After months of peaceful resistance, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their allies scored a historic victory on Sunday, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would deny construction permits for a key section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The announcement essentially halts the project, while also highlighting the power of the sustained resistance movement by Native Americans, environmental activists and thousands of allies.
The stand-off at Standing Rock began months ago, when several dozen Native demonstrators formed a peaceful “prayer camp” in the path of the impending 1,172-mile oil pipeline. As news of the project spread, the self-described “water protectors” attracted widespread international attention, sparked nationwide action and drew thousands of supporters to Cannonball, North Dakota. While confrontations with law enforcement resulted in some injuries on the part of demonstrators, the organizers at Standing Rock continued to emphasize the importance of “acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner,” according to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.
The movement never sacrificed this spirit of fierce open-heartedness, which made the victory a deeply meaningful one to organizers of all stripes. Environmental activist and author Bill McKibben said he “never saw a better example of how to organize.” In a story for the Guardian, he wrote that the #NoDAPL struggle “managed to build not just resistance to a project, but a remarkable new and unified force.” Meanwhile, Naomi Klein, who covered the story for The Nation, explained that unlike most victories, which “usually come incrementally … and at some delay after mass action,” the one in Standing Rock is “bright and undeniable.” What’s more: “It shows people everywhere that organizing and resistance is not futile.”
Others involved in the movement stressed the importance of intersectional solidarity. “We have more allies now,” tweeted Daniel Health Justice, a member of the Cherokee Nation. “Our intersectional struggles are shared.” Standing Rock Tribal Councilman Cody Two Bears told The Nation he sees the #NoDAPL struggle as part of a larger movement for sustainability, led by indigenous people. “The first people of this land have to teach this country how to live again,” he said. “By going green, by going renewable, by using the blessings the creator has given us: the sun and the wind.”
Archambault issued a statement of thanks immediately following yesterday’s news, expressing gratitude to “the tribal youth who initiated this movement” and to “the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us.” Archambault also stressed the fact that the movement had insisted upon a “nation-to-nation relationship” between tribes and the Obama administration. He lauded Obama for the “courage” to engage in this way, adding, “Treaties are paramount law and must be respected.”
Nevertheless, most organizers are already looking ahead to the next steps in the struggle to preserve both indigenous rights and environmental resources. Many expressed their anxiety that the incoming Trump administration will prove far more resistant to issues of indigenous rights or environmental protection. In a press conference Monday afternoon, Trump reiterated his support for the pipeline’s construction. Not long after, reports emerged that Trump was selling his stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the company overseeing the pipeline.
It also remains unclear what may come of the Army Corps of Engineer’s promise to explore “alternative routes” for the pipeline — a point on which many are raising the call for sustained vigilance. “We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development or national security,” said Archumbault. “But we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our indigenous peoples.” The Indigenous Environmental Network remains hopeful, if cautious, tweeting, “The fight is not over, but we are winning.”