'We Are Protectors': After DAPL Decision, Tribal Members Look to the Future of Pipeline Fight

Veterans and water protectors unite in prayer, calling for an end to the entire Dakota Access Pipeline project, in the midst of a blizzard Monday. (Photo: Josue Rivas/Facebook)

'We Are Protectors': After DAPL Decision, Tribal Members Look to the Future of Pipeline Fight

"We've built a movement of movements. So what are going to do next? We're going to keep on going."

After celebrating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Sunday decision to deny the Dakota Access Pipeline a permit to tunnel under the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies opposing the pipeline are sure of one thing: the fight is not over.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps' decision, and the suit will be heard in court on Friday.

Julia Carrie Wong reports for the Guardian:

Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond, said that the pipeline company's argument--that it had already received permission to drill in August--was "not compelling."

Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said that the pipeline company lacked a "strong argument" and that the filing was a "distraction."

"DAPL basically claims it already received the easement," Hasselman said. "The corps is in a better position to know what it did and did not do."

Meanwhile, on the ground at Standing Rock, thousands of veterans who traveled to North Dakota to join the water protectors held a prayer action against the pipeline Monday--in the midst of a blizzard. Photos and videos of the peaceful action showed water protectors and veterans united in prayer, and standing strong despite the barrage of wind and snow:

Even as the frigid and harsh blizzard conditions are predicted to continue, many water protectors are vowing to remain at the site.

NBC News interviewed several veterans and water protectors on Wednesday, who spoke about the historic nature of the Indigenous activist's stand against the pipeline, the frigid conditions, and their commitment to the ongoing struggle:

In addition to reiterating their commitment to the pipeline battle, many water protectors observe that the local police continue to maintain a blockade on the main highway into camp--preventing emergency services from entering and leaving. Oceti Sakowin, the main protest camp, posted to Facebook on Wednesday asking supporters to call North Dakota Emergency Services to ask "why the bridge blockade is not being removed for the passage of Emergency Response Vehicles."

"This is especially critical in light of the winter storms," the camp observed.

Indeed, in the face of such harsh weather, many Indigenous leaders--including Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II--are asking the elderly, families with children, and anyone unprepared for the conditions to leave the camp and go home.

In a letter sent Wednesday to tribal members and allies, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Harold Frazier urged water protectors: "Please, do not put your life in jeopardy."

The chairman wrote:

While the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe does its part to defeat this Black Snake and water protectors continue to keep watch over our sacred Mni Sose, we must all be aware that winter has finally come to the Great Plains. Conditions out there are hard. Winter weather in Sioux Country can be life threatening if you are not prepared. Please, do not put your life in jeopardy. If you are elderly, have medical issues, are camping with children, or are not properly equipped for our harsh weather, you should consider moving on so that you do not endager yourself, your family, the emergency responders, or the larger movement of killing the Black Snake.

If you choose to go home, I thank you and honor your decision. To our Cheyenne River tribal members returning home, you are heroes! Welcome home. To our friends and allies returning to your homes, thank you so much! You have all shown the world that courage, peace, unity, and fortitude can indeed change the world.

Those of you who choose to stay, I thank you. But you must be strong and prepared if this is your choice. As you know and have experienced, North Dakota winters are brutal and harsh, so please take all precautions to stay safe, warm, and healthy.

Frazier also noted that he is traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to testify "to an international tribunal about the abuses perpetrated against the water protectors" hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS). Amnesty International and the United Nations have both raised the alarm about police brutality against the water protectors. The tribunal should be broadcast here at 9:15am EST on Friday.

In another statement also issued Wednesday, the Oceti Sakowin protest camp organizers urged anyone unprepared for the "Arctic" weather conditions to return home, while welcoming water protectors prepared for the elements and ready to work to keep the camp running. They also reiterated their commitment to the fight to protect their drinking water and treaty land.

"Oceti Sakowin Camp remains determined--to protect our land," the statement read. "We have been given the obligation to do so in the treaty of 1851--we were specifically asked to protect this river. This is the way of the Standing Rock people, the Lakota people, the Hunkpapa people. All of the seven tribes of The Great Sioux Nation have gathered here again in an historic way--once as former enemies, we now stand together as brothers and sisters."

The Indigenous Environmental Network's Dallas Goldtooth also released a video statement Wednesday, asking supporters unable to come to the protest camp to take part in the movement to divest from DAPL, and to research and support other pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructurebattles. The Indigenous organizer argued that each battle is a part of the same larger fight. "Support our brothers and sisters," Goldtooth urged.

"We've built a movement of movements," Goldtooth continued. "So what are going to do next? We're going to keep on going. We will continue to push on. We will continue to fight."

Many of the Indigenous water protectors who traveled from their own reservations to join the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight against the pipeline have found the movement transformative, and plan to bring the movement home with them.

"One-hundred percent of Indigenous people who leave here have a battle at home they weren't taking care of," said a water protector named Xhopakelxhit to the Guardian's Wong. "So maybe they can go home and fight." Xhopakelxhit is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, and Cree nations from the Village of Maaqtusiis in Sovereign Ahousaht Territory, Canada, Wong observes.

Lauren Howland, a member of the Jicarrilla Apache Nation reservation in Dulce, New Mexico, added: "Imagine if we go back to our different reservations and start implementing tradition and prayer. Think about how much change we can make."

As the Oceti Sakowin camp statement concluded:

We are not protestors.
We are not terrorists.
We are not rioters.
We are in fact, Protectors.

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