In Indigenous Peoples, Justice

We must remember we are part of a larger story. We are still here. We are still fighting for our lives on our own land.


Following years of resistance, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous organizers across the country scored a massive legal victory Monday when a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and emptied of all oil, pending an environmental review. “You ever have a dream, a dream that comes true? That is what it is,” responds LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, an elder of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and founder of Sacred Stone Camp, where resistance in 2016 brought tens of thousands of people to oppose the pipeline’s construction on sacred lands. We also speak with Ojibwe lawyer Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective.

Further viewing: How Black & Indigenous Groups Won the Fight to Stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Published on Democracy Now, July 7, 2020



LaDonna Brave Bull Allard is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and founder of Sacred Stone Camp in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Tara Houska is an Indigenous lawyer, activist and founder of the Giniw Collective. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation
Click here to listen to the audio version

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn now to our top story. In a massive win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous organizers across the country, a federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down and called for it to be emptied of all oil in the next 30 days, pending an environmental review. U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg issued the decision on Monday, saying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated environmental law when it granted a permit for the pipeline without an extensive environmental assessment. That permit has now been revoked until an environmental review is conducted — a process that could take years.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairperson Mike Faith called the move “historic” and said in a statement, quote, “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning,” he said.

The company, Energy Transfer Partners, owns the pipeline and said in a statement Monday it will appeal the decision. Their CEO, Kelcy Warren, is a major supporter of President Trump.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been operating since 2017, carrying fracked petroleum from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, for transfer to another pipeline to carry it on to the Gulf Coast. The Standing Rock Sioux call the pipeline the “black snake.”

Monday’s historic court order comes more than four years after the resistance at Standing Rock began in 2016, bringing tens of thousands of people to North Dakota to oppose the pipeline’s construction on sacred lands. Democracy Now! was there on the ground covering the struggle. On September 3rd, 2016, Labor Day weekend, the Dakota Access Pipeline company unleashed dogs and pepper spray on Native Americans seeking to protect their sacred tribal burial site from destruction.

WATER PROTECTOR 1: This guy maced me in the face.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Why don’t — can you show us the label?

WATER PROTECTOR 1: Look, it’s all over my sunglasses. Just maced me in the face.

WATER PROTECTOR 2: Get the [bleep] out of here!

WATER PROTECTOR 3: These people are just threatening all of us with these dogs. And she, that woman over there, she was charging, and it bit somebody right in the face.

AMY GOODMAN: The dog has blood in its nose and its mouth.

WATER PROTECTOR 3: And she’s still standing here threatening us.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you letting their — her dog go after the protesters? It’s covered in blood!

VICTOR PUERTAS: Over there, with that dog. I was like walking. Throwed the dog on me and straight, even without any warning. You know? Look at this. Look at this.

AMY GOODMAN: That dog bit you?

VICTOR PUERTAS: Yeah, the dog did it, you know? Look at this. It’s there. It’s all bleeding.

AMY GOODMAN: To see the full report from 2016, you can go do

But for more on this historic court order, we’re joined by two guests. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and founder of Sacred Stone Camp in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. And Tara Houska is with us, Indigenous lawyer, activist and founder of the Giniw Collective. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’re first going to go to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, speaking to us from her home right next to the Cannonball River. She, on April 1st, announced, in 2016, she was opening her property to the resistance, expecting maybe some people might come. Soon, tens of people, hundreds of people, and soon thousands of people, leading to more resistance camps all over the area. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, can you share your response to Judge Boasberg’s ruling that, at least for now, the Dakota Access Pipeline must be shut down and emptied of all oil?

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD: You ever have a dream, a dream that comes true? That is what it is when I got up in the morning and seen that. I was overwhelmed. I’m still overwhelmed. If people could understand how much I love my home, how much I love my land and my river, it is the greatest thing in the whole world.

I know that it’s going to be appealed. I know it’s going to be a long journey, but we’re here for the long journey. It is not about who’s right or wrong; it’s about how do we live in the future.

And for me, the last four years have been hard. And so this has been a great blessing. I am so overthankful for the judges, for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, for the lawyers and for every water protector that stood up on every frontline, for every keyboard warrior, for the support. Overwhelming is all I can say, and great thanks.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, I’d like to ask you to take us back to your decision four years ago to start the resistance camp. Did you expect that the struggle would be as long as it has been, especially you being an historian of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in terms of how this fits into the history of the fight of your people?

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD: So, I did not think that all of this would transpire the way it is. I had thought, “Follow the law.” The law says you protect sacred sites, burial sites, traditional culture properties. You do an environmental assessment, an EIS, according to the law. And I just assumed that they would follow the law. And when — this is the first federal agency, corporation that I worked with that did not follow no law. And so it was kind of shocking for me to be dealing with vast corruption of corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, you’re an Indigenous lawyer. You were just with LaDonna yesterday. And you’re also dealing with COVID-19, which we’ll talk about in a minute; in North Dakota, it’s soaring. But on this issue, can you talk about what the ruling was based on, the risk of contaminating the water? You were on the ground in 2016, also a part of the resistance. The significance of what Boasberg has ruled?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, without, I guess, giving away too much of the reaction of the actual lawyers that are on this case, I would say, you know, to me, I see a very clear message to the fossil fuel industry that trying to shove through permits against the will of the nations that are impacted is just not going to work any longer; that, in this particular instance, they tried to push through an environmental assessment, which is a low-level environmental review, of a massive, massive pipeline project, over half a million barrels of oil a day. And yeah, they needed to do an environmental impact statement, which is years of consultation, which is years of review and consideration of sacred sites, cultural sites, all these different properties that have to be considered before approving a project of this size.

So, you know, I hope Kelcy Warren is really feeling that hurt right now, because he was so oblivious to the suffering and pain that he was causing on the ground, not only in the resistance movement, but just generally to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to all the tribal nations that have seen this happen time and time again, when we say no and they move forward anyway.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tara Houska, where do you see this going now in terms of an appeals process? Is this a temporary delay? Is it a delay of a few years? Or do you think that this has a potential to kill the project completely?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, I’m very hopeful that the shareholders this morning are waking up and reconsidering their investment in the fossil fuel industry, and particularly the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. You know, we just saw the Atlantic Coast Pipeline also get scrapped. We’ve seen Keystone XL get scrapped through the years, the Energy East tar sands pipeline get scrapped. This is a series of events and resistance, particularly led by Indigenous people across Turtle Island, that the expansion of the fossil fuel industry just cannot happen any longer. And to see this momentous win, I’m really hopeful that the shareholders, who really do control the bottom line, are looking at this and not only reconsidering their Indigenous peoples policy, their need for free, prior and informed consent instead of just consultation, but that they are reconsidering their entire outlook into what our energy economy looks like, which should be a green economy at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette responding to news the Dakota Access Pipeline will be shut down, pending review, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which we’re going to talk about in a second, is canceled. He was interviewed on Fox Business Network by Stuart Varney.

STUART VARNEY: Mr. Secretary, in both of these cases, do you blame activists for essentially shutting them down?

ENERGY SECRETARY DAN BROUILLETTE: That’s right, actually. Great to be with you. I do, in fact. I do, indeed. In both cases, I think it’s applicable.

STUART VARNEY: So it appears that in comes a lawsuit to prevent it, even if they don’t even know where it is and what it’s for. It just is that blind opposition to anything that the energy industry tries to accomplish.

ENERGY SECRETARY DAN BROUILLETTE: That’s correct. I would agree with that. And I’m not quite sure what they’re cheering, except for perhaps the loss of jobs —



AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the U.S. energy secretary talking — crediting protests, actually, with the closing down of these major pipelines. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, did you ever dream on that day, April 1st, 2016, that so many people would come, not only to your property, the Sacred Stone Camp, but to the Red Warrior Camp and to so many others? What this activism would mean, and where do you think — how do you think it will manifest itself now?

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD: I had no idea that so many people would come and stand up. But after talking to Indigenous people from all over the world, we are all in the same position of extraction industries coming in, destroying water and land and our environments.

Right now we are in the sixth extinction rate of animals. We shouldn’t be here. When I started talking to people from everywhere, one of the things that I understood is it is a time for change. The time is now. We cannot go any further with extraction industries, until we repair and allow the Earth to heal again. That is the most important thing that we have to do to live. We have to have clean water. We have to have clean environments to live. And if you’re putting money before lives, that is unjust.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tara Houska, I’d like to ask you, in terms of the — the pipeline has been in operation now. President Trump made it a big part of his presidency to get it running. What’s been the impact in the time that it has been running, although the judge now says within 30 days it must stop all flow of oil?

TARA HOUSKA: I went out to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to stand with LaDonna Allard because I saw her on Facebook and because I saw youth runners that ran 2,000 miles, from Cannon Ball out to Washington, D.C. And I packed my things and went that way, because I understood not only was this a moment where people were taking a real stand and saying, “We’re not going to accept this. We’re not going to accept you running over our rights yet again,” but it was also this understanding that we are talking about the bulldozing of sacred sites, of places that can never be brought back, of the risk to the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Let’s not forget that this pipeline was originally supposed to go through the drinking water further upstream near Bismarck, but instead it got rerouted right next to the reservation — you know, clear, obvious environmental racism and disregard for Indigenous lives. So, you know, it’s been four years of knowing that that pipeline is right next to — is only a couple hundred yards from the water intake of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, of knowing that a break could impact not only that reservation, but the 17 million people that live along the Missouri River, you know, not to mention the continued extraction of fossil fuels from the ground, the continued impact to the environment, to greenhouse gas emissions, to the climate crisis that we know is happening all over the globe. This is a project that was one of many, but it’s one that I think people recognized that it was time to take a stand, and it reached the world. And we continue to fight on.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara, in a statement, Energy Transfer said, “We intend to immediately file a motion to stay this decision and if not granted, to pursue a stay and expedited appeal with the Court of Appeals. We also believe that the Army Corps of Engineers has the ultimate jurisdiction over this matter, pursuant to its regulations governing Corps property,” they said. If you could comment on Energy Transfer Partners CEO, the billionaire Kelcy Warren, a major supporter of President Trump, recently hosted a fundraiser at his home in Dallas, and if you can talk about his role?

TARA HOUSKA: Kelcy Warren was somebody that was absolutely, completely oblivious and outright dismissive of human lives on the ground. I mean, you mentioned at the beginning of the segment the fact that Energy Transfer Partners’ private security unleashed dogs on women and children, unarmed people, that people were bitten. I interviewed Tashina Smith, a young woman who had been bitten on the breast that day. And that was a pattern of ongoing harm and extreme brutality that was unleashed onto unarmed women and children and to unarmed people that were trying to protect sacred sites from destruction.

Kelcy Warren knew all of this. He knew about the environmental racism question. He knew about the fact that there were 10,000 people at one point in this encampment in North Dakota. It was the 13th largest city in the state. He knew what was happening. And I’m sure he knew when all of his shareholders were showing up, and his financial backers, the 17 banks behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project, were pulling out parts of their loans from the project.

You know, his alignment with Trump is similar to many fossil fuel industry insiders and executives that have either been installed into the administration itself. Like, I think about the secretary of state, former Exxon CEO. Many lobbyists and people that have established themselves in the administration, I’m guessing they’re pretty nervous about the upcoming elections and the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Trump administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were just giving out masks yesterday, Tara, trying to make sure people in North Dakota are protected, the Indigenous people of North Dakota, like Standing Rock?

TARA HOUSKA: Actually, we were down in the Navajo Nation, so I’m kind of on my way back up north. Navajo Nation has been a spot in the United States that’s had some of the worst COVID-19 statistics in the entire nation. So we were handing out, delivering boxes, contact-free, of hand sanitizer, diapers, food, masks, everything that we can give to help people that are already living in disparate conditions, that are already living without running water, without electricity, and living with all the inequities that already exist in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tara Houska, I want to thank you for being with us, Indigenous lawyer, joining us from Alamosa, Colorado, and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, founder of Sacred Stone Camp in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, joining us from her home right along the Cannonball River, where she has experienced this enormous victory yesterday, a battle she has devoted her life to over these last few years. We’re wishing you the best of health, LaDonna, as you struggle with brain cancer. You’ve been an inspiration to so many. Your final thoughts?

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD: We’ve only just begun. I encourage everybody to continue to stand. There must be justice in this world, and there must be accountability. And I truly believe if we can have those two major components, we can change for a better system. We need a better system in America. We need a system that’s equal to everybody. And we need, as Native people, not to be invisible in our own homelands. We are only here to help. We are only here to teach you to love the land and the water.

AMY GOODMAN: LaDonna, thank you so much.


AMY GOODMAN: And best of health to you.


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