KARIM-ALY KASSAM: Hello. My name is Karim-Aly Kassam. I'm professor of Environmental and Indigenous Studies in the Department of Natural Resources and the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Cornell. Today, we're having a conversation with Chairman David Archambault, leader of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. And we're discussing the events of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thank you.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, David, is justified on the grounds of national security, energy independence, and economic development. Is this justification true? And is that a fair request of the people of Standing Rock?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT: Is the justification true? This is a claim that the current president of the United States had made. And I know where he got his information. He got it from the Corps of Engineers. And I know where the Corps of Engineers got their information, from the company itself.
Because when this whole thing started, when Dakota Access Pipeline first came to Standing Rock, we asked that question. We said, why do you need this pipeline to come right here? And the justification for it was economic development, energy independence, and national security.
And my response to that is, well, why are you going to do this to us again? Anytime there's economic development within this nation, our people have given up so much land for agriculture. That's economic development.
Our people have given up our lands for hydropower. That's energy independence. And our people have never given up our land, the Black Hills, for gold. And gold, at that time, was used to back the currency, which is national security. So over time, we have been paying the cost so that this country can reap the benefits.
When this pipeline and the justification comes and presents itself, it's very hard for us to stomach because the cost that we pay and continue to pay, the costs that is trauma and hardship over time. So we're saying, don't do it again. So this pipeline is coming through. And the reality of it is the people are not going to benefit.
When they say economic development, they're saying that they are going to be thousands of jobs. This Dakota Access Pipeline will have 32 permanent jobs when it's complete, 32 over 1,200 linear miles. So there's really no economic benefit to the communities through the lands that it's passing through.
When you talk about eminent domain-- the pipeline is going through private land because either negotiating. Or if they don't want to go negotiate, they'll use eminent domain laws. Eminent domain laws are put in place for infrastructure projects so that everyone can benefit from it, for example, a power line.
When there's a power line coming through, the landowner may say, I don't want this on my lands. And the government will say, we're going to have eminent taking anyway. In return, you'll get compensated the fair market price. But you're also going to have affordable, reliable electricity because of this power line.
The same thing with the highway. We're going to take your lands so that you can use it to get to the hospital or to the mall or whatever. You're going to benefit from it.
When it comes to these pipelines, they're going to have eminent takings. The landowners don't benefit from this crude oil passing through it. The only people that benefit are top-level executives who make a lot of money. And the only people who benefit are the people that the top-level executives contribute to their office, such as congressional representatives.
The only people that benefit are people like the President of the United States who has a personal investment in Phillips 66. That's who benefits. That's who gains for these takings.
So the economic development isn't for this nation. It's for those few at the top. And the impact and the cost is something that we bear.
Now when it comes to energy independence, they're saying this oil that is being extracted. If we wanted to be truly energy independent, we will be looking for alternative sources. This is a fossil fuel that is not going to last forever. And it's not creating independence. It's depleting this resource.
So there are renewables that we can start looking into. But again, it goes back to who's controlling this country. It goes back to the Koch brothers who feed congressional representatives.
And so this is the incentive. And the laws that are there are created so the Koch brothers can benefit. And it's not for energy independence.
For national security, is oil the new gold? Does it have to be the new gold? Is there an alternative to oil? And there are. So that's some of the things that we have to start exploring and start to look for.
KARIM-ALY KASSAM: So if there is no benefit, then Dave, what could be some of the downsides if something goes wrong in this pipeline?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT: Well, even when the pipeline first is being constructed, there are jobs. And there is influx of money. But there are also things that come with it.
There are crimes. There are rapes. There are prostitutions. There are murders that come with this type of infrastructure project. So that's a downside up front.
When this pipeline breaks-- and I don't like to use the word if. But when it breaks, it's going to have an impact on our people. It's going to have an impact on our environment.
It's going to threaten the rights that we have, our inherent rights, our treaty rights, the rights that we have for hunting for sustainability, for fishing for sustainability, for clean potable water. And those are the things that are going to be threatened and paid for by us. So that's the downside.
KARIM-ALY KASSAM: What about the communities downstream?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT: Well, I think everybody has to be conscious. When I look at the emergency response plans, the claims are that this break will not affect 17 million downstream. But it's something that 17 million people downstream has to be aware of.
They have to know that these types of projects are only the beginning to an end. And the one source of life that is there for them is being threatened. It's an argument with the company that we go back and forth on. I think it will affect 17 million people downstream because it limits the amount of water that they will have available to them.
KARIM-ALY KASSAM: Thank you. Now this issue of the Dakota Pipeline has generated protest, generated a response. What are some of the positive things that have arisen out of the response both for Standing Rock as a community, as well as for communities globally? What are some of the positive things that have arisen out of this challenging event?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT: The first thing that comes to mind when you ask that question is the youth. There has been an awakening that happened with the youth. And I'm seeing some young people starting to stand up and be proud of who they are and not only be proud of who they are but have the foresight to say, I don't want my grandchildren to live this way. So in our community, there's an awakening with our young people saying, it's time to stand up.
And there's a lot of things that they can stand up for now. This pipeline is one. But there are several things that if they don't want to live a certain way, it's time that they stand up. And it's time to be proud.
And it's indigenous people, not just at Standing Rock who are starting to feel this. It's around the world. The relationships that we had built and the unity that we experience coming together goes to show that when that happens, a lot of things can change. And that's the positive that I'm looking forward to, not just the experience itself but the change that's coming.
KARIM-ALY KASSAM: Speaking of youth and change, what message would you give to the students here at Cornell University and the students at Sitting Bull College back home in Standing Rock? What would be some of the key messages you would give them from this experience?
DAVID ARCHAMBAULT: You know, I think that they need to believe that they are the answer. They need to believe in themselves and know that they have support from their families, from their communities. And if they feel like doing something, then they need to do it. And if they feel like saying something, then they need to say it and not worry about anything because they have the support. And they will be our change agents that we've been waiting for.
KARIM-ALY KASSAM: Thank you.
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Karim-Aly Kassam, International Professor of Environmental and Indigenous Studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, interviews David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Recorded February 17, 2017.