On Friday the Obama administration announced that it would temporarily block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in one specific area, handing a victory to environmental and Native American “water protectors” who just that day had received a federal court ruling denying their petition for an injunction on the project.
Thousands of activists representing 280 tribes have for weeks been protesting the construction of the 1,200 mile oil pipeline that would run near North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, which is a major water supply for local ranches, the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
The pipeline would pass through the Tribe’s treaty lands, sacred sights and burial grounds, and a spill from could contaminate the area’s water supply and pose a massive environmental, economic, cultural and public health threat to the Tribe. The pipeline was originally supposed to go through Bismark, but was moved after authorities worried an oil spill would contaminate the state capital’s drinking water.
“We say ‘mni wiconi’: Water is life,” said David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux. “We can’t put it at risk, not just for us, but for everybody.” He continued, “We’re looking out for our future, the children who are not even born yet. What is it they will need? It’s water. When we start talking about water, we’re talking about the future of generations.”
The Tribe had attempted to halt the project through the courts, arguing that the Tribe had not been properly consulted and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval of the pipeline was not compliant with the Clean Water Act, National Historic Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. But U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled that the Army Crops complied with its obligation and that the Tribe had not proven the project would cause injury that could be prevented by an injunction.
The Tribe has referred to the temporary pause in construction within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe as a “game changer” and hopes it will open the doors to nationwide reform on projects that impact both the environment and the Native American people.