Activists braced for North Dakota pipeline fight to go on

Native Americans fear ruling against controversial project could be reversed


Thousands of protesters in North Dakota celebrated on Monday after the US federal government ruled against a controversial pipeline project.

But they claimed the fight was not over as the company building the line said it had no plans for re-routing the pipe.

The US army corps of engineers said on Sunday it rejected an application to allow the Dakota access pipeline to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri river.

The decision came after months of protests from Native Americans and activists, who argued that the 1,885km pipeline would damage sacred lands and could contaminate the tribe’s water source.

They faced off against armed police and tanks near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), in a joint statement with its partner, Sunoco Logistics Partners, said they did not intend to re-route the line, calling the Obama administration’s decision a “political action”.


The mood among protesters has been upbeat since the rejection was announced on Sunday afternoon at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Activists were seen hugging and letting out war cries in response to the news. But with the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump supportive of the project, activists were concerned a reversal could be coming.

“This is a temporary celebration. I think this is just a rest,” said Charlotte Bad Cob (30), from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “With a new government it could turn and we could be at it again.”

The pipeline is complete except for a 1.6km segment to run under Lake Oahe. That stretch required an easement from federal authorities. The army corps of engineers said it would analyse possible alternate routes, although any other route is also likely to cross the Missouri river.

The protest camp’s numbers have swelled in recent days, as hundreds of US veterans have flocked to North Dakota in support of the protesters.

Long haul

Dave Archambault

“When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes,” he said.

Mr Trump could direct authorities to approve the line. North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, a Republican, who has advised Mr Trump on energy policy, said the decision ignored the rule of law.

Tom Goldtooth, a Lakota from Minnesota, and a co-founder of Indigenous Environmental Network, said he expected Mr Trump to try to reverse the decision. “I think we’re going to be in this for the long haul. That’s what my fear is,” he said.

In November, ETP moved equipment to the edge of the river to prepare for drilling, and later asked a federal court to disregard the army corps, and declare that the company could finish the line. That ruling is still pending.

Several veterans, who recently arrived in camp, said they thought Sunday’s decision, which came just as Oceti Sakowin has seen an influx of service members, was a tactic to convince protesters to leave.