'Whose Side Are You On?' Dakota Access Emerges as Pivotal Battleground

It took months of fierce resistance, thousands camped out in protest, dozens of arrests, and a brutal encounter with attack dogs, but the tribal fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has emerged as a national moment of truth for the political establishment, as well as the hundreds of thousands who have voiced support for the Standing Rock Sioux in this pivotal moment. 

In anticipation of Friday’s federal court ruling that could temporarily halt pipeline construction, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple officially activated the National Guard to increase the security presence around the peaceful prayer camps, which heightened tensions for many tribal members.

“To an average non-Native person, that might feel safe,” Faith Spotted Eagle, an Ihanktowan elder, explained to Indian Country Today. “To us, it feels really familiar, and it personally takes me back to the Whitestone Massacre,” she said, referring to the 1863 attack by the U.S. military on the very same land occupied by the prayer camp. “But we know how to handle these situations…We pray.”

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg is expected to rule on the tribe’s request (pdf) for a preliminary injunction against the pipeline permit. The Standing Rock Sioux want to halt construction of the 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion conduit until the court can determine whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted permission to Dakota Access in violation of numerous federal statutes, and without assessing the potential damage to the tribe’s water supply.

Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II issued a statement on Thursday calling for peace regardless of the outcome.

“Thousands of people, from members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, tribes across the nation and First Nations in Canada, to non-Native supporters in the United States and around the world, have stood in solidarity against the harm and destruction caused by the Dakota Access Pipeline,” he said. “The pipeline threatens our sacred lands and the health of 17 million people who rely upon the Missouri River for water. There is a lot at stake with the court decision.”

He continued: “We call upon all water protectors to greet any decision with peace and order. Even if the outcome of the court’s ruling is not in our favor, we will continue to explore every lawful option and fight against the construction of the pipeline.  Any act of violence hurts our cause and is not welcome here. We invite all supporters to join us in prayer that, ultimately, the right decision—the moral decision—is made to protect our people, our sacred places, our land and our resources.”

With so much at stake and with so much attention thrust on the stretch of land at the convergence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers, the silence on the part of the country’s leaders, particularly President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, has been deafening.

When asked for her stance by The Hill on Thursday, the Democratic nominee declined to comment while her running mate, Tim Kaine, told an activist last week he needs more information on the matter.


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