BISMARCK, N.D. — 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.
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,” Archambault said.