Kalen Goodluck
A blinding blizzard engulfed the water protectors at Standing Rock as tribal Chairman David Archambault II told them their work at the camps is done, and it is time to go home.

Snowstorm Slams Water Protectors; ‘We Need To Go Home,’ Says SRST Chairman

Theresa Braine

Thanking everyone for their service, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II said on Tuesday December 6 that with the Dakota Access Pipeline halted for the time being, and winter closing in, that it was time for the water protectors to go home.

“I know we have prayed and continue to do so. Now you must believe in your prayer,” Archambault said in a statement released in the late afternoon.

“Energy Transfer Partners cannot cross the easement, even if they drill,” he said. “Not only will they jeopardize the entire pipeline project, but they will also jeopardize their investors’ money and their bank loans. They may drill up to the federal lands to try to provoke the campers. They will do this to create the illusion that the Army Corps of Engineers made the wrong decision. We do not need to engage them in this; we need to go home. While this phase of the struggle relied largely on the protectors at camp, this next stage will be focused on the legal battles, and keeping the current decision in place.”

Archambault noted that the next administration would not easily be able to reverse the decision of Sunday, December 4, when the U.S. Department of the Army officially denied the easements under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, thus bringing construction on the last piece of the 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline to a halt while a full environmental impact study is conducted.

RELATED: Army Denies Dakota Access Easement Under Lake Oahe; Exultation Ensues

“This decision is everything we had asked for: a non-granting of the easement, initiating an Environmental Impact Study, and suggestive of a reroute,” Archambault said. “We got it! Energy Transfer Partners will face an uphill battle in trying to dismantle the process initiated by this decision.”

Energy Transfer Partners, whose assets were recently purchased by Sunoco, has said it remains committed to the project and will not change the route.

“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” Energy Transfer Partners said in a statement on December 4. “As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Along with gratitude for the steadfastness of the protectors, Archambault also expressed concern for everyone’s well-being and noted that the militarized police would likely use any excuse for yet another crackdown. With a new blizzard dumping a foot or more of snow onto the camps full of thousands of water protectors, many of them in tipis, and below-average temperatures predicted for part of the week, the conditions were becoming dangerous.

Blizzard conditions set in at the water protector camps as temperatures plummeted. (Phot: Tracy Rector)

“A significant winter storm will continue to bring heavy snow and blizzard conditions to portions of the northern Plains through Tuesday evening,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory. “Snowfall amounts could reach one foot. Strong winds and very cold temperatures will also yield sub-zero wind chill readings and blowing snow. Reduced visibility from blowing snow could cause severe travel difficulties.”

Writers and editors for Indian Country Today Media Network found themselves stranded on Monday and Tuesday December 5 and 6 with spotty phone and internet, along with thousands of veterans, assorted legal advisers and tribal leaders, at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Casino Knights Hotel, with no word on when they would be able to travel. All of the hotel’s 400 rooms were full, and a good 4,000 veterans were camped out in the resort’s concert hall, the Pavilion, as well as in the gymnasium at a school in Fort Yates, said ICTMN West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman, who was among the stranded. Earlier in the day she also noted that “roads to camp and Bismarck are closed,” but said some were just reopening in the early evening on Tuesday December 6.

Water protectors were camped out everywhere, socked in by a blizzard. (Photo: Stacey Thunder)

The bulk of the water protectors are living in fortified tipis and other makeshift shelters outdoors at the camps. Archambault said the priority was keeping people safe, and letting them know that the job at hand was done.

“We deeply appreciate all the people who supported us with their presence, but when this storm passes, it is time to dismantle the camp and return to our homes,” Archambault said. “If the camp stays where it is currently located, people are risking their lives. The current weather is severe, making travel impossible. If the camp stays, we run a risk of further provocation from local law enforcement. Once one person is hurt or property is destroyed, that will lead to more outsized actions by law enforcement. The longer the camp stays, the greater risk we run of seeing further violence at the hands of law enforcement and potential injury to our supporters.”

RELATED: DAPL: Evacuation Orders and Snowflakes Fly as Injured Water Protectors Sue Morton County

Putting people at risk in that way is something the ancestral leaders would never have done, he said.

“I don't want anyone to be living in an unsafe environment,” Archambault said. “We need to stay in prayer, believe in our prayer, and begin our journey home in prayer. I believe in my prayers and in the Creator. Take the lessons we learned here and apply them at home—unity, peace, prayer.”

The camps’ efforts to get the NoDAPL battle to this point have been essential, but “now it is time we pivot to the next phase of this struggle,” Archambault said. “That will be lead on different fronts like in court, with the new Administration, with Congress, and with the investors.”

He said the path is being laid down “to help the world understand that what we asked for, and what we got is the right decision. The world is watching us, and our behavior will determine the final outcome.”

Archambault suggested that each resident make a plan for closing and exiting the camp, leaving the land as it was when they got there, and to get home before the bitterest part of winter sets in.

“Pass this on—let everyone know that we are thankful for their passion and commitment and we are thankful for them all standing with us,” Archambault said. “It's time now to enjoy this winter with your families. We need all to respect the host tribe’s wishes. We are asking all tribes to pass this on to their members.”

The winter, he added, has barely begun, and the current storm is tamer than what the worst of the season will bring. Temperatures drop even lower than they already have, and the shelters at the camps would be no match for blizzard conditions.

Acknowledging that people were socked in by the storm, Archambault said it was time to take the water protection battles beyond Indian country, to the rest of the U.S. and the world.

“I understand that folks cannot go at this moment, but as soon as this current storm has passed, we must execute an exit strategy and continue our battles to protect water,” Archambault said. “These efforts are not only needed in Standing Rock, but they are needed throughout Indian Country, across America and internationally. I want you to know that Standing Rock stands with you as you return home to carry this energy and movement into the future.”

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