The Governor Who Disappeared in August

UPDATE: On Sunday afternoon, just a few minutes after I posted this article on my blog, the Corps of Engineers announced it would not issue an easement for Energy Transfer Partners to drill on Corps land, effectively putting a stop to completion of the pipeline until a full Environmental Impact Statement is prepared, seeking the best route for the pipeline.  The Tribe won this round. I’ll write more about that when I’ve absorbed the full impact of what just happened. Meanwhile, it is likely the Water Protectors can go home before the temperature dips below zero. Their job is done. For now. 

Here’s the original post from Sunday afternoon.

I sense the tide of public opinion turning on the issue of the Dakota Access Pipe Line and the activism of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in seeking to keep it from crossing the Missouri River near the northern government-drawn boundary of its reservation. I say that because that’s what I’m hearing anecdotally from people who have no axe to grind on this issue, and there are a couple of very thoughtful pieces running in the Forum Communications Company’s newspapers this weekend. I’m going to actually repeat two of them right here, because they are worth sharing, but first a short story from this week involving me.

I got a call from a newspaper reporter this week asking me if I would like to comment in a story she was writing about the 2,000 veterans who are gathering at the Water Protectors Camp near Cannonball this weekend. She said a Marine veteran named Ray Morrell had issued a statement opposing the gathering of veterans at the camp, and asked whether I wanted to make a statement disagreeing with Ray.

I said I probably didn’t agree with Ray, but I wasn’t going to say so in the newspaper, because I generally sit right behind Ray in church, and that might get a little uncomfortable. She called somebody else and got a statement.

Sure enough, Ray and I were in church this morning, and afterwards, we visited for a minute and I told him about the call and my response, and we both got a good belly-laugh. Neither of us is going to change our minds, but we’re still friends.

Ray wasn’t alone, by the way. The North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council held a press conference Friday morning, which I watched online, decrying the 2,000 fellow veterans who are standing with Standing Rock this week. It kind of pissed me off that they said they were “speaking for North Dakota veterans.” Well, they weren’t speaking for me. I’m not going to be down there standing in line, because I’m coming 70 years old and I have a bad back and it’s cold out. But I sure think it is okay for those who want to be there to do that.

I’m not alone. There’s a fellow veteran from Grand Forks, ND, who wrote a most thoughtful letter to the editor of the Forum newspapers this morning, and here it is:

I’m writing in response to the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council’s denouncing the Veterans for Standing Rock protest.

“I’m a retired Air Force veteran of 24 years and a service connected disabled veteran and a lifetime member of the DAV. I do not support your views and did not ask you to represent all veterans of North Dakota to stay away from the protest. I swore an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution which includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

Instead of regurgitating the Morton County Sheriff’s Department version of the violence, you as the council should visit the Standing Rock site like I have and make your own decision on who are the repressors.

As for protesting on Dec. 7 and saying it’s an insult to World War II veterans, what a perfect day to protest. Dec. 7th was a day of infamy and all Americans united to defeat tyranny. As Coordinating Council for the N.D. Department of Veterans Affairs, falling under the state government, how do you remain neutral?

I also noticed you have no veterans support organizations on your council from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Three Affiliated Tribe, or from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. I don’t see the council representing the whole state.

Sherman R. Gallup

Grand Forks, North Dakota

I don’t want to fan the flames of disagreement among my fellow veterans and their organizations, but I liked Sherman’s letter and thought it was worth repeating here.

Then there’s Jane Ahlin’s column in this morning’s Forum. Jane’s a modest and moderate column-writer for The Forum, has been for years, and she thoughtfully addresses the issues of the day in her weekly column. Here’s today’s (the added emphasis is mine):

August seems like a long time ago. Looked at in terms of DAPL protests, it might as well be a century. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who, for all practical purposes, disappeared in August, surfaced last week. Perhaps his role in letting a local protest turn into an international cause celebre has dawned on him; perhaps he feels bad about the mess he’s dumping in the new governor’s lap.

Whatever the reason, as quoted in a Thursday article by Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple, the governor said, “In my opinion, we need to begin now to talk about how we are going to eventually arrive at a peaceful resolution of the situation and restore the relationship between North Dakota and the Standing Rock people.”

Begin indeed.

Things have changed. The cynical among us might think the appearance of an audio recording of a meeting between Standing Rock Sioux and representatives from the Dakota Access Pipeline in September of 2014 enhanced the governor’s awareness. The widely shared recording so drastically belies the narrative that both the pipeline company and the state of North Dakota put forward that the governor might have decided he had no choice but to change his tune. That controlling narrative—that the Standing Rock Sioux could not be bothered to object to the pipeline route until it was a done deal—was false.

But back to August, when all things were possible. The glaring initial mistake made by Gov. Dalrymple and his administration was not recognizing the Standing Rock protest as a political situation that only could be solved politically. Instead, the governor sent the lieutenant governor to the microphone to declare that lawlessness would not be tolerated. Suddenly the stakes changed: state government wasn’t out to mediate a political dispute; state government was out to quash a rebellion. Ultimatums rather than invitations ruled the day, and any notion that Standing Rock leaders would be heard respectfully went out the window. As did public relations.

The governor stepped behind closed doors, and bad things—done to protestors and done by protestors—filled that leadership void. The standoff only grew more bitter.

It didn’t have to be that way. When things blew up early in September with the pipeline company bulldozing land and using unlicensed security personnel with guard dogs, the governor could have defused the situation by insisting all parties sit down together and hash out a compromise.

Instead, the sticking point from those months ago remains: If the original route for the pipeline north of Bismarck was deemed a bad choice because of “adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill,” why are adverse consequences to Standing Rock acceptable? The closest thing to answers to that question have been ongoing insistence that the route north of Standing Rock is a better choice and pipelines are safe. However, if we accept assurances that pipelines are wonderfully safe, why not put DAPL where people don’t object to it? (Oh, wait, folks in Bismarck and Mandan wouldn’t object, would they?)

We know the route could be changed. Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access LLC, said as much in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “I really wish for the Standing Rock Sioux that they had engaged in discussion way before they did….We could have changed the route. It could have been done, but now it’s too late.”

Well, the Standing Rock Sioux had made their position clear and it isn’t too late. That the pipeline company gambled on construction without having a permit to cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe is nobody’s fault but their own. (Would moving the pipeline cost more than the $17 million North Dakota is spending on law enforcement?)

If there are morals to be learned from this saga, they are that avoidance is not leadership and political problems must be solved politically.

Well, there are two reasoned and reasonable and thoughtful articles, and I think that more and more people, each day, are starting to realize that perhaps a serious lack of leadership has exacerbated a problem that should have been resolved before the forecast called for -30 degree wind chills this week. That a REAL serious problem.

I think the recording that Jane refers to in her article of the September 30, 2014 meeting, at which the Standing Rock Tribe made it clear they would oppose the pipeline crossing near their reservation, thus catching the Dakota Access people in a big lie, turned some heads and some minds as well. Here’s an e-mail I got from a friend of mine after I reported on the recording in my blog last week:

I’d not been supportive of the Indian position because of what I thought was their Johnny-come-lately opposition. But your piece changes everything. I’m puzzled why nobody had previously brought forward this meeting and the tribe’s clear and early position voiced in it. A friend of mine, a conservative, also had his viewpoint completely changed today by your column.

Of course, there were some voices who didn’t want to recognize the importance of what the tribe said two years ago and kept on whining that “They never showed up at the taaable . . .” For those detractors, let me just shorten up last weeks’ column for you with my response to my friend’s e-mail:

Basically, the tribe, two years ago, said “Screw it. Let them try to run a pipeline through here. We’re not going to change our minds, so why waste time going to meetings and filling out paperwork. We’ll go fishing instead. And greet them when they arrive.”

Which is what they did. They had made their decision–they were not going to let the pipeline happen there. Notice had been served. There was no reason for them to participate in any processes going forward. But no one ever expected how steadfastly they would hold their ground when the time arrived for that greeting.

I don’t know what is going to happen this week when platoons of decorated veterans stand toe to toe with platoons of National Guardsmen and police, when the camps are faced with a couple thousand more mouths to feed, and when the temperature drops to 30 below wind chill. I’m a little afraid. I hope nobody dies.

One more thing. For some reason, the link to the September 30 meeting between the Tribe and the Dakota Access people, which I had in my story last week, doesn’t work any more, but the recording of the meeting is still available on the Tribe’s Facebook page, which you can find by clicking here and just scrolling down a little bit on their page.

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