On Tuesday, February 7, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it was canceling an environmental review of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and will grant approval of an easement permitting the construction of the final link in the pipeline to be constructed. The decision, which is a major blow to the Standing Rock Sioux and activists who have been fighting the pipeline, comes after President Donald Trump’s executive order from his first week in office meant to advance the project. The pipeline opponents have vowed to continue the fight.
“The Obama administration correctly found that the tribe’s treaty rights needed to be respected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, told The Guardian. “Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian tribes and violation of treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.”
I spoke with my friend and fellow activist Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota lawyer and one of the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors, who was recently arrested at the Standing Rock Camp, about the Trump’s reversal of Obama’s decision on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the next steps for activists in this ongoing battle.
Josh Fox: Obviously this is very aggressive action on behalf of the Trump administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, basically flying in the face of the rule of law and canceling the legal process and the environmental impact study ordered the Obama administration that would have examined the issues you and the other water protectors have been campaigning about. What are your thoughts on this dramatic reversal and what do the water protectors, activists and concerned citizens do now?
Chase Iron Eyes: We’ve expected this all along. Those of us who have been on the front lines knew in our hearts and minds that December 4th—when the feds blocked the final permit to continue the pipeline—was no victory at all; that it was a hollow and meaningless gesture of the Obama administration. Everybody was asked to go home at that time. Now those of us who seemed paranoid at the time have been vindicated. Now we have to be prepared for two things. One of those is the Dakota Access pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, has to go ahead to start drilling now. All fronts need to be activated—whether it’s legal, political or front line civil resistance.
Then also there is the Environment Impact Statement process that the Trump administration is reporting to just do away with, which is in violation of the law. I don’t know what Standing Rock and Cheyenne River’s legal moves are, but we’re at a point now where water protectors are pursuing other legal means to try to stop, hinder or otherwise prevent the unabashed and violent expression of the power of the corporate state further in North Dakota by a very highly militarized resource committing violence on unarmed water protectors, who are sure to protest and exercise their constitutional and civil rights.
Josh Fox: Is this a call that you would put out for more people to come to Standing Rock now and under what conditions?
Chase Iron Eyes:A lot of people have put the call out and I would say about 1,000 to 2,000 people are already on their way, including three contingents of U.S. veterans who are coming to stand in peace and dignity and help achieve a modicum of respect for our constitutional rights, which are being encroached upon. In addition to people coming to join that fight, #DefundDAPL is still an ongoing effort. Seattle divested $3 billion. The Muckleshoot tribe, the Nez Perce and the Milat tribes have divested significant amounts. Dallas Goldtooth, a “Keep It In The Ground” campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, mentioned it Wednesday on Democracy Now! during our interview there. We’re calling for the whole nation to be on guard. If drilling starts happening or when the camp gets raided presumably on the 23rd or possibly the 22nd, the Army Corps said that we’re to be vacated by February 22nd.
Josh Fox: Let me just add that there are a number of different calls to action. Number one is to attend the protest where you are. There are protests all across this nation right now against the actions of Dakota Access pipeline. There’s one in New Orleans. There’s one in San Francisco. There’s one in New York. They’re all over the place. I think the other thing that is worth saying is yes, if you can get to Standing Rock and you’re a self-sufficient person and you’re not going to be a burden and you’re not going to be messy and you’re not going to be violent, show up and they need you. Especially veterans.
I have to say that the veterans’ presence has been especially poignant because it was a reaction to the police brutality that we saw against peaceful protesters who are exercising their constitutional right. The veterans are saying, North Dakota police force, you guys want to shoot at Americans, you want to shoot at indigenous people, you want to mace us, okay you can start with us, the people who put our lives on the line defending this country from all enemies foreign and domestic. When I talked with retired general Wesley Clark, he referred to all enemies—foreign and domestic—meaning the Dakota Access pipeline is a foreign and a domestic enemy, which I thought was a very bold statement to make. That call, the veterans coming to Standing Rock and people coming to Standing Rock who are able-bodied, who can be of use, who can withstand the winter, who can be that kind of level of toughness and that kind of level of peacefulness—it’s a very interesting mix.
You need to be tough. You need to be strong but you need to be peaceful. You cannot be violent. You cannot be aggressive. You cannot be all of those things that we know won’t lead us down the right path. I think also you’re saying divestment, that’s a huge part of this movement. Divesting your own personal funds, divesting your church’s funds, divesting your company’s funds from Wells Fargo, Chase, CitiBank, TD and all the banks that are invested in the Dakota Access pipeline is another huge part of this. Then of course the legal strategy which we have nothing to do with, that’s up to the lawyers, but that’s another big part of what’s happening here. That’s a four-pronged resistance and that’s still very much in swing.
I would add to that a media strategy that I’m helping with, our film on Standing Rock that you and your daughter Tokata are in, will be coming out next week. We have found a place. I cannot announce it yet but it’s coming out and we’re going to be using that to further your call and to further the actions that you want. We have just gained the help of our revolution. Bernie Sanders’ organization for furthering, they’re going to help promote it so we can announce that. We can’t say the TV station yet that it’s going to be on but it’s going to be happening. It’s very exciting. It’s called Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock. It’s a collaboration between me and indigenous filmmaker Myron Dewey, Josue Rivas and Oscar-nominated filmmaker James Spione.
Also, this is obviously a moment of incredible stress and anxiety. How are you dealing with that, the level of responsibility that you have and the fact that these forces have gotten more and more violent? I know you were just arrested, maybe you want to speak about that.
Chase Iron Eyes: Yes, it’s the same as it’s been: through prayer, through trying to spiritually ground myself, spiritually ground ourselves. We are fully cognizant of the nature of this struggle. Some would call it a spiritual struggle. Some would call it a political or an economic struggle for liberation. It is all of those things. I mean we’re at a time now where we can name our common colonizer who we were taught and rightly so through genocide, holocaust and slavery that a certain group of people of one phenotype or skin color committed those crimes against humanity against another type of another phenotype or skin color.
Now we’re at a point where we can name currency, debts, big finance, big extraction, consumer values, advertising, the global corporate state. We can name that common colonizer, that common enemy and we have to address it and own it for what it is because we are all part of it. For me, I’m just one soul that has to be willing to sacrifice something in order to liberate from this thousand year old enemy. I know that our country’s at a point now where enough of us can build those bridges. Just through prayer, bro, that’s how I’ve been holding up.
Josh Fox: We talked earlier about how this spirit of Standing Rock is pushing out across the nation. There are fights against fossil fuel infrastructure in Florida against the Sabal Trail pipeline, in New Jersey against the PennEast pipeline, against the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania, against the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana and Big Bend, Texas, and in Denver against fracking and in my own hometown at the Delaware River Basin, once again against fracking.
Do you see this call for water protectors is one that is echoing throughout the nation? Is this a moment where we all have to come together, where we all have to be Standing Rock? Do you say no, let’s keep the focus on Standing Rock right now? How do you balance those things is I guess one of the things that I’m struggling with right now because I see the primacy of that Standing Rock struggle right now as so important and so inspirational. At the same time I understand that we’re under siege across this nation in many of the same ways. How do we best, for your position of leadership, how do we best balance those obligations as a movement and move forward?
Chase Iron Eyes: I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not even human-led prayer or human-initiated uprising in consciousness, collective consciousness that guided this or that made it happen. We certainly had a part in it, but I believe it’s the water itself, it’s the land itself that is creating a spirit of prayer that is connecting to all of us whether it’s prayer, whether it’s energy or the raised consciousness or however you want to define or express what those concepts mean in every given language or culture, it’s something is happening and we’re responding to it now. Standing Rock is serving as the physical expression of an international prayer monument because there had been prayers. There had been people, there have been struggles there.
There have been people sending their energy from that place at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers but all of these other struggles now, that may be the only way that we win is to multiply the fronts instead of focusing on one single front. The people who are here through are committed to that. There does need to be a sacred fighter here. There does need to be that expression of solidarity, international solidarity. Not everybody can be here. Wherever the next fights are whether that’s Keystone or the Delaware River or wherever it’s at, we need to all be talking to each other so that we can share resources, share platforms and help each other overcome some of the challenges that face those who fall outside of the “corporate state” paradigm.
Josh Fox: I really appreciate that. I want to quote my friend Doug Pineda, who’s a wonderful person and teacher who I met at Standing Rock. He said we need to “fight like the water.” We are the water, we need to fight like the water. We need to embrace and swarm and need to go and meet obstacles and go around them and wear them down. I also would say that just like the water is all connected across the United States, we all need to be connected. That is the great rallying cry. Standing Rock is at the geographical center of North America. We are all the water running out from it. Yoko Ono says we’re all water from different rivers, that’s why it’s so easy to meet. I love that saying.
Chase Iron Eyes: I believe that. Something greater than ourselves has moved us and it started with prayer. That prayer came from human beings but it’s the natural elements in the universe that have their own spiritual authority. They’re older than us. Our stories, our cosmologies tell us this and kind of give us that center from which to find our place, you know. We do recognize that it’s not just us. That for us that’s the true path to civilization is recognizing our respect relationship with things that sometimes western theological or academic thought considers inanimate objects or without life force or to be exploitable, to be under the dominion of human beings which for us that’s just kind of a crazy concept.
Josh Fox: Atossa Soltani from AmazonWatch likes to say we are nature defending itself. I like that.
Chase Iron Eyes: The only thing that I need to add is that I always want to express that we love everybody who supports the movement, everybody who takes action on their own accord, on their own behalf and that we support you. Just know that we send our compassion back to you because this movement doesn’t happen unless bridges are built and everybody helps each other.
Josh Fox: Wonderful, thanks Chase. I got my marching orders. I’ll see you on the front lines soon.
Chase Iron Eyes: All right, brother. Talk soon.