pioneer monument and a lot of state troopers with batons and riot helmets stood between the mostly young native activists and the North Dakota state capitol on Friday afternoon. Many of the activists arriving at the capitol’s vast green lawn hadn’t heard that the Washington DC judge had decided against the Standing Rock reservation Sioux lawsuit. That was the lawsuit asserting that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) had gone forward without adequate tribal consultation. There was a sign of anguish when the news was delivered by megaphone, and then, a few minutes later, shouts of joy as a young woman with a long black braid standing in the pouring rain announced the victory chasing the heels of that defeat.
In a joint statement on Friday by the US army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior (which oversees Native American affairs), two major decisions were announced. One was a decision by the US army corps of engineers, the permitting body for the pipeline, to hold off on issuing permits to dig on federal land near or under the Missouri river above the Standing Rock reservation. The other was a landmark announcement that this fall, the government would discuss with tribes how “to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights” and whether new legislation should be put in place to pursue those goals. It’s at least an implicit and maybe an explicit acknowledgment that the permitting process for the DAPL fell short of meeting the Standing Rock Sioux’s rights. It may become a landmark decision for all native rights in the United States, and it appears to be the result of tremendous international public pressure that probably changed the outcome of what could have been another quiet defeat.