Oil, Imperialism and Indigenous Rights
Pipeline protests accumulate national attention
“The demand is straightforward: The Army Corps should not grant the final permit, the one required to put the pipeline under the Missouri River. If the company insists on finding a new route, then the whole project should undergo a rigorous environmental impact review … Things should be done properly for once.” These are the words of Bill McKibben, journalist for New Republic and co-founder of the climate group 350.org written on Nov. 6, 2016 from the midst of the Standing Rock protest taking place in Central North Dakota.
While this protest has only garnered mass attention in the past few months, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been openly against the plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline first proposed in 2014. However, the Standing Rock Protest that has amassed national attention started in August of this year when the Sioux Tribe set up at the Sacred Stone Camp. But what exactly are the impending circumstances that the Sioux Tribe are protesting with such determination? And why only now has this issue come to the national stage?
The issue begins and ends with the plans for construction of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline which, according to NPR reporter Leah Donella, “would have stretched 1,179 miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.” The pipeline, which is being funded by by Texas-based Energy Transfer companies, would be utilized to send oil between North Dakota and Illinois.
So, where do the Standing Rock Sioux fit into the picture? The answer is the Missouri river, where the main water supply for the tribe which has been settled on land in North and South Dakota for several hundred years.
The significance of what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has set out to protest, gathering support from celebrities, environmental groups and the heart of the masses alike, is that they are standing up to a significant injustice. Maura Stephens, a journalist and activist, spoke about the environment at the camp while she was there up until Nov. 8. “Love is the glue that holds the place together, love and a strong commitment to peace is what’s holding these camps together with all the challenges they are facing.” Stephens traveled from Ithaca with supplies from locations around Ithaca, Elmira, Allegany, Yates County and Watson’s Glenn. For the four days she was present, she described the frenetic energy between the number of people taking part in the protest, standing by the Missouri River and the rest focused on frantically “winterizing” the camp for the cold weather front that hit the day after she left.
Not only is the tribe protesting this on the basis of land rights and deep sacred cultural connections to the surrounding area, but there are a great many protestors who are specifically worried for the implications of an oil pipe running beneath their water supply.
TIME reporter Justin Worland writes, “The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010.” This is a statistic that definitely does not lean in favor of the Pipeline having a positive impact upon the Standing Rock Sioux. Worland continued to describe how many environmental groups who have joined in action against the pipeline are bringing possible climate implications into the discussion. According to InsideClimate News reporter Phil McKenna, many of the discrepancies lie at the heart of the project. The EPA, Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation who were commissioned to respond to the original drafts for the pipeline deemed there to be multiple risks to environmental justice features as well as the tribe located in the area.
An official letter drafted by the EPA to the United States Army Corporation of Engineers on March 11, 2016, explained that, “we recommend that the Draft EA be revised to assess potential impacts to drinking water and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.”
McKenna says, “The Army Corps instead published its final environmental assessment four months later, which constituted final approval of the project,” stipulating that the environmental threats of the pipeline were not, “injurious to the public interest.”
When Bill McKibben was asked about this discrepancy he responded, “Often the lead agency ignores the wise cautions of other agencies that happened during the Keystone pipeline battle as well. This pipeline is a perfect example of environmental racism, and that should have been obvious to those in charge.” If those in charge are following self interest to the construction of this pipeline who is looking out for the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe?
According to the official website, since they took a stand in August they have gained the written support of other tribes, political and environmental organizations, figureheads like Bernie Sanders and unions ranging from communication workers, to postal workers to even nurse unions. And yet despite the support, the Sioux have also been met with extreme violence in response to their stagnant protest. NBC News reported that on Nov. 2, “ Police in riot gear shot rubber bullets and used pepper spray on demonstrators — who call themselves water protectors — on the shoreline of the Cantapeta Creek, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.” The most recent bout of violence took place on Monday, Nov. 21 when police officers chose to “douse protesters with water during a skirmish in subfreezing weather near the Dakota Access oil pipeline,” as reported by The Washington Post.
The significance of this protest, poised on the precipice of President-elect Donald Trump’s ascension to office, holds even more weight if one considers the circumstances that led to this face-off. The age old fight of the indigenous people to protect their land from imperialistic, materialistic and corporate aims has spanned centuries. A lot went into the injustices of this pipeline even making it to the point of the construction that is being protested. McKibben summed it up well, “the permits were expedited by the Obama administration; Donald Trump owns lots of stock in the company putting it up; WikiLeaks revealed that Hillary Clinton’s handlers took a $2 million check (a $2 million check) from the union building the pipeline two days before the Iowa primary, and the money came with explicit instructions to back the pipeline against Bernie Sanders’s protests.”
This protest holds a candle to the kind of investigative journalism that works to hold people of power accountable for their actions in situations like these. Who is holding the Oil Companies accountable for proceeding with this pipeline despite it’s clear infringement upon not only the environment but the Standing Rock Sioux culture and their connection to the land?
In the most recent, and heartbreaking, development, the United States Army Corporation has issued a mandatory evacuation of the main Standing Rock Encampment known as Oceti Sakowin, as reported by The Guardian. Blaming it on the coming cold temperatures, the United States Army Corporation is acting against the peaceful protest of the tribes and the hundreds of people that have come to support them.
Grace Chadwick, a member of the feminist organization Tribe de Mama, is also taking part in the protest. “Lots is happening around here,” she said. “Preparations are being put in place for the 5th of December. The Army Core has threatened the big camp Oceti Sakowin, saying; if you don’t evacuate we will be invaded. On December 4th there are 1,000 veterans coming from D.C. to head our frontline. Emotions are running high here. It’s important that we stay focused on our mission, now more than ever.”
Stephens echoed this sentiment saying she considered this ultimatum by the Army Corps to be “obscene, inhumane, disgusting, military — all the things these people are not, it’s a very spiritual community. I have been a part of other war zones before and this is a war zone in our own country.”
These next few weeks before Trump’s inauguration will prove very telling for the future of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s access to their cultural land. Trump himself released a list, published by NPR, where the sixth thing outlined explains his intention to “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.” Julia Carrie Wong writes for The Guardian, “The pipeline lacks a final permit to drill under the Missouri River. The corps of engineers has twice delayed issuing the permit, known as an easement. On 15 November, the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, filed court papers asking a judge to force the army to allow drilling to proceed.”
So what can we do? While the Standing Rock Protest may not be able to withstand the harsh winds or the eviction notice of the Army Corps, the support for this cause has never been stronger. Anyone can donate to the protestors by going to their website, everyone is urged to contact the DAPL toll line to complain through a number listed on their website as well. This does not have to be the end for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe if we all take a stand against imperialism and conglomerates that is hundreds of years overdue.
Mila Phelps-Friedl is a second-year journalism major who wishes she could spend all Thanksgivings learning about indigenous rights. You can email them at email@example.com.