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"Our elders," said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, "told us to focus on praying for the federal agencies and the US government and North Dakota to hear what we were doing and saying: we have to protect the sacredness of the water.” (Photo: Sarah van Gelder)

Turning Point at Standing Rock? Resistance and Renewed Hope Against Dakota Access

A vision emerges for the path through the next days and the next 100 years

Is this the turning point for the Dakota Access Pipeline? Word spread through the camp on Friday of a discussion between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that could mean a breakthrough.

“This proves that our prayers are really strong from the Oceti Sakowin camp,” Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network told me. “Our elders told us to focus on praying for the federal agencies and the US government and North Dakota to hear what we were doing and saying: we have to protect the sacredness of the water.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe [have been told] that no permit would be issued to drill the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River until 30 days after construction stops.

According to reports from the Indigenous Environmental Network, Colonel John W. Henderson of the Corps promised the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that no permit would be issued to drill the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River until 30 days after construction stops. After that, there will be a comment period adequate to allow the tribes full consultation. This could delay pipeline construction under the river by 45 days to three months.

Even more good news for pipeline opponents. President Obama earlier this week commented that his administration would be looking at rerouting the pipeline. A new route would require a new environmental assessment, and this time, the tribes, and others, will insist on a full environmental impact statement – not the questionable environmental assessment used by the Army Corps when it issued the first permit.

Either move could scuttle financing for the pipeline, which depends on work being completed on a certain schedule.

There is no confirmation at this time from the Corps of Engineers nor from the Standing Rock Tribe that the 30-day buffer period will in fact go into effect. Still, there is a sense, now, that there is a possible pathway to a resolution of this months-old conflict.

Meanwhile, ceremony and building continue. A group of clergy came to Standing Rock on Thursday answering the call of Rev. John Floberg, supervising priest of the Episcopal churches. The clergy did a ceremonial burning of the Doctrine of Discovery – the doctrine that has been used as the legal justification for the taking of Native lands. Fourteen clergy were arrested when they went to Bismarck in an attempt to meet and pray with the governor.

And at camp, building and winterizing continue.

I asked Tom Goldtooth what would happen while the water protectors are waiting for a resolution of the permit question.

“What we’re doing now in the camp is responding to the question: How are we going to live through the winter season here. We’re asking our elders, and looking at our oral traditions that teach us how our ancestors survived the harsh winters of the prairie lands.”

There is a plan in the works to build a just transition village, some are calling it an ecovillage. Goldtooth talked of the abundant solar and wind potential in Indian Country, the need for a new economic foundation that end the addiction to oil, the need to use sustainable building materials, and food sovereignty.

“We’re building our power, embracing those original instructions and those teachings that our ancestors left for us that includes language revitalization, looking at where we are going in the next 50-100 years,” he said.

Plans include the building of an Earth Lodge and other sustainable structures. A new geodesic dome just went up in the last days at the Oceti Sakowin camp.

“Sitting Bull, spiritual leader of the Hunkpapa of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said we should use the tools of the white man and also recognize who we are. I see that as part of the prophesy,” Goldtooth said. “The battle at Oceti Sakowin is deeper than the pipeline. It’s about how we are to redefine our leadership and how we rebuild community and how we love and have compassion for each other and Mother Earth and all the people who come to support — that’s what all this means.”


© 2016 Sarah Van Gelder

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