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Thousands Of Veterans Travel To Standing Rock To Support Activists


Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is with us now. She's a Democrat from Hawaii. She is among the veterans who gathered at the camps this weekend - over the course of the weekend offering to serve as human shields to protect activists from possible law enforcement action. And Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is with us now. Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us.

TULSI GABBARD: Aloha. It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: What did you hear? What have you heard today?

GABBARD: You know, I got a message this afternoon shortly after we had a gathering of the veterans who have come here throughout the weekend. On my way back to camp, I got a message that the chairman had an announcement to make and he was inviting me over to where he was, where I quickly learned that the Army Corps of Engineers had informed him that they would not approve the easement for the pipeline to be built beneath the river, in effect, by stating that this approval would not take place. In effect, this will force a rerouting of the pipeline.

MARTIN: So what was the reaction when this announcement was made?

GABBARD: I mean, there have been and continue to be cheers throughout the camp in different places as people learn of the news. And many people can't believe it's true. And Chairman Archambault of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe just went before a gathering of a few thousand to let them know that in fact it is true, and that their prayers and their peaceful stand for protecting water made the difference not only for the people here at Standing Rock, but for literally generations to come.

MARTIN: What's your reaction?

GABBARD: This is a historic moment. I'm grateful to be here, grateful to be here with people from all over this country, grateful to be here with tribes from across Indian country and with the people of Standing Rock at a truly momentous time, you know? This has come about because of many, many months of people coming here and gathering to protect the water, and many, many years of the Standing Rock Sioux battling against this pipeline being built in a way that would affect and impact their water for generations to come. I have trouble finding the right words. It just shows how powerful it is when people come together, overcome differences for our common good. And there is nothing more precious to life than water.

MARTIN: What made you want to travel to Cannon Ball, N.D. this weekend?

GABBARD: You know, like so many veterans, I got the call from Wes Clark Jr. He said, hey, I'm trying to put together this gathering of veterans to go and stand with Standing Rock. Would you be available to come? I had been wanting to come for quite some time. For me personally, the issue of water protection has been an issue that's been near and dear to my heart for a long time. It's actually what first got me involved with politics in Hawaii many, many years ago, even as a teenager. In Hawaii at that time, they were planning to build a landfill over a major water aquifer, which, you know, made absolutely no sense.

And that ignited a fire within me many, many years ago, and felt in some ways kindred spirit to the threat that the people here at Standing Rock have been fighting against, which is not different from the unfortunate lead poisoning that the people of Flint, Mich. have been enduring, and is not different from a threat that we face in Hawaii right now where one of our largest water aquifers sits beneath a fuel storage tank carrying millions and millions gallons of fuel that's actually leaked already tens of thousands of gallons of fuel, threatening the water quality in our aquifer.

So there are issues like this that are happening across the country. And this victory today here at Standing Rock I know is giving great hope to others who are facing similar battles in their own communities.

MARTIN: Where were you in fact willing to serve as a human shield? Was that your plan?

GABBARD: My plan was to come here and stand in peace and in prayer with the people of Standing Rock with all of our other veterans. And that's exactly what's been happening. And that's what has led to this moment.

MARTIN: Do you think that your presence and that of the other veterans there is what turned the tide here?

GABBARD: It's hard to say. Again, thousands of people have been here for several months. Veterans have been piling in here and trickling in here over the last few days by the thousands. The Standing Rock Sioux have been battling this pipeline for years. Chairman Archambault, as he spoke to the crowd, shared his gratitude for all who have come and all who were not able to come, but have prayed from their homes in their mission to protect water in order to preserve and protect the life and the future of their families and their community and their tribe.

MARTIN: What do you think will happen now, Congresswoman? We think the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it won't grant the easement, so - crossing the river. So does that mean that it will be...

GABBARD: In effect, it will be rerouted. The other victory that came about today is that what Chairman Archambault many others from the Sioux nation have been calling for is a complete environmental impact statement on the entire pipeline. Thus far, there has only been an environmental assessment, which he shared with me yesterday. It looks at data and statistics, whereas an environmental impact statement is comprehensive and fully examines the impact of this project on people and communities as a whole, along with many other things. So they are looking at a few different positive developments that have come about today through the Army Corps' announcement.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Congresswoman, as you know, a new administration comes into office very soon, in six or seven weeks now. Is it possible that the incoming Trump administration will reverse this decision?

GABBARD: Look, people here are very proud of what they've accomplished, and they have no negative thoughts towards the future. They have shared that whomever is in the White House, they will continue to advocate for the protection of water and the protection of their people.

MARTIN: That's Tulsi Gabbard. She's a U.S. congresswoman. She represents Hawaii's second district. She's a Democrat. And she's also a U.S. veteran. She joined us from the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota today at the site of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. We reached her by telephone. Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GABBARD: Thank you. Aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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