The Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman said he plans to accept the North Dakota governor's invitation to meet about issues related to the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said he has spoken several times with the governor over the phone but not in person since thousands of protesters have made camp near Cannon Ball to voice their concern with the crude oil pipeline’s effect on water and tribal sacred sites.
“It’s very important that we do not let this issue divide us as a state,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s said in a statement about the proposed meeting. “The relationships that have built between the state and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are important and will continue to be important long after the pipeline issue is resolved.”
A date for the proposed meeting between the governor, the chairman and the rest of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has not yet been set, spokesman Jeff Zent said, but staff are working to coordinate it.
Archambault said the tribe’s position against pipelines crossing lands they still deem theirs by treaty and the state government’s position in favor of oil infrastructure have put the two sides in “natural conflict” and disrupted the relationship.
Legislators cancelling a biennial tribal address to state lawmakers prior to the legislative session furthered that tension.
“Relationships all around have been tainted, and it’s going to take time to repair,” Archambault said.
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He said he’s not sure everyone on both sides of the issue will be forgiving and willing to rebuild relationships as tensions have risen but he holds out hope, as he sees holding onto grievances as unhealthy.
Archambault said one show of good faith would be for the state to remove its blockade of Backwater Bridge. The blockade, which has remained in place since Oct. 27, “creates hardships” for the tribe and others living in the area, Archambault said.
The chairman has been asking for the blockade’s removal for some time.
The state says the bridge was damaged on Oct. 27 by burning vehicles set on fire during protest actions as police pushed protesters out of a camp they had established to the north, directly in the path of the pipeline. But the chairman and protest organizers believe the blockade has only been left in place this long as a way to block traffic, making travel to and from the protest camps more difficult.
“There are roads throughout North Dakota that are worse off than that,” he said of the bridge. “The best thing to do is to remove (the blockade.)”
Zent said the governor would be open to discussing the bridge during the meeting.
In his statement, Dalrymple said he is "asking the Standing Rock Tribal Council to meet with me so that we can work toward a resolution of the pipeline issue, but to also focus on maintaining the relationships that are very important to us all."
The focus of the meeting is to be on cooperation and goodwill, according to the governor’s statement. Zent said he was unable to provide further information on what specific topics might come up in the meeting.
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