Despite impending deadline, Standing Rock protesters vow to stay

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Veterans have a confrontation with police on Backwater bridge during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith - RTSUA9V

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Even as temperatures in North Dakota are plunging into the single digits, the fight over the Dakota Access oil pipeline is only intensifying.

William Brangham is here with more.

So, William, I understand there’s a deadline coming?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right, Judy.

Starting on Monday, anyone at that large protest camp in North Dakota will be considered trespassers and could be arrested. That’s according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For months now, thousands of people calling themselves water protectors have gathered to stop the pipeline. They say it’s destroying lands that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux, and that an oil leak could threaten the tribe’s water.

Despite the Army Corps’ order, and a similar one from the governor, protesters say they’re not going anywhere.

Dave Archambault II is the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux. I spoke with him earlier today, and I asked, with the deadline looming, and reports of 2,000 veterans traveling to North Dakota to support the protesters, did he fear Monday could get out of hand?

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux: No, I don’t. I don’t believe that anything will happen.

I believe that the Corps of Engineers is not going to come in with force, and I don’t think the state government is going to come with force. And I know that the veterans are coming to stand with peace and prayer.

Their presence is symbolic. It’s representing the men and women who fought for this nation’s freedom. And they’re coming here to let the nation know that it’s not right to treat indigenous peoples, to treat tribes in this way.

We have to start listening to tribes. That’s very symbolic for us to know that our veterans, the ones who fought for this nation, are coming. And it’s not to — they’re not coming to start a war. They’re coming to let the world know that they, too, stand with us.

And December 5, it’s not going to be a showdown. It’s just going to be another day.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, if protesters do stay there, I mean, the governor and many others have said that it is just not safe with subzero temperatures being out there to sleep out on the plains like this.

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II: My comment to that is that it’s not safe for law enforcement to spray water on water protectors in subzero, subfreezing temperatures. That’s not safe.

It’s not safe to fire concussion grenades at crowds. It’s not safe to fire rubber bullets and target people’s heads. That’s not safe. People are there, and they are ready for this. They knew that winter was coming. They have some temporary shelters that are very insulated and warm, and they are taking care of each other.

They know how to check on each other, and they know what to do in case of an emergency. So, it is a safe place for individuals to gather and pray. What is not safe is the way law enforcement has been using aggression and weapons on unarmed people.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We spoke a few weeks ago with the CEO of the company that is building this pipeline, and he argues that your concerns over a leak into your water supply are overblown. He said, this is going to be brand-new pipeline, state-of-the-art, all safety measures, and that you need not worry as much as you seem to be.

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II: And I understand where he’s coming from. And if that’s the case, then why not put it north of Bismarck, North Dakota?

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s where it was originally going to go.

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II: Right. If the safeguards are all there, then it can still go there.

He will say that it can’t go there because of the population of the community, the environmental impacts, the sacred sites that are there, the wetlands that it has to cross. These are all the same concerns that we have. It’s just that we are a lot — the numbers show that we’re a lot fewer.

And so if the pipeline — and if there is no worry, if the safeguards are there, then relocate it to that location. That’s OK.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the company says the pipeline is not going to be rerouted. The governor says the pipeline is not going to be rerouted.

President Obama will soon be out of office, and President-elect Trump has made it very clear that this pipeline is going to be built.

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II: Well, the way I look at it is, as long as the pipeline isn’t under the river, there’s still a chance, there’s still hope.

And it’s unfortunate that this nation continues to treat our tribe and tribal nations around this country in this manner. We have every right to protest this pipeline. We have indigenous lands, we have ancestral lands, we have treaty lands. The pipeline is 500 feet from our reservation border.

And history will show that the federal government, the state government has always built the economy, has secured energy independence and has secured national security off the backs of our nations. And this is another example.

And so whether the government says, government — governor of North Dakota says it’s not going to be rerouted, whether Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, say it won’t be rerouted, and whether the president-elect says it won’t be rerouted, we still want to build awareness on the treatment of our nations, the first people of this nation, and how everybody benefits from the costs that we paid over history.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, David Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, thank you very much for being here.

DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes. You’re welcome.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You can find all the “NewsHour”‘s coverage of the Dakota standoff on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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