Protesters celebrated a major victory in their push to reroute the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from a tribal water source but pledged to remain camped on federal land in North Dakota anyway, despite yesterday’s US government deadline to leave.
Hundreds of people at the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, encampment cheered and chanted “mni wichoni” – “water is life” in Lakota Sioux – after the US Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant the company permission to extend the pipeline beneath a Missouri River reservoir.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters argue that extending the project beneath Lake Oahe would threaten the tribe’s water source and cultural sites. The segment is the last major sticking point for the four-state, $3.8 billion (£6.5bn) project.
“The whole world is watching,” said Miles Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux. “I’m telling all our people to stand up and not to leave until this is over.”
Despite the deadline, authorities say they won’t forcibly remove the protesters.
The company constructing the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, released a statement on Sunday night slamming the Army Corps’ decision as politically motivated and alleging that President Barack Obama’s administration was determined to delay the matter until he leaves office.
“The White House’s directive today to the corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favour of currying favour with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” the company said.
President-elect Donald Trump, a pipeline supporter, will take office in January, although it wasn’t immediately clear what steps his administration would be able to take to reverse the Army Corps’ latest decision or how quickly that could happen.
That uncertainty, Mr Allard said, is part of the reason the protesters won’t leave.
“We don’t know what Trump is going to do,” Mr Allard said.
Assistant secretary for civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy said that her decision was based on the need to consider alternative routes for the pipeline’s crossing.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Ms Darcy said.
North Dakota’s governor, Jack Dalrymple, criticised the decision, calling it a “serious mistake” that “prolongs the dangerous situation” of having several hundred protesters camped out on federal land during cold, wintry weather.