Tribal members said Monday if lines of communication had been open earlier in the process, and if officials had been open to listening, perhaps the crowd gathered in the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library wouldn’t be there and the months of protesting might never have happened.
“These are voices, critically important voices, that aren’t being heard. We can have better understanding if we listen to each other,” said Dakota Resource Council Executive Director Don Morrison.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II joined with tribal youth before a standing-room-only crowd Monday evening to share their side of the months-long opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which has drawn international attention.
“It’s not something I wanted to happen. This was something that evolved. It’s impacted a lot of lives,” he said.
The tribe’s opposition to the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline that is planned to be drilled under the Missouri River less than a mile upstream from the reservation boundary stems mainly from a lack of listening to tribal concerns, Archambault said.
“This is nothing new. This is history repeating itself,” he said after providing a lengthy history of tribal relations with the federal government and various treaties.
He said tribal concerns were expressed early in the process, but they weren’t heeded by the company or regulators.
The protests have drawn supporters from across the country, where they’ve set up at multiple camps in Morton County just north of the reservation.
A series of demonstrations since August have led to more than 500 arrests as well as millions of dollars in law enforcement costs.
Law enforcement agencies have disputed claims by the tribe and other pipeline opponents of an overly militarized response, saying they’re simply enforcing the law.
Officers on occasion have used pepper spray and rubber bullets in response to protesters, who in some instances have thrown objects at police during a series of clashes in recent weeks.
Archambault praised Standing Rock youth such as Gracey Claymore for getting people informed early on about the potential threat of the pipeline through social media and youth runs, including one from North Dakota to the nation's capital to deliver a petition against the project.
“They picked up celebrity attention. They picked up world attention,” Claymore said, adding she was proud of the involvement of her fellow youth.
She said it’s unfortunate that there have been some clashes between law enforcement and some of the protesters.
“It was meant to be prayerful and peaceful,” Claymore said, adding she hopes the divisions among the public over the protests can be repaired.
Morrison said the DRC’s hope is that Monday’s event would be the first of several such public discussions.