Sunday’s victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its battle against an oil pipeline in North Dakota is big news for a tribal member living in the Pacific Northwest.
Ace Baker is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux who lives with his family on the Swinomish Reservation near La Conner, Washington. Baker spent about three weeks participating in protests.
He said it was “hard to believe” the news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had denied the easements for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be build beneath the Missouri River. Construction has stopped.
EarthFix reporter Ashley Ahearn, reached Baker by cell phone on Sunday. Here’s their conversation.
Ahearn: What were the first thoughts that went through your head?
Baker: Well honestly the first thing I thought was, I hope this is true as it was kind of hard to believe. That’s what we were all praying for, this kind of outcome. Just kinda apprehensive. Don’t want to get my hopes up, you know.
Ahearn: But then did some happiness sink in?
Baker: Oh yeah, that was about six or seven seconds. After that, it was all over after that.
Ahearn: How do you see the government’s move and what kind of message does it send to you?
Baker: It just seems like, after everybody rose up against it I feel like they gave it a second thought: ‘well maybe we shouldn’t have done that, try to make it right.’ This is probably going to open some other doors for better discussions and more insight into tribal life and how that affects the state’s policies towards native lands and communities.
It remains to be seen how this is all going to play out ‘cause I know that this is what we wanted but there’s a whole other state that wanted the pipeline to go through. How’s it going to be for repairing relationships? John and Jane Smith walking down the street and seeing so-and-so from the reservation. I hope everything’s going to turn out but it’s still a long way to go.
Ahearn: So you’re worried that it might sour relationships between white people and Native Americans there now?
Baker: Yeah, like I said, I’m skeptical. This is what we wanted but 75 percent of the state, trying to push this through right there so I’m sure they’re going to be a little upset.
Ahearn: What do you hope happens next? Is a reroute of the pipeline enough or does the black snake, as American Indians have been calling it, need to be vanquished altogether?
Baker: I mean, fossil fuels are a part of daily life for everyone in this country. This is one step but it’s a long road. Hopefully in the next couple years we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, so hopefully there’s an awakening and a conscious of society so yeah we’re people too. I’m glad that this decision came through.