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Dakota Access Pipeline Foes: We Aren't Done Fighting Yet

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at Columbus Circle in New York for a protest march to Trump Tower after the president signed an order to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
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Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at Columbus Circle in New York for a protest march to Trump Tower after the president signed an order to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Opponents who spent months resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline were disheartened by President Trump's decision Tuesday to "expedite" construction of the controversial project. Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, called the move "reckless and politically motivated." Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was "a slap in the face to Native Americans." Earthjustice, the law firm that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, described it as "legally questionable at best" and vowed to take the Trump administration to court.

But as much as Trump's move has been criticized, opponents of the pipeline say it wasn't a surprise.

"It's disappointing, but it's not unexpected," said Ruth Hopkins, a reporter at Indian Country Today who was born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and has been part of the resistance for months. "This is not the end-all, be-all just because he signed those orders. ... Our hearts have been in this continuously, and we've just been waiting to see what would develop, and trying to prepare ourselves the best we can."

Trump signed an executive memorandum that supersedes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision in December to halt construction. He also signed a memorandum inviting the company to resubmit an application for building the Keystone XL — a proposed pipeline that then-President Barack Obama vetoed in 2015.

Environmental activists and thousands of protesters, including Native Americans from more than 100 tribes, have resisted both pipelines. They have argued that the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile project cutting through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, would jeopardize the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the millions of people who get their drinking water from the Missouri River. They also say that pipeline construction would damage sacred sites, violating tribal treaty rights.

Energy Transfer Partners, the construction company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline, has contended all along that the pipeline is safe and passes through no land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux. On Sunday, the company shared an articleon its website headlined "Even the Standing Rock tribe is sick of the Dakota pipeline protesters," which predicted that DAPL would "finally have an ally in Washington and we can get back to business."

A White House press releaseon Tuesday said that Trump's executive orders were in line with his campaign promise to "reduce the burden of regulations and expedite high priority energy and infrastructure projects that will create jobs and increase national security." The statement said that construction and operation of Keystone XL would create tens of thousands of American jobs, and that the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline and other pipelines is "critical to a strong economy, energy independence, and national security."

For months, environmentalists, activists and tribes from across the country have been opposing construction of DAPL through lawsuits, demonstrations and civil disobedience.

But while protesters considered the Army Corps of Engineers' actions last month a victory, celebrations came with an asterisk. The people engaged in the fight against the pipeline knew that whatever reprieve they were getting was likely to be temporary. When construction was halted, Hopkins tweeted, "Those at camp are being encouraged to stick around because it's expected that Dakota Access will drill anyway, without permit."

Not only do I have faith in God, but I have faith in my people.

There are still ways for people to fight the pipeline, Hopkins said Tuesday. People can call their senators and members of Congress to express their opposition, she said. They can take their money out of the banks that have financed DAPL. They can spread awareness in their communities and on social media. And, she said, there are still people living in weatherized tents at the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, where snow and ice cover the land.

Allison Renville is one of those people. A member of the Lakota Nation, she's a media consultant and self-described activist who has spent a lot of time at the camp over the past year. Renville agrees that divestment and community engagement are going to be key to preventing DAPL construction from going forward.

"Not only do I have faith in God, but I have faith in my people," she said. "On the ground, we've had 10,000 people come in and learn to be organizers, [and by] ... taking courses in nonviolent direct action and learning to set up a camp, utilizing tools, they'll be able to get anything accomplished."

Following the massive women's marches held around the country over the weekend, some anti-DAPL activists remain optimistic that political mobilization will be a safeguard against any actions the president might take.

"Coming off of the weekend where so many gathered to send the message ... that President Trump and all that he stands for cannot be normalized, I think that resonates in the air for many people," Nellis Kennedy-Howard said. A Navajo woman, she is the director of the Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Program for the Sierra Club. She said Trump's actions affected her personally, and that his presidency is a threat to the rights of Native people across the country.

Trump, she said, will "run into confrontation every step of the way."

"And people are feeling stronger to fight back against bad decisions like this," Kennedy-Howard said. "There's a strength and there's a solidarity that's brewing that will rise up and put President Trump on notice: That we deserve better, we demand more, and we'll do everything we can to get it."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.
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