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Federal Government Halts Construction Of Part Of North Dakota Pipeline


The federal government has blocked construction on key segments of a controversial pipeline in North Dakota. The decision came just minutes after a federal judge ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its attempt to halt work on that pipeline. Amy Sisk of Prairie Public Broadcasting joins us from Bismarck. Amy, thanks so much for being with us.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: Has the government decided not to proceed on those sections just after a judge essentially said they could?

SISK: Yes, that's what happened. So protests over this 1,200-mile pipeline called Dakota Access have been growing in recent weeks. Tribes from all over the country have come here to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. And those protests seem to have pushed the federal government to reconsider its approval of the pipeline project. Initially yesterday, it seemed like things were not going to go the protesters' way. The Standing Rock tribe had asked a federal judge for an injunction to stop work on the pipeline, but the judge decided against that request. Then literally minutes later, the government made the announcement that it would block work on a section of the pipeline that's on federal land near the Missouri River. And that's really what the protesters wanted. The Standing Rock tribe is concerned that this pipeline could contaminate its water supply, and the tribe is also upset that the pipeline crosses what they say are sacred sites. The government's decision buys the tribes some time.

SIMON: If the tribe has gotten what it wants, is the situation over?

SISK: No. I certainly don't think that this is the end of the pipeline or the protests. The government said that it would halt construction until it can determine whether it needs to reconsider any of its decisions. It's unclear exactly what that means or how long that might take. And the protesters aren't going anywhere. There's still thousands of people gathered at the site where the pipeline is supposed to cross the Missouri River, and no one here's talking about leaving. There's also solidarity protests planned across the country, including one on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. with Bernie Sanders. So this is going to continue.

SIMON: What was the reaction from the tribe?

SISK: It was beyond surprise. I heard a lot of cautious optimism from the tribe and from protesters. So the tribal chairman called this a, quote, "win for all Indians," and described the government's decision as a game-changer. But people I spoke with were also disappointed about the court's decision not to halt construction on the pipeline. Joseph Moose is from California. He's a member of three tribes, and he traveled to join the protest. Here's what he said.

JOSEPH MOOSE: The halting of the pipeline was the ultimate goal, and that didn't happen. So it just shows that there's more to do.

SIMON: Any reaction from the company?

SISK: As far as the company's reaction, they've been quite silent. They didn't issue a statement, and I've not spoken with them.

SIMON: I mean, this protest has brought together so many people from so many tribes in the same place. Does it - has it become larger than the pipeline?

SISK: Yes, I would say it certainly has. This is really a monumental moment for Native Americans throughout the entire United States because so many people from so many different tribes have come to this area to show their solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

SIMON: Amy Sisk from Prairie Public Broadcasting in Bismarck. Thanks so much for being with us.

SISK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.