Tribal head who led Dakota Access pipeline fight voted out

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Native American official who has been the face and voice of the fight against the Dakota Access oil pipeline has been voted out of office.

Unofficial results from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s general election Wednesday showed that Dave Archambault received only 37 percent of about 1,700 votes cast. His opponent, longtime tribal councilman and wildlife official Mike Faith, received 63 percent, according to the totals released Thursday.

Archambault conceded defeat in a statement.

“I will continue to advocate for the issues facing our community and look forward to exploring new opportunities,” he said. “I wish the new administration the best and look forward to a smooth transition, ensuring that we do not lose the powerful momentum we have at Standing Rock.”

The tribe opposed the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners over fears it would harm cultural sites and the tribe’s Missouri River water supply — claims rejected by ETP. Protests failed to stop the pipeline, and it began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois on June 1. The Standing Rock and three other Sioux tribes are still fighting the pipeline in federal court.

A protest camp on federal land just north of the reservation and near the area where the pipeline skirted tribal land drew hundreds and sometimes thousands of pipeline opponents, some of whom clashed with police. There were 761 arrests between August and February.

Archambault earlier this year called for the large camp and other smaller camps in the area to disband before the spring flooding season, upsetting some tribal members.

Activist Chase Iron Eyes, who is a Standing Rock member, clashed with Archambault over whether the large-scale on-the-ground protests should continue. But he said that even though he and Archambault disagreed about tactics, they shared the same goal and that Archambault “represented us well” overall.

However, Iron Eyes said fresh voices in tribal leadership might bolster efforts to repair relations with county, state and federal officials that became strained during the protests.

The Rev. John Floberg, who has been an Episcopal minister on the reservation for 26 years, said he doesn’t think Archambault’s handling of the protests was a big factor in his defeat.

“A lot of times when Standing Rock has an election, it isn’t about getting rid of someone that’s not doing a good job, it’s about looking to what the gifts (strengths) are of the candidates,” he said, adding that Faith has long been a respected leader on the reservation.

Faith, 64, said he’s not sure how big of an issue the pipeline protest was in the campaign. The reservation has numerous other problems that need addressing, from a poor economy to poor health care, he said.