Dave Archambault II

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II speaks to Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing in August at United Tribes Technical College on Aug. 17.

As a major blizzard struck central North Dakota on Monday, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman put out a clear message: It's time to go home. 

"There is no need for the water protectors or for anybody to be putting ourselves in unsafe environments. We have a winter storm, we have cold weather coming," Dave Archambault II said in a video statement.

He thanked the thousands of people who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline, leading to the the Department of the Army announcing Sunday it would not approve an easement under Lake Oahe and recommended an Environmental Impact Statement and further consideration of alternative routes, treaty rights and potential spills. 

He also expressed confidence the pipeline had been halted for the time being and that the company would not try to drill across the river without permission, as many protesters fear.

"If they violate that easement, it is going to threaten all the investor's money. It's going to threaten the project entirely, because they will never get the easement if they cross the boundary," he said. 

Energy Transfer Partners said Sunday night it remained "fully committed" to the current route. On Monday, its lawyers filed in federal court to move up a hearing on its claim that the federal government already authorized construction under the river crossing with the initial permits.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed Tuesday there would be no drilling under Lake Oahe without the government's consent. 

"We will not drill under Lake Oahe until we have the approval to do so," Vicki Granado wrote in an email.

Archambault also warned the protesters that continued direct action could endanger the tribe's win. He said he is working to convince the current administration, the Trump administration and state government officials that the right decision about the easement had been made. 

"The pipeline company is going to try to antagonize us. They're going to try to make us react," he said. "If we try to commit a crime like hurt somebody, hurt law enforcement, take over a pad, destroy equipment. When we do stuff like that, that's an illegal act. And that's what the company wants us to do so that this project, this pipeline, can go through in its current location."

But whether people will heed Archambault's warning remains to be seen.

Mark Tilsen, of South Dakota, who was at camp on Tuesday, said lots of people were leaving with the blizzard, but he was not. 

"Ain't over until I'm smoking a cigar on the drill pad," he wrote in a Facebook message. 

Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said he thinks people should do as they see fit. 

"I am in the middle. It's of people's choosing," said Goldtooth, who's currently in Chicago. "There's some folks with really strong opinions about staying that are based on some legitimate reasons: the fact that this pipeline is not officially dead. It's not officially over. There's legitimate treaty rights that are reinforced with the prolonged encampment."

However, he said he respects Archambault's leadership, and he expects many will heed the chairman's call and warning.

"He has legitimate concerns for people's safety," Goldtooth said. "People should do what they feel is right, what they feel is safe."

Goldtooth said conversations are ongoing within his organization and with the tribe about cleanup of the land. 

"Our organization is completely dedicated to the land being returned to its original condition as we found it," he said. 

Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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