Standing Rock Sioux Tribal chairman David Archambault II has been a part of the resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline project’s intrusion on Lakota territory for the better part of three years. The conflict arose in 2016 as DAPL was rerouted by its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, from Bismarck, North Dakota to a path through the Great Sioux Nation treaty land, where it cut across historic sacred sites and posed a threat to the source of Standing Rock’s drinking water, the Missouri River.
Throughout last year, Chairman Archambault shared video messages and issued updates on the need for prayerful and non-violent actions as more and more water protectors arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota to join in the Standing Rock nation’s fight. Ultimately, more than 300 tribal nations, along with non-Natives, celebrities, and supporters from around the globe joined the Lakota on the frontlines.
As an increasing number of law enforcement arrived with militarized gear at the behest of Energy Transfer Partners, Chairman Archambault worked to maintain the focus of the water protectors. Following violent actions by law enforcement—the excessive use of water cannons, mace, and concussion grenades—a harsh winter, and the Trump administration’s greenlighting the completion of the pipeline, Chairman Archambault and the Standing Rock Tribal Council voted to evacuate the camps on tribal property. They maintained that the fight against DAPL had moved from the plains to the court system and Washington, D.C.
In this release issued by the Standing Rock administration, Chairman Archambault answers questions that address, among other things, objections to the SRST Council’s decisions, the high cost of the camps and the cleanup to the tribe, and allegations made against his leadership.
Five thousand people attended the March last week. What are your reflections about this convergence?
The event was historic and powerful. The energy was unbelievable. It let the world know that people from around the world will stand together to resist attacks on our rights.
We had an amazing lineup of speakers with a crowd of diverse supporters of indigenous rights. I was proud to see so many people in DC, and I have always been thankful for everyone’s participation, even if some people disagree with my decisions.
Some of the crowd seemed upset with you as a tribal leader, claiming that you “sold out.” Can you tell us your thoughts on that reaction?
Blanket accusations are easy to make, especially by those who intentionally try to paint the tribe in a bad light. If you ask accusers about specific facts behind an accusation, they recite social media opinions without any substance. Those who know me know that I could never sell out. It’s unfortunate that I am even having to explain this. I’ve never considered compromising the tribe’s opposition on DAPL with Energy Transfer, the state, or the federal government. My position and the position of our tribal council has remained the same over the last three years – we wholeheartedly oppose the construction of DAPL through our treaty lands.
I’ve never personally taken money or assets from anyone. I earn my own living and don’t seek glory, fame, or wealth. I live my life without alcohol or drugs. My beautiful wife and I raise our children with the utmost love and attention. I live a simple, prayerful life and strive to make our home, community, and nation a better place.
What is your response to rumors about collaborating with those who have worked against the tribe and camps, and why did you ask campers to go home?
I have always had my people's interests at heart.
It was a complicated situation between a majority of Standing Rock citizens who the council and I represent and certain factions within the camps. The tribe based its decision after heavily weighing the situation and listening to both our citizens and camp representatives. I’d like to point out that the vast majority of campers respected the tribe’s decision and we thank them for respecting our sovereignty.
From the onset of this movement, I have relied on prayer, with the hope of keeping everyone safe. I’ve never changed my position. I endured many sleepless nights, worried about people encouraging violence as the answer to our problems. Not only did I have to keep my family, my community, and my Nation out of harm’s way, but I was faced with the dilemma on how to keep thousands of additional people out of harm’s way as well. The threats we saw included aggressive, militarized law enforcement; harsh winter conditions, freezing temperatures, unlawful acts occurring within the camps; sanitation hazards and flooding.
Those who talked to me early on knew I didn't want people to get hurt. I didn't want a war. Unfortunately, against the wishes of the tribe, a handful disagreed with that position and actively promoted violence. This movement was built on prayer, and through prayer we were fortunate to not have a single death on this journey. Sadly, people were injured and many will carry the effects of violence with them into the future. We will continue to pray for those who were hurt and that their healing can begin.
What about the tribal funds transferred into the tribe’s general account?
There were literally thousands of gofundme accounts that were initiated by individuals and organizations affiliated with camps and initiatives who raised funds in the name of the tribe and our fight. I cannot speak to how those funds were used. We are aware that there are accusations that the tribe seized funds from certain groups. This is untrue, we have no such authority.
Those who donated to the tribe directly, rather than to a camp or other organization, donated to a sovereign government, represented by a tribal council. As a government entity, we are held to higher standards of accountability, including annual audits. The money transferred to our general fund was intended to make up for some of the impacts to our community associated with the sudden population boom.
Funding the cleanup effort was frustrating. Despite many camp cleanup donation websites, it was the tribe, the Thunder Valley and Standing Rock Community Development Corporations that paid most of the costs of cleaning up the camps to the tune of about $540k. A lot of our programs expended funding for the camps that normally would be used to serve our citizens. The transferred funding was used to protect and preserve important programs. The narrative that these funds were somehow stolen from camps or water protectors is completely false.
Following the December 4, 2016 USACE decision, there seemed to be a disagreement between the tribe and some of the campers regarding next steps. Can you give us your perspective on that?
Some felt the battle had to continue at the camp and at the so-called frontline. From a safety and sustainability point of view, our community and our council decided this was not the best course of action. As leaders, we did what we had to do. It was controversial, and that is ok. Had we made a different decision, we would have been ignoring the interests of our own community members, who we represent and to whom we are directly accountable to. We also truly believe that we need to focus on our legal battles and fighting this self-interested administration. Meanwhile, encouraging everyone to take what they learned here and create that space in their home communities and continue to resist further encroachment on our sovereign rights.
We are committed to fighting this battle. We remain hopeful that everyone who stood with us will continue these fights around the country and world. We will continue to bring our case in the federal court system, to Congress, and to this misguided and uninformed administration.
We believe we have a strong argument. But no matter how we steer this case, we face a judicial system founded on the Doctrine of Discovery, which was based on the “Christian conqueror” mandate. I want to make sure that when we argue in court, we are not jeopardizing the future. Right now, with this President and Congress, we must be strategic as to what our course of action will be.
There are statements being made by a camp leader that the tribe destroyed property at the Sacred Stone camp, is this true?
First, Sacred Stone Camp spokespeople have been misleading the public. The truth is, most of the land where the Sacred Stone camp was located is Army Corps land. On the remaining land, the tribe is the majority owner, with a number of siblings from a family holding smaller, fractionated interests. Reports that the Sacred Stone camp was located on one individual’s, or one family’s, land is simply not true. The tribe did not bulldoze or destroy any property. It is true, however, that law enforcement did enter and remove structures in areas under their jurisdiction. This was due to lack of permits, trespassing issues, along with NEPA & Historic Preservation concerns. From our understanding, the camp organizers were given ample notice by law enforcement.
Can you explain the relationship that the BIA has with the tribe in regards to Law Enforcement?
We are in a difficult situation here at Standing Rock because we use BIA police for our law enforcement. While we have often enjoyed a great working relationship and many of the officers are local community members, technically, they operate at the discretion of the federal government. The Department of the Interior is now run by the Trump administration, and we are unclear how our relationship with the BIA will proceed. We are hopeful, but it can make local law enforcement complex. For example, although the Cannonball community’s camp removal resolution requested BIA assistance and the tribe affirmed this resolution, I repeatedly stated that we would not give permission for forcible removal of campers.
In your view, where is Standing Rock in the fight against DAPL?
The Standing Rock Nation has been involved in the DAPL resistance for a few years now, and we have never changed our position. The environmental risks associated with DAPL are real life threats to our health and livelihoods. We opposed DAPL throughout the process and filed suit shortly after the permits were issued last summer. Today we continue our legal efforts in court. The heart of our case will be argued and decided in the near future. We continue to lead and support efforts to defund DAPL and raise public awareness on indigenous rights and why those rights are important for all people.
We will continue to argue in Court and in Congress that the termination of the EIS was unlawful and that granting the easement was arbitrary and capricious. We maintain that the fast track permit issued here was unlawful and should not be used for such projects. We will continue to fight for tribal consent, not mere consultation, and continue to fight to change the way infrastructure projects proceed in this country. Indigenous Peoples should not have to bear the sole risk for corporate gain. We have seen too many environmental disasters on tribal treaty resources in the United States. Enough is enough – treaty violations must be stopped.
Why do you think there is so much attention on violence from the State of North Dakota?
We are in a time where the oppressors, the State of North Dakota, the Trump administration and the company ETP, places all the attention on our ability to assure no violence, when in fact, they are indeed the perpetrators of violence. The more they can make this look like a violent resistance, the more they can take the focus away from the injustice of their actions and ignore our humanity and our treaty rights. The more we fight each other, the stronger our true enemies become. It’s the same tactics they’ve always used.
As the chairman of the tribe who lead this fight, what message do you have for other tribal leaders out there who are fighting similar battles?
I would say that it is very important that we continue the battles our ancestors fought on our behalf. I would also advise tribal leaders to be cautious. For Standing Rock, Sovereignty is about respect. Natural Law and common decency provide we extend fellow human beings, communities, and nations respect. Although most of our allies have agreed with this understanding, some have participated solely because they seek fame, power and money.
I would also advise tribal leaders to stay focused on their end goal. There is so much volatility coming from every direction, it is necessary to maintain focus and serenity in the face of aggressors.
My family, my faith, and my community have enabled me to stay on what I believe is the correct course. We must be accountable to those who elected us, and we must raise our children by example. We could not have come this far without our allies, and I encourage all tribal leaders, citizens, and allies to maintain unity and strength and to face the real enemy – ignorance, fear & oppression. We are not each other’s enemies; we are relatives. We are all related.