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Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Describes 'Ecstatic' Mood After Pipeline Halt


We just heard the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, David Archambault, characterize the ruling to temporarily stop construction on the pipeline as a win for all Indians and indigenous people. The Standing Rock Sioux are at the heart of the pipeline issue, and we wanted to hear more of Chairman Archambault's thoughts about the latest rulings and protests. So we reached him via Skype in Cannon Ball, N.D. Chairman Archambault, thanks for your time.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: Yeah. You're welcome, Ray.

SUAREZ: Can you walk me through the two big developments yesterday and where things stand right now? First, the court decision to allow the pipeline construction to go forward and then, just about 15 minutes later, the U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior and the Army step in and say stop the construction. What was going on yesterday, and what's the mood there now?

ARCHAMBAULT: The mood is ecstatic right now. There are people that are walking around with smiles on their faces, but it was a little disturbing at first. There were people who felt like they'd just been punched in the stomach when they heard the ruling from the court. And it was disappointing.

But today, I would say it's a good feeling, and I try to help everyone understand that I knew at the beginning that our injunction against the company had a slim chance. But there was a chance, and we had to do it. And so we always had a problem with the permitting process, and we always knew that we had sacred sites in the path of this, but because of the way history has gone for tribal nation's indigenous people, we had a slim chance.

SUAREZ: Let me understand better what your eventual goal is. Are you trying to stop this pipeline from being built altogether or just change the route in a way that the stakeholders that you represent can live with?

ARCHAMBAULT: Let me help you understand where I come from. I know I have a little bit of time on this Earth. So what I have to do is try to make a place better and safer for kids, our future generations that are not even born yet. So what can I do? I need to protect this water. I need to protect our lands from projects like this. Now, I'm not opposed to economic development. I'm not opposed to energy independence. What I'm opposed to is the infringement on our indigenous rights, our indigenous lands and our indigenous people.

This is something that has been going on for over 500 years. We have been used for the best interest of this nation. And this nation has hydropower, and our lands were taken from that. There was gold discovered in Black Hills. Our lands were taken for that. It's just another infringement on our rights, and we have to stand up for it.

SUAREZ: Speaking of a platform, it sounds like the Obama administration is open to giving you one. It mentioned, in the statement yesterday, that tribes will be invited to a formal government-to-government consultation on infrastructure decisions. Does this give you a chance to have this wider conversation that you seem to want?

ARCHAMBAULT: This is what we've been telling the administration, this is what we've been telling the Department of Interior, this is what we have been telling the Department of Army, Civil Works. Everything that we're asking for is now being heard.

SUAREZ: The protests have been going on for a long time, but they ramped up in attention when violence began. Guard dogs were used to attack protesters. The governor of North Dakota called in the National Guard to police a big rally planned this weekend. But the issue has been going on for you for a long time, hasn't it?

ARCHAMBAULT: Since day one, we've been given guidance that the way to address this concern of ours is through prayer. This has to be a peaceful and prayerful demonstration. And so whenever the guard dogs or the National Guards came in, we have to remain calm and prayerful and peaceful, and that tells the world who we are.

Now, we've seen in other states, like in Iowa, where farmers and ranchers are standing up against this very same project. But we didn't see the National Guard called in. We didn't see a declaration of emergency by that state. But I think there was a concern on how we deal with tribal nations coming together and saying we're going to make a stance in a pretty peaceful, prayerful way.

SUAREZ: Well, people from many different tribes and many different groups rallied together in the Dakotas. Was this a successful piece of cross-national organizing? Does this give you a new movement, if you will?

ARCHAMBAULT: The experience that you have when you go to the camp is a beautiful one. And it's so beautiful that you look around and everybody is in prayer, everybody is unified and we're co-mingling amongst each other. It's an experience that I cannot explain. I can't interpret what's happening here. Tribal nations around the world are coming forward, and it's something else.

And this is just the beginning. We always knew that. Even before the court ruling, even before the statement released by the three agencies, we knew that this was the beginning, it's not end. And everybody put a lot of emphasis on the judge's ruling on September 9. But that was the beginning. You know, we have to continue to build awareness of indigenous lands and indigenous rights. And how can we protect tribal sovereignty with policy reform?

SUAREZ: David Archambault is chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. Thanks a lot.

ARCHAMBAULT: Thank you, Ray, for having me on.

SUAREZ: NPR reached out to the pipeline construction company Energy Transfer Partners for this interview. They declined to comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.