On Sunday afternoon, the Army announced that it would not grant an easement for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, marking a major victory for opponents of the DAPL and the "water protectors" who have been camped at Standing Rock, North Dakota, for months.
The pipeline was scheduled to run close to reservation land where the Standing Rock Sioux live, and many members of the tribe were concerned that the DAPL could lead to their water supply being contaminated. Protesters calling themselves "water protectors" have been camped out to block the pipeline, and in recent weeks aggressive police tactics have contributed to an atmosphere of tension and distrust. On November 28, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple ordered these people to evacuate and warned that emergency services would not be provided to them as winter approached.
But despite the falling temperatures and the threat of police action, the thousands of campers—including indigenous people from across the continent and non-indigenous activists looking to make a difference—weren't inclined to leave. In fact, they had just received reinforcements to the tune of 2,000 veterans prepared to serve as human shields for the water protecters when the Army announced its decision on the easement.
At the camp, many speculated that the presence of the veterans was what persuaded the government to act.
"It was a strategy, they didn't want to be seen as beating up on the vets," said Damien Wair, a 71-year-old veteran whose mother was Creek and father was Kiowa. "This is fantastic, I just hope they're able to sustain it… I'm guardedly optimistic."
Though many celebrated the Army decision with chanting, prayers, and drumming, few of the campers were preparing to leave just yet. Art Zimiga, a Oglala Lakota who is also a veteran, told VICE that the water protectors would need to be on hand to monitor further activity in the area. "People will stay," he said. "They want to make sure that the pipe is out of the ground."
There was also concern that any decision made today could potentially change in the future, especially with Donald Trump about to take ofice.
"This is not over," said Daniel Sheehan, a lawyer for the Standing Rock tribe, said. "This is just a temporary halt. People have to mobilize to stop Trump from reversing this."
Though the easement denial means the DAPL will be rerouted, the future of the pipeline remains murky.
"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Army spokesperson Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."