Access Pipeline an easement without an environmental impact statement is a victory for all Indigenous peoples.
The victory is a result of the mass mobilization of Indigenous peoples by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock youth. Through peaceful protest and prayer, Indigenous peoples halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors on the frontlines — the self-given name of those standing against the pipeline — braved attacks by water cannons and rubber bullets. They defied the military police and media silence to demonstrate that Indigenous peoples are still here and need to be included in conversations regarding fossil fuel extraction.
I am Little Shell Chippewa-Cree from the Crow Nation in Montana. I’m part of the Ashkaamne clan and child of the Ashshichite clan. During fall break I spent several days at the Red Warrior Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Although I didn’t spend time on the frontlines, I worked and spoke to water protectors about their reasons for being at the camps. Over the course of the semester, I have remained active in the movement from afar as former president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale (ANAAY).
We still have work to do. We need our allies to stand up and continue to support Indigenous sovereignty. We must always work to reframe and center our discussions about conservation on protecting and enhancing Indigenous sovereignty. In the official statement from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Chairman Dave Archambault II reminds fossil fuel companies and investors to develop decisions on energy independence, economic development and national security in consultation with Indigenous peoples.
The No DAPL movement is not only about defending the water and land but also about language revitalization, the humanization of Indigenous peoples, safety of Indigenous women and honoring our treaties. So let us not forget how this movement has made us feel. As we return to our respective homes and families for the winter, let us remember the fire in our hearts and the energy in our bones when the water protectors stood against the military police. Let us remember the Standing Rock youth who began this movement and the elders who guided us.
Our energy from the No DAPL movement and the strength of our ancestors will carry us forward into the fights to come. Yes, there will be more battles against injustice and the denial of Indigenous sovereignty. Native writer and organizer Kelly Hayes wrote in a Facebook post that yesterday’s announcement is a victory that should nourish our souls but also serve as a reminder of the “precarious nature of strategic gains made within the bounds of the system.”
Last week, Justin Trudeau approved two Canadian pipelines, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Line 3 Project. The pipelines increase the threat of oil spills in the sacred waters of the Salish Sea and threaten the lands and waterways of several First Nation communities. Similar to Energy Transfer Partners, the Trans Mountain company failed to adequately consult with the affected communities and actively chose to ignore their inherent sovereignty over their lands, peoples and waters.
The Army Corps of Engineers promises to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement and propose new routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline. We do not know where and how the Army Corps of Engineers will conduct the statement nor if Indigenous nations will have any input. With investments in Energy Transfer Partners, we know that President-elect Donald Trump will support the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. But the formation of a statement will take months. We have time.
This victory bought time we didn’t think we had to continue uniting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “I think it’s a huge win for Native American rights” says Oglala Lakota first year Bobby Pourier. “But the only way that I will be satisfied is when we divest from the oil industry and become more green dependent. The pipeline isn’t going through reservation land anymore, but it’s still going through the ancestral lands of the Lakota.” We will continue to work together as Indigenous peoples with shared histories as long as our lands, waters and lives are threatened. We are always stronger together.
Today and everyday, I celebrate our resistance and survivance as Indigenous peoples, a term defined by Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor as “an active sense of presence, continuance of native stories.” I give thanks to Iichihkbaalee, the water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for this victory. The No DAPL movement is a revolution for Indigenous sovereignty and rights. So sing, dance, pray, and gather your strength. It’s only the beginning.
Katie McCleary is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .