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% of about 1,700 votes cast. His opponent, longtime tribal councilman and wildlife official Mike Faith, received 63%, 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.
Faith, 64, said he’s not sure how big of an issue that was in the campaign. The reservation has numerous other problems that need addressing, from a poor economy to poor healthcare, he said.
Faith, who used to manage the tribe’s buffalo herd and work as a ranger in its wildlife department, has been on the Tribal Council for a total of 18 years. He said he personally opposes the pipeline but thinks the large-scale protest took focus away from other issues, including health care, education, elderly needs, suicide problems, illegal drugs and a poor economy.
“We kind of neglected our own” by taking the lead on the pipeline protest, he said. “We did what we had to do, but we didn’t realize we were going to hurt our economy that much.”
The state shut down the highway near the protest camp for months. The highway also was the main route for patrons of the tribe’s casino, its main source of revenue.
“People want to see how we can fix ourselves,” Faith said. “We have to look at not depending on the casino so much. We have to look at enticing companies to come down here.”
Faith said he respects what Archambault did, and Archambault said he wishes the new administration well and looks forward to a smooth transition.
“I did the best I could for my tribe and that’s what we must ask of our leaders,” he said.