Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe addresses the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 15, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Standing Rock leader vows to 'forgive' but keep fighting after White House slight

Mistrust of the new Trump administration is running high as Indian Country tries to stop the fast-moving Dakota Access Pipeline from becoming a reality.

After eight years of a friendly president, tribes are struggling to get their voices heard in the nation's capital. While members of Congress can be counted on to listen, officials in the executive branch have proven to be far less reliable.

Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe knows first-hand the challenge. Speaking at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning, he said he's been reaching out to the Trump team ever since the November election to share his people's concerns about the pipeline.

Despite repeated entreaties, he said it took three months to get a meeting with the White House. And that only came after Mike Black, the acting leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, interceded on Standing Rock's behalf, the chairman told NCAI.

But the effort quickly unraveled last week. A meeting with a senior staffer that was scheduled for Monday was moved to Wednesday, Archambault said.

Archambault at the time felt the delay wasn't a huge setback because the Department of Justice, during a hearing in federal court earlier on Monday, indicated that a decision on the final portion of the pipeline wasn't expected until later in the week. In theory, he still had time to share the tribe's side of the story.

"This was going to be my last attempt to talk to somebody in the White House ... before they make any decisions," Archambault said.

Yet as Archambault's plane was landing in Washington on Tuesday for the rescheduled meeting, he got a phone call. It was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers telling him that the pipeline was being approved, all without any consideration of his tribe's concerns by President Donald Trump.

"I felt kind of slighted," Archambault said. "They decided on Tuesday, the day I flew out."

"It's hard for me to forgive but I know that's what I have to do in order to move forward," Archambault continued. "It's hard for me to trust this new administration, the White House, but I know it's what I have to do to move forward."

Moving forward includes an attempt to set aside the easement for Dakota Access. The tribe submitted court papers on Tuesday in hopes of resolving that issue before the firm finishes the pipeline and starts shipping oil along the 1,172-mile route, including the section near Standing Rock in North Dakota.

Archambault also said the tribe fully supports #DefundDAPL efforts. Tribes, municipalities, organizations and ordinary citizens are withdrawing their assets from banks and institutions that are financing the pipeline and other infrastructure projects on indigenous lands.

"This president, I feel, is motivated by money," Archambault said. With the divestment campaign, "there's an opportunity to put a little bit of squeeze on them, to say we’re serious," he said.

Additionally, Archambault is hoping to galvanize public support for the #NoDAPL movement, which quickly spread across Indian Country and around the world last summer. The tribe is organizing a march on Washington on March 10 to let everyone know indigenous people are still here.

"This whole movement is something that's been beautiful," he told NCAI. "I can't describe it."

Tribes continue to support Standing Rock's efforts because they say it reflects a much larger issue that has plagued their dealings with the United States for centuries. No matter who is in charge of the federal government, they must fight to be respected as sovereign governments.

"There's a direct treaty violation and there needs to be a remedy," Fawn Sharp, the vice president of NCAI, which is the largest inter-tribal organization, said of the situation involving the pipeline.

Going forward, "we need to demand something beyond consultation," she added to applause. Sharp serves as the president of her tribe, the Quinault Nation in Washington, and as the president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

Kitcki Carroll, the executive director of the United South and Eastern Tribes, voiced similar concerns prior to Archambault's update on the pipeline. USET's members are among the hundreds that have sent financial and other means of support to Standing Rock.

"Consultation is a good thing but consultation has to evolve into consent," said Carroll, who is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. "We need to get to a point where there is true government-to-government relations."

With the easement in hand, Dakota Access is moving quickly to complete the pipeline at Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Oil could be flowing in 30 days or possibly sooner, an attorney for the firm said at another hearing on Monday.

On the legal front, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is preparing for a February 27 hearing on a preliminary injunction that could prevent oil from flowing. The tribe believes the mere presence of the pipeline desecrates the waters at Lake Oahe and in the Missouri River.

Separately, the Yankton Sioux Tribe on Monday indicated it was going to seek an injunction against the Army Corps for approving the pipeline. The tribe had essentially put a lawsuit on hold while Standing Rock and Cheyenne River pursued their case but is ready to assert its own claims.

Additionally, the Oglala Sioux Tribe filed its own complaint against the Army Corps on Friday. The lawsuit asserts that the agency never considered how the pipeline affects the Mni Wiconi Project, a federally approved water delivery system in South Dakota.

Dakota Access Pipeline Approval Documents:
Department of Justice Notice | Department of the Army Approval Memorandum | Notice of Termination of EIS for Dakota Access Pipeline | Easement Letter to Congressional Leadership

White House Documents:
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of American Pipelines (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing (January 24, 2017)
Press Release: President Trump Takes Action to Expedite Priority Energy and Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in Connection With Dakota Access, LLC's Request for an Easement To Cross Lake Oahe, North Dakota (January 18, 2017)

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