“We've been fighting this fight our whole lives and now there is no doubt in our minds that our generation can change the future. We know that the next presidency stands to jeopardize our work but we are by no means backing down. We will continue protecting everywhere we go and we will continue to stand for all our relations. We say Lila wopila to everyone who has supported the resurgence of indigenous nations. This is just the beginning.”
- Eryn Wise of the International Indigenous Youth Council
The Dakota Access Pipeline was supposed to be a done deal. Money in the bank. Half a million barrels a day of hydraulically fracked oil flowing over 1000 miles from North Dakota to Illinois by the end of 2016. That was before the Standing Rock Sioux Nation mobilized itself and allies to build the Sacred Stone Camp and block the pipeline's final connection under the Missouri River. Now, in a massive backtrack, the US government announced it will not grant the final easement for the pipeline's construction under the river.
With billions of corporate dollars at stake, the pipeline project is certainly not dead. Still, this is an important partial victory. Despite massive police violence, media disinformation and now the blizzards of the North Dakota winter – indigenous nations have so far succeeded in preventing the construction of a pipeline they never consented to being built on their lands. In doing so, they've become the focal point of an international movement, and taught climate and social justice organizers some important lessons.
They've also probably managed to ruin quite a few oil executives New Year's Eve celebrations as well!
The camp began in April and has since grown from a handful of people to over 11,000 by December. This includes a coalition of 320 Indigenous nations, as well as supporters from around the world. It first began to make headlines when private security forces pepper-sprayed and used attack dogs against peaceful camp members who were attempting to stop the bulldozing of sacred burial sites on the pipeline's path.
Over 10 million dollars has been spent already by the local police and out of state police forces who have joined them. There is ample evidence of these militarized and hostile police forces using tear gas spraying mace, shooting protesters and journalists with rubber bullets, arresting members of the press, using water cannons in subfreezing temperatures and throwing concussion grenades. One of these grenades hit a a 21 year old student who is now undergoing a series of surgeries to save her arm. Another woman was shot in the eye and is undergoing medical treatment to save her eye. Over 450 people have been arrested.
Yet with every act of brutality and intimidation the camp has continued to grow, and people have seen and felt the strength of a united and a determined effort.
Government Flip Flops
To be clear, the US government is working hard to get the pipeline built. After all, they originally approved the pipeline without proper consultation or consent from indigenous nations or a thorough environmental review. When a Federal Judge ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Nation's attempt to halt pipeline construction in September, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement asking for pipeline construction to be halted on either side of the Missouri Rive while they reviewed the decision-making process.
Since then they have been hoping that the camp would tire out and lose steam as winter descended and police violence continued. They were wrong. Camp members were also unfazed when the police announced they would fine anyone bringing supplies into the camp. Finally, the Federal government announced that camp members would be trespassing and face prosecution if they didn't relocate to an ironically named “free speech zone” and allow pipeline construction to continue by December 5th. Regardless, the camp continued to grow, and over 2000 U.S military veterans came together to create a human shield and protect the camp. This became a public relations nightmare of the government and oil executives, as the images of police attacking and removing veterans would certainly spark even more outrage.
It was for this reason that the last easement was denied. The two corporations responsible for the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistical Partners, have already issued a statement saying they were still committed to the pipeline construction. There is still a lot of speculation regarding their next steps. Some have said they will simply wait for the new Trump administration to take over the Presidency in the new year, while others have said they will continue construction despite facing $50,000 a day fines.
Regardless, it will be impossible to complete the pipeline by January 1, 2017. This is the date that Energy Transfer Partners conceded in court proceedings that it has a contractual obligation to complete the project by. If it misses this deadline, companies that have committed long term to ship oil though the pipeline at much higher 2014 prices have the right to rescind their commitments. This threatens the financial viability of the project.
What's at Stake
The rallying cry at Standing Rock of “Mni Wiconi – Water is Life” was a natural given that the pipeline jeopardizes the Missouri River and Ogallala Aquifier which millions of people rely on for their drinking water. What has become obvious though is that the movement is sustained and supported because it also connects to other fundamental issues. The camp has become the front line of poor and working people defending indigenous self-determination and their lives against government and corporate powers which continue to ram these resource extraction projects down our throats. They promise that these projects are for the “national interest”, meanwhile the planet is literally being pushed to the brink of complete catastrophe and our standards of living continues to drop.
Last month, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said Canada could see "20 Standing Rocks" if similar projects go ahead without free, prior and informed consent of indigenous nations. When Justin Trudeau recently approved to the Kinder Morgan pipeline in British Columbia, calls to create “Standing Rock North” were immediate.
“I was asked, 'When do you consider this pipeline issue to be over?' I said, when every pipe is out of the ground and the earth is repaired across the United States. I am not negotiating, I am got backing down. I must stand for our grandchildren and for the water.”
- LaDonna Allard, Director of the Sacred Stone Camp
From Occupy Wall Street, to Idle No More, to Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock. It is clear that there is a growing number of people who are fed up with the daily injustice and brutality of life in societies where governments work hand in hand with corporations to maximize profits at the expense of everyone else. Standing Rock has been successful by being steadfast, committed, and connected to world around it. They have refused to be divided, tricked or distracted. Despite the government's announcement of the easement denial, the camp still remains. All peace and social justice loving people should continue to support the camp and Standing Rock, and to apply their strength and determination to our own struggles for social and environmental justice.
We Stand with Standing Rock!
Mni Wiconi – Water is Life!
System Change Not Climate Change!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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