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Protesters of the North Dakota pipeline celebrated after the Department of Justice temporarily halted the project in federal jurisdictions last Friday. But while some equipment sits idle, construction in other areas continues. William Brangham visits the Standing Rock Reservation, where more than 100 Native American tribes have gathered, to recap a week of protests.
But, first: As we reported last week, a protest in North Dakota continues to grow against a major oil pipeline continues to grow. Over 100 Native American tribes have joined the fight against the project, saying that it threatens one tribe's water supply and its sacred lands.
While the U.S. Justice Department has put a temporary halt to part of the project, as the "NewsHour"'s William Brangham reports, the fight is far from over.
After months of protest, it was a moment to celebrate. Last Friday, the Department of Justice blocked construction on part of the $4 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, the very pipeline that brought these thousands of protesters here to rural North Dakota.
But celebration soon turned to suspicion. That's because work on the pipeline hasn't fully stopped. In areas outside of federal jurisdiction, construction continues, as do efforts to block it. At least 22 people were arrested this week.
LIZ MCKENZIE, Navajo Tribe:
It is most definitely not a victory.
Liz McKenzie drove 1,000 miles from Albuquerque to protest with her fellow Native Americans.
People are finally noticing us, not as beings of the past, not as, like, costumes you buy in Halloween stores. Like, we are here, we are still fighting, and that does mean a lot.
The Dakota Access Pipeline begins in North Dakota's Bakken oil fields, and would carry crude oil almost 1,200 miles through South Dakota and Iowa down to Illinois.
The pipeline's original path crossed the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, a city that's 90 percent white. But when concerns were raised about a potential oil spill there, the pipeline was rerouted south to go under the river right next to the Standing Rock Reservation.
The Missouri River is the reservation's primary source of drinking water. The tribe says a spill there could be catastrophic for them. So, when construction started, a plea for help went out.
LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:
I am asking anybody who's willing to stand with us to say that water is important to come stand with us.
Ladonna Brave Bull Allard put out that call. She is a member of Standing Rock, and her land looks over the ridge where the pipeline would be built.
LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD:
When I put the call out, I really thought maybe 40 people would come. It's overwhelming. In my own vision, I didn't expect this.
Now over a hundred Native American tribes from across North America have joined Standing Rock's movement. And in this sprawling camp, a community has formed.
This kitchen serves donated food to all. Kids can take classes at a makeshift school. Cords of donated firewood are split and stacked, free for the taking.
Why do you think that this has taken off and spoken to so many people from so many parts of the country?
The water. We know how precious that water is. We know that we must stand for the water.
Mni Wiconi, we say, water of life. So, every time we drink water, we remind ourself how important the water is. Don't you do that? You will now.
Protecting the water spurred Brenda Guachena to drive 30 hours from Southern California to be here. She's from the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians. She came with dozens of people, including her grandkids, and brought trucks full of donated supplies.
BRENDA GUACHENA, Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians: Walking in, it was so humbling to see all of these flags. All of the people, of the native people in all the reservations that showed up here to show Standing Rock, we're here to support you, and we're not going to let people do this to us anymore.
Guy Jones was born in Standing Rock. He says the tribes are tired of being ignored.
GUY JONES, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:
They didn't want it in Bismarck, but it was, oh, it's OK if the Indians — you can go down and run it through the reservation where all those Indians live. You know, who cares about the Indians? And that's one of the things that kind of incensed people.
The company that's building the pipeline energy, Energy Transfer Partners, says it's followed all the rules. And it points out the pipeline isn't even on a reservation land. Plus, it argues that moving oil via modern pipelines is a far safer way than putting it on trucks or trains, which statistics show are far more likely to crash and spill.
It also says the pipeline will generate revenue and jobs for North Dakota. We asked the company several times to talk with us on camera. They didn't make anyone available.
We did speak with Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the trade association that includes Energy Transfer Partners.
RON NESS, North Dakota Petroleum Energy Council:
Pipelines are the most safe — most efficient, safest, and cost-effective way to move oil to market. And the products get there virtually 100 percent of the time without issue.
That said, the 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines across the U.S. do sometimes leak and rupture, and when they do, they often spill far more oil than a single train car carries. Since 1995, there's been more than 2,000 significant accidents on oil and gas pipelines, causing about $3 billion in property damage.
For example, in July 2010, at least 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. It was one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, and the costliest. Almost 5,000 acres of wetland habitat was inundated with oil. Hundreds of animals were killed. Thousands more were recovered, cleaned and released. Full recovery could take decades.
And just this summer, a pipeline in Canada spilled about 65,000 gallons of oil and other toxins into the North Saskatchewan River, polluting the drinking water used by the James Smith Cree Nation.
The Petroleum Council says those kinds of spills near the Standing Rock Reservation are very unlikely.
This pipe is 90 feet below the riverbed. It's not going to leak right into the river. It's got the detection equipment and the shutoff valves on each side of this pipeline.
But Ladonna Allard doesn't believe the industry's assurances. She says half-a-million gallons of oil coursing every day under their drinking water is not safe.
When that oil spills, who's going to come save us? We're Indian people. We're expendable. Who is going to come? Who is going to come and give us water?
The tribe's other concern is that, even though the pipeline is just off their reservation, it still runs right through areas they say are sacred ancestral grounds.
Ten days ago, the tribe submitted evidence of newly discovered artifacts and burial sites, asking a state court for an emergency injunction. But before the court could make a decision, bulldozers started digging in that area. Protesters broke through a fence to try and stop them. They were met with pepper spray and guard dogs.
Last month, the tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, arguing that, in its meetings with the tribe, the Corps ignored their concerns.
David Archambault II is chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:
They never heard us. It was just a process that keeps moving forward because of the interest of economic development, the interest of money, the interest of greed.
But, last Friday, a federal court in Washington rejected the tribe's suit, allowing the pipeline to proceed. It was at that point that the Justice Department halted the project, directing the Corps and other agencies to take a second look at the tribe's concerns.
Now that the Department of Justice has stepped in and said they're going to halt this construction, temporarily at least, is this over for you?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II:
It's far from over, and we knew this coming in. Regardless of the outcome from the court's decision, this was the beginning. It's the start. We finally are getting people to hear.
For now, on the lands near the reservation, construction equipment sits idle while the federal reviews are under way. Despite this delay, work on the pipeline continues elsewhere in North Dakota.
Back at the camp, people have begun building shelters, so their vigil can carry on through the coming winter.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
On a related note, a large gasoline pipeline that supplies the Eastern United States was shut down this week after a quarter-million gallons of gasoline leaked near Birmingham, Alabama.
And, online, you can hear more Native American voices from the front lines of the Standing Rock protest in an audio slide show. That's on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/NewsHour.
Watch the Full Episode
William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
Mike Fritz is a video journalist and producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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