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.