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Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II On Army Corps Decision


A major development today regarding that controversial pipeline project in North Dakota. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today that it was denying the federal easement for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. The Corps of Engineers will study alternate routes. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe had been joined by thousands of other activists in a network of camps on the prairie near Cannonball, N.D. Protesters claim the crude oil pipeline could compromise the tribe's water supply, infringe on sacred lands and was being built without proper consultation.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been at the center of this and its chairman, Dave Archambault II, is with us now by phone. Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for speaking with us.


MARTIN: What is your understanding of the roots of this decision? Is the decision that in fact proper consultation did not occur? Is the decision that your environmental concerns were in fact valid? Do you know?

ARCHAMBAULT: So what I would say is that the - for centuries, this government has built infrastructure projects off the backs of indigenous people, off the backs of tribes and our tribe that's part of the great Sioux nation, and we have - gave a lot to this nation. We've given our Black Hills that had gold. We've given our lands for farming and agriculture. We have given our river bottoms because (unintelligible) and the dams have flooded for energy independence, for hydropower. So for years, all of these takens have happened, and it has been at our expense, so that the nation can benefit.

This is another example of oil pipelines coming through with crude oil, and if anything happened with this pipeline who would pay the costs? Who would be the first ones to pay the costs? And, again, is our people. And so we are the first occupants of this country, of this nation and forever time and time and time again, we pay the costs for everybody to gain. And so I think that understanding for the first time has been realized by this nation's leaders. And it took a lot of courage for them to take a look at the existing laws and really understand and know that something just isn't right. There's a wrong happening...

MARTIN: I was just wondering - Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for speaking with us. I know that you - this has been a very long journey for you as well. I was just wondering if they had - were specific with you about what was the basis of their decision today? Did they tell you what their grounds were for them denying this federal easement? Did they say?

ARCHAMBAULT: What they said is that this easement is denied so that they can take the full environmental impact statement regarding alternative routes for this pipeline. So that says a lot to me...

MARTIN: What...

ARCHAMBAULT: ...That says - that environmental impact statement you have to take people into consideration. With just an environmental assessment, you're only looking at the environment. Well, we are a people that have a strong heritage, a strong culture and a strong presence here in this nation. So an environmental impact statement is a big statement that says we're no longer going to ignore the people of this - the original people of this country.

MARTIN: What are you telling the protesters who are gathered there now? Are you suggesting that they go home or that they do something else? What are you saying?

ARCHAMBAULT: Well, you know, there's - what the protesters did was they helped build awareness. And this awareness has become world-wide. And now their purpose has been served, and it is time now for them to enjoy this winter with their families. The purpose is to serve, and they can go home. And we have to continue to take the lessons that we've learned from this experience and apply those lessons at home so we can all live a healthier and happier lives with our families.

MARTIN: It's been reported that the ultimate objective has actually changed a bit over time. Initially, the goal was to have the pipeline rerouted so that it would not go under the river, it would not cross lands that are important to the tribe. Others have said over the course of time that they would wish the pipeline not to be built at all. Now, what's your position on that?

ARCHAMBAULT: We have always maintained the same position. We never changed that position, and that was to protect what little we have left because of the encroachment of this infrastructure project on our lands. We never did say we didn't want this pipeline to happen at all. We said you are crossing our treaty lands. You are disturbing our sacred places, and you are threatening our way of life, threatening our water.

So there has been multiple groups that have joined the cause and who are anti-fossil fuel to the max. What - our concept has been always simple and easy and that is protect our water and protect what little we have left and recognize the facts that you have harmed our people time and time again throughout history. It's time to stop.

MARTIN: Mr. Chairman, before we let you go - and we only have about a minute and a half left - I thank you again for speaking with us on such an important day. May I ask how do you feel right now? How - what's going through your mind?

ARCHAMBAULT: Well, I say that this is not the end. This is the beginning for us all to heal and for us all to re-establish relationships and for all - us all to continue to strive and make this world, this planet a better place. And what better way to do it than with prayer and with peace?

MARTIN: That's Dave Archambault II. He's chair of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Mr. Archambault - Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ARCHAMBAULT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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