Standing Rock Sioux Chairman: Dakota Access Pipeline “Is Threatening the Lives of My Tribe”

August 29, 2016

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In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its approval of the pipeline. For more, we’re joined by Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He’s in Washington, D.C., where there is a hearing in the tribe’s lawsuit on Wednesday.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at North Dakota, where indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River.

INDIGENOUS ACTIVISTS: Respect our water! Respect our lands! Honor our treaties! Honor our rights!

AMY GOODMAN: More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. Protesters have included Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: The need to protect this water has grown way beyond Standing Rock. I’m Oglala and Northern Cheyenne. Many red nations are here. Many more red nations are coming. We put the call out for water protectors to come, land defenders to come. And the word "resistance" is being used. And sometimes we have a problem with the English language, deciding which word to use, but if we just listen to our spirits, we’re here to protect sacred water. People will come from all along the river to protect the river that they belong to.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, has also taken part in the protests against the Dakota pipeline. Banks also was part of the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff.

DENNIS BANKS: What’s happening here is equally as important, because of the stand that you’re ready to make. When they threaten the environment, they’re threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they’re threatening you. You have to be in that mindset like that. That’s who you are. That’s who we are. And our culture, our heritage is what has made us warriors.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dennis Banks. We’re joined now by Dave Archambault, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who’s joining us from Washington, D.C.

Chairman, thanks very much for being with us. Can you explain for us what this whole controversy is about?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There’s a lot of different components that all lead up to one, and it is a pipeline that is threatening the lives of people, lives of my tribe, as well as millions down the river. It threatens the ancestral sites that are significant to our tribe. And we never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes. And the things that have happened to tribal nations across this nation have been unjust and unfair, and this has come to a point where we can no longer pay the costs for this nation’s well-being. We pay for economic development, we pay for national security, and we pay for energy independence. It is at our expense that this nation reaps those benefits. And all too often we share similar concerns, similar wrongdoings to us, so we are uniting, and we’re standing up, and we’re saying, "No more."

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what exactly the Dakota Access pipeline is and how it ended up going through your land?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: Dakota Access pipeline is a pipeline that goes 1,200 miles, taking Bakken crude oil from the northwest side of North Dakota down to Illinois. And we were brought—made aware of this in 2014. And our biggest concern was it was—it crossed the Missouri River twice, once north of—once in Lake Sakakawea and once north of our reservation. And right away, when we first learned of it, we said, "We don’t want this. We don’t want it here." But it’s a private pipeline from a private company out of Dallas, Texas. And so, there’s a big corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, out of Dallas, who are making decisions for the state and for North Dakota, for my reservation, and they have no sensitivity or no acknowledgment of what is in place. All they see is dollar signs and greed. So we are not happy with this private-based company.

There are portions of this pipeline that cross federal lands, like water, and so they have to get permits, but they get easements on private property. And the private landowners who do not approve of the pipeline, there’s the eminent domain taking. So, the landowners where the pipeline crosses kind of have their hands tied. But in the federal permitting process—and it’s like, of the 1,200 miles, 200 waterways, maybe 300 miles are on federal lands. That’s what we’re saying: If we can’t do anything on the private lands, we’re going to ask the federal agencies to reconsider and take a look at this, because we never had the opportunity to express our concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist, speaking at the Sacred Stone camp.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: We’re putting a call out for warriors to come here to do direct action, to stop them from boring under this water, because that’s going to contaminate it. We can’t stand for that. We can’t let that happen. I, for one, made a commitment. They’re going to have to kill me, or they’re going to have to lock me in jail, but I’m going to stand to protect the sacred water. And I’m guided by spirit.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Debra White Plume, who participated in the 1973 standoff in which members of the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee to demand their treaty rights. She called for focus in the action at Sacred Stone.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: I understand that rage. I fought with cops before. I’ve been shot at by police. I’ve been shot by police. We got it on with the police on Pine Ridge back in the day. So I understand that rage. But when we’re here together to protect sacred water, let’s do it with dignity, let’s do it with training, let’s do it with unity.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chairman Dave Archambault, explain what this camp is, where it is, and how many people are coming out to it, and how the state is responding.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: This camp is along the Cannonball River, close to the mouth of Missouri River. And the camp is—started out in April of 2016 as a prayer camp. And the prayers have been answered. There has been power in prayer. And it opened the eyes to everybody that, through prayer and unity, great things can happen. Since the—about two—the demonstrations started, more and more people began coming and showing overwhelming support for this, and we had to anticipate large masses of people coming, so we occupied a space just north of the Cannonball River off the Standing Rock Reservation, which is core land, and it’s on a nice flat.

Right now what’s going on is it’s about peace, and it’s about prayer, and it’s about uniting. And there’s a really good feeling, if you were to walk through the camp. There are no guns, no violence, no drugs, no alcohol. And it kind of took a life of its own. It evolved into something very special.

The state, on the other side, has taken action, which there’s no cause for. They created a barricade just south of Mandan, right before you get into Fort Lincoln, Custer’s park. It’s about 25 miles north of the camp. And this barricade creates a hardship for the members who live on Standing Rock. The state also removed its emergency assistance vehicles, that we initially got to establish and accommodate large masses of people.

AMY GOODMAN: You were arrested there, Chairman?


AMY GOODMAN: I want to play Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s comments, claims he made that there have been reports of weapons at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, and get your response.

SHERIFF KYLE KIRCHMEIER: It’s turning into an unlawful protest with some of the things that have been done and has been compromised up to this point. We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the sheriff. Dave Archambault, your response?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There never was any shots fired. There never were any pipe bombs. There were never any incidents of unlawful activity taking place. When you have a large mass of people in an area, especially with social media, you have Facebook, that can create rumors. And I would ask that the sheriff and the governor validate any rumors that they come across, before they make haste decisions to create a blockade or to declare a state of emergency or to remove any of their emergency assistance vehicles. I understand they have safety concerns, but you just have to be present at the camp, and you’ll see that it’s a peaceful place, and there are happy people who share a common prayer. And that is—

AMY GOODMAN: Chairman, can you explain the lawsuit?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: So, what we’re filing a lawsuit on is the destruction of our ancestral burial sites and never being given the opportunity to protect them, as well as the nationwide permitting process. Rather than permitting the project as a whole and doing a full EIS, the Corps of Engineers asked that they permit chunks and pieces of it. And they require an EA. Now, the EA is less intensive as the EIS, so they’re able to kind of do unlawful things, that—such as destroy our sites that are sacred to us.

We don’t agree with the fact—they’re going to say they had consulted with us on this matter. To us, consulting doesn’t mean corresponding through letter or mail, or it doesn’t mean presenting us a final draft of what you’re going to do. Consulting, to us, would mean that we need to have deliberation and share our concerns and hope that they hear us and see a reflection of our concerns in the final plan. None of that has taken place. We asked for consultation prior to any final drafts and to survey the routes to make sure that none of the sites that we cherish would be destroyed. It’s not until after they finalized what they want to do, this Dallas-based company who is doing the EA for the Corps of Engineers tells us how or where they’re going to go. Now they come and invite us to do surveys, and we don’t think that’s right. We think it’s unlawful, and we think it’s unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. When we come back, indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke will also join us. Stay with us.

In North Dakota, more than a thousand indigenous activists from different tribes have converged at the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, where protesters are blocking construction of the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Protesters say the pipeline would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River, which provides water not only for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but for millions of people downstream. For more, we are joined by Winona LaDuke, Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at the growing indigenous protest against the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. We’re joined now by Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, executiv director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She was also the Green Party vice-presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000.

Winona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why, from the White Earth Reservation, where you live, you’ve gotten involved with this battle against the Dakota Access pipeline?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, good morning, first, Amy and Dave. Yeah, our reservation in northern Minnesota is the proposed site, our territory, for the Sandpiper. For the past four years, I’ve been fighting the Enbridge company. Enbridge company is proposing three new lines through our territory. One of them is the Sandpiper, and that would cross, affecting—basically, by the time they’re done, five of our reservations would be affected by these pipelines, which would go by the Mississippi River and through the heart of our wild rice beds.

Enbridge has been pushing for a brand-new corridor, because they have this old corridor. They say it’s got, you know, six pipelines in them, all about 50 years old, kind of falling-apart pipelines, and so they want to, instead of cleaning up their old mess, they want to make a whole new mess. So, for four years, we’ve been fighting them and telling them they cannot do that. And the courts, you know, had ruled in our favor, and now a full EIS is required. And the tribes are demanding that the process include them and the tribes should have some say in it.

So, I was really surprised, because Enbridge told us all that the only thing that they could do, it was so important to them, the only way they could get their oil to market was to run it through northern Minnesota. And then, one day I wake up, and they forgot all about us, and they move out there to North Dakota. Seemed very disingenuine to me.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you went—

WINONA LADUKE: I came out—came out to North Dakota, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what you found there.

WINONA LADUKE: Well, what I found out in North Dakota is that, you know, the state of North Dakota has been bending over backwards for the oil companies, although the fact is, is that there are now more lawsuits than active drilling rigs out there, you know, because there was such a big push to develop all this oil in the Bakken, basically bust up the bedrock of Mother Earth, put all those chemicals in it, look the other way and pretend like things are going swimmingly out in North Dakota. So, North Dakota has got this landlocked oil. They’re taking a beating on it right now. There is an 85 percent drop in active drilling rigs in the Bakken. Fact is, is that they don’t even have it going on out there, but they are bound and determined to get whatever oil out of there they can, and so they decided to throw this pipeline through them. You know, North Dakota’s regulators are, I would suggest, really in—you know, I would say, in bed with the oil industry, and they have looked the other way. And so, they have pushed these pipelines through, you know, really, really fast, without any tribal consultation and without a full environmental impact statement.

And that’s what needs to happen. You need a full environmental impact statement on this. And, you know, I say—what we say is that you should have a well-to-wheels impact. In other words, it’s not just hauling the oil. It’s not just endangering all those, you know, watersheds. It’s not just the fact that, you know, former editor of Scientific American Trudy Bell says 57 percent chance of a catastrophic leak. It’s not even just that. It’s what about all that carbon? We’re sitting here, you know, in this world, where there’s been no rain in Syria for five years. There’s catastrophic storms everywhere. And this pipeline is going to bring about 250,000-per-day tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s what this Dakota Access pipeline is. And that’s wrong. You know, a private corporation doesn’t get to destroy things—a Canadian corporation, at that. Enbridge isn’t even a U.S. corporation; you know, Enbridge is a Canadian corporation. And they have no right to destroy our water, no right to compromise our future.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk a little more about Enbridge? You recently wrote that Enbridge looks a lot like Enron. Explain.

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, I mean, Enbridge is not doing so well. You know, I’ve been writing letters. I kind of feel like that Roger & Me thing. I write letters to Al Monaco, the president of Enbridge. I say, "Hey, it’s Winona down here on White Earth, wondering about a few things." They had, you know, a few catastrophic blow-ups last year. And then, this year, first of all, June 30th, they lost this big pipeline. You know, Enbridge is in the pipeline business. The Northern Gateway pipeline, $7.9 billion proposal, they thought they had it with the Harper administration. You know, that was looking pretty good up in Canada, Stephen Harper. Trudeau gets in. Every tribe along the way, every First Nation along the way and the province of British Columbia is opposing this pipeline, which would take it to Port Kitimat, you know, really pristine area with all these fjords. Anyway, what happens is the Canadian Federal Appeals Court rules that all of the permits are void, that, in fact, Enbridge and the government have to go all the way back and talk to the First Nations, tribal consultation. That had to really hurt Enbridge quite a bit, $7.9 billion pipeline. You know, we got them on the ropes there in Minnesota. They’re now in the EIS process, although they would have liked to kind of like skirt around that. But the citizens of Minnesota and the tribes have forced that process.

And then you add this little problem that’s called the faulty pipes scandal. What happened is, is that in July, it was announced in a National Observer National Energy Board leak that Enbridge and this other company called Kinder Morgan had purchased these pipes from a—called Cana Oil, Canada Oil, and it’s a Thailand-based company, discount pipes. They purchased all these pipes and valves that are faulty. And the National Energy Board of Canada, Canadian government says, "Emergency situation. Where are those pipes, Enbridge?" Enbridge’s lawyers have said they need time to disclose where exactly all those pipes are. Now, I’m sitting here, and in northern Minnesota we’ve got six lines crossing through our really good ecosystem. I’m wondering if some of those pipes are there. Or maybe they’re over in a pile by Lake George, next to my reservation. We would like a full disclosure as to where the faulty pipes are that Enbridge has. You know, look at that, and then they got a 40 percent—their shares are down now, a 40 percent drop in their shares, you know, from two years ago. So I feel like Enbridge is not looking so good, not looking so good to their shareholders. And they’ve got a lot of liability they are putting on us, on Americans, on Native people, and trying to force it down the throat of the Standing Rock people. And I feel like that that company is not a reliable corporation.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Winona, the Laborers’ International Union of North America endorsed the Dakota Access pipeline. Terry O’Sullivan, general president of LIUNA, said in a statement, quote, "The men and women of LIUNA applaud the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its fair and thorough review of the Dakota Access Pipeline. … For the highly skilled and trained men and women of LIUNA, projects like the Dakota Access are more than just pipelines. They are crucial lifelines to family-supporting jobs," they said. Laborers Local 563 business agent Cory Bryson said, quote, "We’ve been inundated with calls from all over the country from people wanting to work on this pipeline project. Mainline pipeline projects like Dakota Access provide excellent working opportunities for our members and tremendous wages." Your response, Winona LaDuke?

WINONA LADUKE: My response is that the United States has a D in infrastructure. That’s why bridges collapse. That’s why Flint, Michigan, has a problem. That’s why everything is eroding in this country. And what we need is those skilled laborers to be put to work, pipelines for people. I’m saying take those pipes that are sitting there in northern Minnesota, and send them to Flint, Michigan. They need billions of dollars’ worth of pipe infrastructure out there. We don’t need any pipes in northern Minnesota. I say that most of our Indian reservations don’t have adequate infrastructure. We’d like a little help with our water and sewer systems there. I am all for organized labor, but what I want is I want pipelines, I want infrastructure, for people, not for fossil fuels, not for oil companies. So I am all for that. There are plenty of people that could be put to work. And it’s five times as many jobs doing infrastructure for communities, doing for people, than one shot throw a pipe down and hope it works out for you. So I’m asking American labor to stand with us and to say we want pipelines, we want infrastructure, that goes for people, that goes for communities, and not for oil companies that are going to destroy our environment and cause more climate change destruction to our planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Winona LaDuke, we want to thank you for being with us, Native American activist, executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Photo credit: Joe Catron, flickr under a Creative Commons Noncommercial 2.0 license.

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide. The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard honored Goodman with the 2014 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” She is the first co-recipient of the Park Center for Independent Media’s Izzy Award, named for the great muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, and was later selected for induction into the Park Center’s I.F. Stone Hall of Fame. The Independent of Londoncalled Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! “an inspiration.”

Tags: civil disobedience, environmental effects of oil pipelines, indigenous social movements, social movements