Since April, protesters have been occupying land around the construction sites of the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to the website for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, “The Dakota Access Pipeline Project, also known as Bakken Oil Pipeline, would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat. The pipeline would carry [470,000 barrels of] crude oil [each day] from the Bakken Oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.”
Despite that the pipeline’s projected path runs through land that is of interest to the tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe alleges that they were not properly consulted before plans for the pipeline were approved. Their concern arises from the facts that a portion of the pipeline runs beneath a section of the Missouri river upstream from the main tribal population, providing their only source of drinking water, and it will also run through sacred Native American burial grounds. According to this article in The Atlantic, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe should have been approached as one government being consulted by another. Instead, the permitting process was rushed and the tribe was not treated as a partner in the project planning, but as an obstacle to be overcome through last minute, understated communication.
This timeline of events from Mother Jones indicates that the Army Corps of Engineers issued their final fast-track permit in July, citing that there would be “no direct or indirect [environmental] impacts” from the pipeline, despite that it passed beneath the Missouri River only a half mile upstream from the reservation boundary.
On August 4th, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an injunction with support from Earthjustice against the Army Corps in an attempt to halt pipeline construction and were served a return law suit from Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access LLC, for blocking construction. By late August, the number of protesters on site surged from a few hundred to over a thousand, drawing national media attention.
As the tribe awaited a decision in response to their injunction, Dakota Access took advantage of the Labor Day weekend to bulldoze over land that had recently been discovered to contain archaeological evidence of sacred burial sites. On September 3rd, protesters jumped a fence and ran to block the bulldozers, where they were met by private security armed with dogs and pepper spray. Over 30 people were maced while six people were bitten, including one child. Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman was on scene with her camera crew as the clash took place:
That week, a back-to-back chain of events progressed the action with lightning speed. In Laos, President Obama was questioned about the Dakota Access Pipeline. On September 8th, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple activated the National Guard to help police the protests. On September 9th, the federal court reviewing Standing Rock’s injunction denied the request to halt construction.
That same day, the Obama Administration refused to authorize construction of the pipeline that crosses federal lands near Lake Oahe, and asked Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily halt construction in the area until further investigations can provide more information. Furthermore, the White House issued a statement that this fall it will begin discussions with Native American tribes to see how “to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights,” including any possible new legislation that would have to be passed to achieve these goals. Both White House announcements were hailed as victories by activists, though most of the construction lies outside of federal lands and could continue to move forward.
Meanwhile, several celebrities have spoken out about the pipeline, including Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pharrell Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Rock, Shailene Woodley, and the cast of Justice League. Several politicians have also publicly opposed the pipeline, most notably Senator Bernie Sanders and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who faces arrest for spray painting a bulldozer at the construction site. Demonstrations have been held in other cities across the U.S. to present solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including Oakland, Philadelphia, NYC, Chicago, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Denver, Tulsa, Omaha and more.
North Dakota authorities have also issued an arrest warrant for Amy Goodman for filming the protests and capturing the violence against protesters, sparking outrage amongst her colleagues for violating the freedom of the press. Many claim that it is no coincidence that there has been mass media silence surrounding the protests from the mainstream media, many of whom feature ads from fossil fuel energy companies.
However, protest efforts have gained much exposure from social media. Those who are unable to join the protests at the construction site can join solidarity movements in their areas, raise awareness on social media (#NoDAPL and #KeepItInTheGround), sign this petition on Change.org and others, or donate to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to help raise funds for food, drinking water and other supplies at the protest camp site. “Dakota Access Pipeline Protests: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” published by Heavy.com, provides more in-depth coverage about the history of the protest and other information.
Below the surface, this story is not just about one tribe and one oil pipeline. For many Native Americans, this is an historic moment for disenfranchised indigenous people to take a stand against an oppressive colonial power that has cheated and bullied them for centuries. Many are saying that this is the largest gathering of Native Americans in over 100 years. Members of other tribes are traveling to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The results of President Obama’s talks with tribal leaders could set a new precedent for how indigenous peoples are treated by governments, not only in the U.S., but around the world.
This ordeal also brings environmental concerns to the forefront. Hundreds of climate and environmental activists are adding their voices in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which poses public health and environmental risks in the pursuit of even more fossil fuel energy. While the Dakota Access Pipeline proponents promise that the project will help curb America’s dependency on foreign oil, hundreds of climate scientists and activists insist that humanity must abandon fossil fuels entirely in favor of clean, renewable energy, immediately, in order to prevent irreversible catastrophic climate change.
Watch this Democracy Now! interview with Native American Activist Winona LaDuke, longtime advocate for indigenous rights and energy justice:
Although Energy Transfer Partners claims that transporting oil via pipelines is safe practice, many experts are insisting that “it’s not a matter of if a pipeline leaks, it’s when.“ Just last week, the Colonial Pipeline running from Houston to New York spilled 250,000 gallons of gasoline in Shelby County, Alabama. The governors of Alabama and Georgia have declared states of emergency with the anticipated gas shortages and price hikes as the pipeline is shut down for repair. Colonial Pipeline was responsible for another oil leak in the 1990’s, spilling 1.4 million gallons and adversely affecting five states. TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline also leaked in April of this year, spilling over 18,000 gallons before the leak was noticed.
Investigation into the funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline has revealed that several big Wall Street banks, including Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and more are backing the construction. The situation with DAPL highlights yet another incident of corporate interests taking precedence over the health and safety of the public, over indigenous rights, over the climate and environment, and over the will of the people.
Fortunately, the movement has gained much momentum over the last several weeks. With international attention drawn, the world is literally watching to see how President Obama and the United States of America handle the battle between fossil fuels and environmental activists, between the federal government and Native Americans, between corporate power and the power of the people. No matter what the outcome of the Dakota Access Pipeline battle, the fight for environmental justice and indigenous rights will continue as long as there are people with the will to persevere for victory.
She graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing minor. She currently resides on Planet Earth, and therefore has a vested interest in the goings-on and goings-to-be around the place.
She's also really friendly, so feel free to drop a line: Jacquelyn@radicallyenlightened.com.
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