With Air of Caution, Water Protectors Celebrate Victory Over 'Big Black Snake'

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With Air of Caution, Water Protectors Celebrate Victory Over 'Big Black Snake'

'We have to be ready and we will be ready but we are going to take this victory right now,' said Tom Goldtooth

Water protectors at the Oceti Sakowen camp celebrate the news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). (Photo: Stephanie Keith / Reuters)

Water protectors at the Oceti Sakowen camp celebrate the news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). (Photo: Stephanie Keith / Reuters)

The Obama administration's rejection of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is being widely hailed as a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and Indigenous people throughout North America, as well as a testament to the power of people, who united to overcome "one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world."

But the fight is clearly not over.

After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced late Sunday that it would not be granting permission for the easement required for the oil pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners issued a statement denouncing the Corps' decision as "purely political" and vowing to complete the pipeline "without any additional rerouting."

Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners "are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe," the statement read. "Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way."

Given that President Barack Obama has mere weeks left in office, as energy reporter Antonia Juhasz put it, the statement "most likely means" that Energy Transfer Partners expects to complete the pipeline under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who last week declared his support for the project.

Given this uncertainty, many at the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, encampment are vowing to stay, despite Sunday's jubilant victory celebration.

Monday also marks the deadline for the evacuation orders issued by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"This isn't the last round. Still, after 524 years of aggressive oppression, as Native Americans we will take the victories that come our way."
—Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota Nation

Simon Moya-Smith, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today, warned Monday that with an "incoming pro-pipelines president... this battle isn't over by a long shot."

"More pipelines threaten our mother earth," Moya-Smith wrote in a column for CNN. "We live in a country that has a suicidal addiction to oil and gas. We know more pipelines are slated for construction all over this country. We know pipes leak and pollute clean water. We also know treaties between Native Americans and the U.S. are constantly at risk."

"So, no," he added, "this isn't the last round. Still, after 524 years of aggressive oppression, as Native Americans we will take the victories that come our way."

Others similarly couched their excitement with a note of caution.

In a press statement, Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network declared the news a "victory for organizing," but added that "it doesn't stop now."

"We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn't guaranteed in the next administration," Goldtooth warned. "More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe."

"More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe."
—Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

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RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, declared the announcement a historic victory "against one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world, the fossil fuel industry and its many allies inside and outside government."

DeMoro said that the Obama administration's rejection of the easement "is an awesome reminder that people standing together, raising our voices together, and building solidarity across the nation can win, even under the most difficult circumstances against implacable foes." A lesson, she noted, which is "especially important...leading into the next four years of the incoming Trump administration."

Josh Nelson, deputy political director at the progressive organizing group CREDO, agreed, saying: "While we are thrilled that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe got the justice they deserve today, we can be sure Donald Trump won't let this stand without a fight."

Nelson, like others, vowed to "continue fighting with every tool at our disposal to make sure the Dakota Access pipeline is never completed."

"The fight doesn't end today," Greenpeace spokesperson Lilian Molina said. "Any attempt to circumvent the easement denial will be met with staunch resistance."

Tom Goldtooth, founder of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Naomi Klein in a video posted to Facebook on Monday that "the big black snake has been injured, and we are having a victory dance today."

Goldtooth noted his concern over "what Energy Transfer Partners" might do, including filing a lawsuit that will then bring the pipeline debate before the Trump administration. "We have to be ready and we will be ready but we are going to take this victory right now," he added.

"Millions of eyes are watching here," he continued. "People have said, 'You can't do that.'" But the "tribal leadership here and many other people who have come here from the four directions" have shown otherwise, Goldtooth added. "The time is now for systems change, not climate change. The time is now to reevaluate our relationship with the Mother Earth."

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