Anti-pipeline campaign celebrates victory, waits for Trump
INDIGENOUS protesters and their supporters celebrated a dramatic victory after an agency of the US Department of Defence announced it had turned down permission for a controversial pipeline passing close to a Sioux reservation.
After the Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday afternoon it would not permit the North Dakota Access Pipeline to pass under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River, activists said the decision was a stunning win for grassroots activism that had captured the imagination of people across the country.
"It was the sheer determination that was shown, the sheer numbers of people who have come to the site, including the veterans, who came today," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told The Independent.
He said he believed the decision had been taken as a result of the strength of feeling displayed across the breadth and length of the US.
"We showed the administration and the oil industry, that we are not just a powerless minority, but a powerful majority across the country," he said.
Protesters have for months been demonstrating against the construction of the pipeline, a 1,200-mile project designed to carry oil from western North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation lies near the pipeline route, opposed a proposal for the $3.8bn project to pass under the Missouri River at a point close to their homes. They said that any damage to the pipeline, would contaminate their drinking water supply.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, said he had been informed that the Corps would now be conducting an environmental impact statement look at possible alternative routes for the pipeline.
"We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing." he said.
"We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water."
The anti-pipeline protests were largely peaceful. But activists and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, criticised the police for the way they handled the demonstrators with "excessive force".
Senator Bernie Sanders, who was among those who had opposed the project, said on Twitter: "In 2016, we should not continue to trample on Native American sovereignty. And we should not become more dependent on fossil fuels."
While those who opposed the four-state pipeline celebrated the decision, local politicians who had backed the project - which is all but completed, other than the section near Standing Rock - claimed the outcome sent a dangerous signal to those looking to invest in infrastructure projects.
Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, said: "Today's unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. Roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms and water lines will be very difficult, if not impossible, to build when criminal behaviour is rewarded this way."
North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Demorat, said that the project remained in a state of limbo. President-elect Donald Trump, who has invested in the project operated by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, has already voiced his support.
"The incoming administration already stated its support for the project and the courts have already stated twice that it appeared the Corps followed the required process in considering the permit. For the next month and a half, nothing about this project will change," she said.
Indeed, Mr Goldtooth, the activist, said that while they were celebrating Sunday's victory, it was unclear what would happen once Mr Trump assumes office on January 20.
"We are going to keep on fighting to keep our water clean," he said.