US federal authorities are calling on the builders of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline to "voluntarily pause" construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, which has been the site of growing protest over the project.
In a statement released by the US Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior, the Army said it will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Army Corps of Engineers' land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine if it needs to reconsider any previous decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws.
"Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time," read the statement. It was issued just after a US federal judge had allowed the pipeline project to proceed. "In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe," the government stated, noting that "important issues" raised by Standing Rock and allied tribes around this project, and pipeline approval in general, remain.
Earlier in the day, US District Judge James Boasberg issued a 58-page ruling from Washington, DC denying the tribe's request for a temporary injunction on the 1,168-mile-long crude oil pipeline, that is slated to cross four states from North Dakota to Illinois. It will skirt the Standing Rock's reservation and burrow under the Missouri River, prompting fears it could endanger drinking water, and also disturb sacred burial grounds.
"This Court does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance to the Standing Rock Sioux. Aware of the indignities visited upon the Tribe over the last centuries, the Court scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care," the judge wrote. "Having done so, the Court must nonetheless conclude that the Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here."
He ordered the parties to appear for a status conference on Sept. 16, the Associated Press reported.
On the eve of this crucial decision on the $3.8-billion project, canoes floated in the waters of the Cannon Ball river Thursday night, asking for permission to join the water protectors on land.
It was a scene that has played out before on the shores of the Sacred Stone Camp, comprised of a series of settlements that have swelled in size in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, drawing representatives from as many as 200 tribes across Canada and the United States, environmentalists, movie stars and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Hundreds of Indigenous flags line the roads into the camps, food stations and a school has sprung up on the grounds of the demonstration.
We have stood side by side in peaceful prayer," David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement released on Thursday. He leads one of six reservations in the Dakotas that are all that remain of the Great Sioux Reservation, which stretched across all of South Dakota, west of the Missouri River.
"We call upon all water protectors to greet any decision with peace and order. Even if the outcome of the court's ruling is not in our favor, we will continue to explore every lawful option and fight against the construction of the pipeline."
But in the city, county and the governor's office, a different story has been told about the camps — defining them as illegal, unlawful and aggressive.
Members of the National Guard and outside police forces have travelled to Sioux County as the governor prepared for reaction to the U.S. District judge's decision on the future of the pipeline.
The local officials say the increased law enforcement presence is to "maintain public safety" and their "hands are being forced by unlawful acts and aggression taken by protesters within protest groups." On the weekend, clashes erupted after tribal officials said construction crews destroyed burial and cultural sites on private land. The Associated Press reported that protesters were pepper-sprayed and bitten by dogs owned by a private security company brought into the area.
In July, Standing Rock and their lawyers went to court to challenge the decision to grant permits for the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access pipeline.
The project was pitched as a safer way than rail to transport the highly flammable oil extracted from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota. They have touted the millions of dollars they say it will bring into local economy and the thousands of jobs it will create.
Children watch as a group from the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Mount Pleasant, Michigan enter an encampment near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. (Andrew Cullen/Reuters)
The permits for the pipeline were approved by the US Army Corps of Engineering, which fast-tracked construction of the pipeline earlier this year. Prior to the ruling, a spokesperson with US Army Corps of Engineering said that they are unable to comment while litigation is ongoing.
The pipeline will also cross "hundreds if not thousands" of federally regulated rivers, streams and wetlands along its' route, according to court documents filed by the tribe. Lawyers argued that means the pipeline goes against the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act.
On Friday, National Guard members were standing on the side of the road dressed in their fatigues, an intimidating sight for drivers, but directing traffic was the only role they were playing — for now.
Local officials said there would be about six to eight guardsmen on shift, but 100 remain on standby. They added that the guardsmen will "display the same level of protection" as the local highway patrol, which means they are armed. However, for the time being they will not be entering the camps.
Indigenous journalist Taté Walker said the response to this protest is representative of how the government has treated Indigenous people throughout history.
"Now it's barricades, hired scaremongering, water tanks, and skewed headlines," she wrote for Everyday Feminism.