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A Victory for Tribal Sovereignty

Local “water protectors” celebrate Dakota Access pipeline decision.


Local protesters gathered outside the Wells Fargo Center in October. - DW HARRIS
  • DW Harris
  • Local protesters gathered outside the Wells Fargo Center in October.

A local advocate celebrated with other demonstrators near the Standing Rock Reservation over the federal government’s decision to nix a proposed oil pipeline plan.

The protesters, who referred to themselves as water protectors, had been staying at a camp in North Dakota for more than a month in an attempt to halt construction of the controversial pipeline. They opposed the project on grounds that its path interfered with sacred burial land and that it opened up the possibility of water contamination in the event of a leak.

Moroni Benally, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters, traveled to the Standing Rock Reservation to deliver a copy of a supportive city resolution this weekend. He recorded a video Sunday night after the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant easement for a segment of the pipeline.

Protesters welcomed the announcement. In Benally’s dispatch, he echoed those sentiments.

“We are grateful today for the decision that came from the Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Benally says in the recording. “This decision is important as it affects the entire infrastructure development in Indian Country. It’s a victory for Tribal sovereignty, and it will set precedent for development of fossil fuel infrastructures on federal and Indian land for the future.”

The months-long demonstration occasionally erupted into violent clashes between police forces. Water protectors, some of whom were arrested, say they were pepper sprayed or shot at with rubber bullets.

Benally says the government’s announcement marks a significant moment for Native American rights.

“Today we celebrate with the rest of the country at this incredible watershed moment,” he says.

Salt Lake City leaders showed solidarity with Standing Rock protesters by passing a joint resolution last month.

Before the resolution was passed on Nov. 15, Councilwoman Lisa Adams said it was moving to hear from local supporters at a prior hearing.

“We’re proud to be passing this resolution,” she said.

The 1,200-mile-long pipeline was slated to run from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing through South Dakota and Iowa along its route. The contentious segment traversed land near the North Dakota-South Dakota border. There is a possibility the Army Corps would approve a rerouted plan.