Cheers, tears of joy, chanting and drumming rang out among thousands of protesters at the Standing Rock site after the Army Corp of Engineers announced it will look for an alternate route for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
For months, members of the Sioux tribe and their supporters have camped out, fighting the pipeline they say could be hazardous and damage the water supply of their reservation nearby.
“People have said that this is a make it or a break it, and I guess we made it,” Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, announced to a cheering crowd of protesters.
Tribal leaders worry the decision to change direction may not be permanent, especially with the incoming Trump administration. Grassroots activists, who have turned the protest site into a mini-city, prepared to withstand freezing temperatures during what was expected to be an even lengthier standoff, were cautious about the scope and durability of their victory.
“I’m really happy that I’m here to witness it and celebrate with a lot of my elders and the youth, but I think that we also need to keep in mind that we need to be ready to keep going,” said protester Morning Star Angeline Chippewa-Freeland.
“We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
The Army Corps of Engineers said it will not grant a permit to allow the proposed pipeline to cross under the lake. Officials said after discussion with the tribe and Dakota Access it became clear that more work had to be done on the project.
“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” The corps’ assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said in a statement.