Obama Says “Let It Play Out” at Standing Rock For Now

Obama on phone
President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Representatives of more than 300 tribal nations and allies who have gathered at Standing Rock in North Dakota protesting the construction of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline across Treaty Lands have long called on President Obama to intervene.

While the U.S. Justice Department paused construction at the critical site where the pipeline would cross beneath the Missouri River just upstream from Lake Oahe, the primarily source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, construction elsewhere has continued. That in spite of regular challenges by direct action campaigns, leading to many arrests, including journalists attempting to cover the struggle in a display of apparent intimidation of new media.

A major police action last week involving an estimated 300 officers with heavily armored vehicles and copious amounts of pepper spray, concussion grenades, “non-lethal” shotgun projectiles, and tasers and batons, led to numerous injuries, including one woman who was shot in the face with a projectile, and has been decried for the scale of police violence.

Pushing past several barricades constructed by  pipeline opponents, police arrested an estimated 140 at the named 1851 Treaty Camp occupying a portion of the pipeline construction site. Some later claimed they were held in dog crates by police before being released.

Video courtesy of Unicorn Riot:

Police & Military Attack Oceti Sakowin Treaty Camp from Unicorn Riot on Vimeo.

Although the event has triggered solidarity actions around the country, President Obama, appears unmoved, according to statements recorded in an interview posted by  Now This Media this morning.

In a video posted by Now This on Twitter, Obama says that while he thinks there is a way to “accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans,” he has decided to “let it play out for several more weeks.”

“Right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way,” he said, before adding:

We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the First Americans.

When asked about the violence displayed over the weekend, Obama refused to condemn it.

“It’s a challenging situation,” he said. “I think that my general rule when I talk to governors and state and local officials, whenever they’re dealing with protests, including, for example, during the Black Lives Matter protests, there’s an obligation for protestors to be peaceful and there’s an obligation for authorities to show restraint.

“I want to make sure that as everybody is exercising their constitutional rights to be heard that both sides are restraining form situations that might result in people being hurt.”

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the Administration must do more than let the situation play out while options are studied.

“While the Army Corps of Engineers is examining this issue, we call on the Administration and the Corps to issue an immediate ‘stop work order’ on the Dakota Access Pipeline. And given the flawed process that has put our drinking water in jeopardy, we also urge the Administration to call for a full environmental impact study,” Archambault II said.

“The nation and the world are watching. The injustices done to Native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed. We believe President Obama and his Administration will do the right thing,” Archambault added.

See the full Obama video:

While pipeline opponents seized on Obama’s suggestion of a “reroute,” pipeline supporters said it is unlikely, pointing out that the majority of the line is already in the ground.

“Although a reroute sounds simple enough, it would be, in fact, incredibly difficult and it might be impossible,” Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the group Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, told The Hill.

“Even if possible, rerouting the line would require years to complete, new easements, new environmental and cultural studies, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added. “We remain hopeful that the administration will ultimately follow the rule of law and allow the project to be completed and operational without further delay.”