CANNON BALL, N.D. — As truck horns blared and gloved fists jutted high into the frigid air Sunday in celebration of the Standing Rock Sioux victory in blocking construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through their ancestral territory, two brothers from the Spokane Tribe in Washington prepared their camp for winter.
Joeseph and Michael Arnoux dragged heavy-duty tarps on a sled through the icy mud and snow so that they could use it as insulation inside one of their teepees that sat alongside the Cannonball River less than half a mile from the bridge where police used a water cannon to hose down demonstrators in below-freezing temperatures.
They said they have no intention of leaving. In fact, they expect to live on the land until spring. That’s because they don’t believe the fight at Standing Rock is over despite the federal government’s decision Sunday to not route the Dakota Access Pipeline near Sioux Territory.
“It’s good news, but we’re not ready to pack up yet,” Joeseph Arnoux said as drumbeats reverberated over the frozen river water. “We’re not going to put our faith in this. Their trust hasn’t been earned yet.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would halt the project, which is nearly completed, so that alternative routes could be studied as part of an environmental impact statement. While the process could take months — possibly even years — there’s no guarantee that the threat is gone.
President-elect Donald Trump adds another wrinkle. He supports the project as is, and has the ability to influence its fate once he takes office.
The uncertainty added a sobering touch to Sunday’s jubilation. So too did the fact that many people had been arrested or injured during clashes with police. Some of those wounds are still healing and many cases have yet to be heard.
After news of the Corps’ announcement spread, dozens of demonstrators marched on North Dakota Highway 1806 to stand before the police barricades on Backwater Bridge that was the site of much of the unrest and tension with the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, which has used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.
Over the past several days, hundreds more demonstrators had descended on the camp — veterans who planned to act as human shields for the Standing Rock demonstrators.
Tribal leaders quickly moved to shoo demonstrators from the bridge. Security was tightened at the camps to keep others from heading toward the police barricades, all in an attempt to diffuse any tension.
One of them, Troy Fairbanks was moved to tears as he addressed the growing crowd, recounting how many Native Americans risked their personal safety to have their voices heard protesting the pipeline. He also tried to dispel any notion that demonstrators had become violent with police during past confrontations.
“We were here standing on the front and we fought, not with our fists,” Fairbanks said. “When a gun goes off the repeater is heard for seconds and then it’s gone. We fought with one thing, the most important. We fought with our prayers, and that lasts for an eternity, for all time.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was elated by Sunday’s news. Hawaii’s congresswoman, who represents rural Oahu and the neighboring islands, had traveled from Washington, D.C., to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation as part of the veterans rally. Gabbard is a major in the U.S. Army National Guard.
After Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II announced the Corps’ decision, Gabbard posted a video to Twitter in which she said, “Today we have shown the power of people’s voices standing together to protect our water.”
Gabbard met with Archambault on Saturday after her arrival in North Dakota and again Sunday at the Oceti Sakowin Camp where protesters have congregated.
In an interview with Civil Beat earlier Sunday, Gabbard said she had talked with Archambault about the pipeline and the threats that it posed to the tribe’s water and cultural resources.
She said he told her that he didn’t want the tribe’s message to be diluted by the many competing interests in the camps, given that such a wide range of people had arrived, including Native Americans, veterans and other conservation activists.
“This is a very diverse group of people from all over the country who are here peacefully gathering to take a stand to protect precious water resources,” Gabbard said. “This is as much about Standing Rock as it is about other challenges that are occurring in other parts of the country and some of these communities these people have come from.”
Not all the protesters plan to stay on.
Waimanalo resident Leomana Turalde arrived at Standing Rock the day before the Corps’ decision was announced. As a former Marine, he had planned to take part in the numerous events Veterans for Standing Rock had organized to support the Sioux and oppose the pipeline.
Those plans fell through rather quickly for Turalde, who now plans to return home in time for finals next week at the University of Hawaii, where he is a student.
“This is a little win for a big mission,” Turalde said. “Everything is still up. The barricades are still up. The people are still there. The drill pad is still there. But everyone here is excited. We’re happy. Everyone is joyful.”
Turalde knows what it’s like to celebrate after a successful bout of civil disobedience. Originally from the Big Island, he was one of the Native Hawaiian protesters who camped on Mauna Kea to oppose plans for the Thirty Meter Telescope. The project’s future is in question after construction delays and legal challenges.
He said numerous Native Americans and other indigenous people from other parts of the world, particularly New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations, had come to support the protests on Mauna Kea.
He said he’d like to believe that the Hawaiian success on the mountain was inspirational to those groups and the challenges they face at home. And like Mauna Kea, he believes that Standing Rock will be inspirational for others across the country, particularly among indigenous cultures.
“This is the type of event that gives people hope, gives people motivations,” Turalde said. “Over the next year just watch how many people stand up for what they want and stand up for what they believe in with their hometown, with their water and with their ocean.”