The Army surrendered Friday to Native American protesters who had gathered in North Dakota at the intersection of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers by voluntarily suspending the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
Earlier Friday, a federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for an injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction on the pipeline, which will carry 400,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken region to an existing Illinois pipeline.
However, the Obama administration intervened, and the Army voluntarily blocked construction on land owned by the Corps or under Lake Oahe in South Dakota. In a joint statement with the Departments of Justice and Interior, the Army surrendered:
We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain. Therefore, the Department of the Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior will take the following steps.
The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions …
In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.
The statement also announced the start of new negotiations between the federal government and Native American tribes about “nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.” Those discussions, the statement said, could result in proposed federal legislation.
The decision is a victory for the hundreds of protesters who had gathered in North Dakota. Earlier this week, the protest became violent, when militant members of the demonstration attacked a pipeline crew that attempted to work on the project.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who arrived to show solidarity with the protesters, allegedly vandalized a piece of construction equipment, and will face criminal charges as a result.
The statement announcing the Army’s surrender also criticized those who had protested violently. However, it effectively handed those protesters victory, not just by halting the pipeline in North Dakota but revisiting future projects nationwide.
Update: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issued a press statement in response, vowing to continue the fight on non-federal land:
“Our hearts are full, this an historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for tribes across the nation,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Today, three federal agencies announced the significant decision to respect tribal sovereignty and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Army Corps land.”
“Our voices have been heard,” said Archambault. “The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.”
“I want to take a moment and reflect on this historic moment in Indian Country,” said Archambault. “But I know that our work is not done. We need to to permanently protect our sacred sites and our water. There are areas on the construction route that do not fall within federal jurisdiction, so we will continue to fight.”
Critics, however, contend that sacred sites were never threatened by the pipeline — a view reflected in the judge’s ruling.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.