The Dakota Access Pipeline
by Matthew Gregory
“Humble yourself” was what Wyatt Nelson heard while he was living and working in the encampment near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation and thousands of native and non-native allies are there to protest the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). It was advice he said he took to heart during his time at what he said could best be described as a “Prayer Resistance Camp”.
The Seven Council Fires of the Sioux Nation, which represents all Sioux groups, has come together for the first time since 1876. “Finally, for the first time in history, over centuries, somebody is listening to us,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II told Democracy Now! “We’ve been talking about this for almost two years now... This pipeline... not only threatens our water, it threatens our heritage, it threatens our culture, it threatens our environment.”
DAPL would transfer fracked crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota southeast across that state and then through South Dakota and Iowa before joining with a pipeline in Illinois. The pipeline was originally supposed to go through Bismarck but the route was changed because of worries about water contamination. In a move that smacks of racism, the pipeline route was changed to go through sacred tribal lands as well as under the Missouri River.
As the track record of oil company pipelines shows, it’s not a matter of if a pipe will leak, it’s when and the Missouri is the source of drinking water for millions of people. Native Americans and activists—who refer to themselves as “Water Protectors”—have since the summer endured beatings, tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, attack dogs and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. Comparisons have been made to Birmingham, Alabama circa 1963. The camp has also had to deal with false reports being texted by the Emergency Alert Service, icy roads to maneuver, and an ever-growing waste problem.
Water Protectors claimed a cautious victory in early December when President Obama and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers rejected the permit to drill under the Missouri River on the grounds that an environmental impact statement was needed. The announcement came on the heels of the arrival of a delegation of veterans led by Wesley Clark Jr. (son of the retired general and 2004 presidential candidate). When North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple threatened to forcibly evict the thousands of peaceful Water Protectors, U.S. military veterans responded to a call from tribal elders to come defend the camp.
The delegation of over 2000 calling themselves “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock” traveled to the camp to form a human shield around the Water Protectors. Air Force veteran and Crete resident Bud Clouse was there when the announcement came that the pipeline permit had been denied. “I will never forget the energy, the drums, the singing. It was a cautious, joyful moment. The moment was mixed with a happiness of a win but the reality that DAPL had ignored process and laws since the beginning and that corporations do as they will.”
Those skeptical of the victory were right to be ill at ease. Water Protectors told me that drilling is going on even though the permit has been rejected. Energy Transfer Partners would rather eat the cost of the fines than wait to drill. And on top of that, the environmental impact statement (EIS) hasn’t been started as of press time. According to Tribal Chair Archambault II, the immediate next step following the announcement of the permit rejection was for the Army Corps to publish a notice of intent to start the EIS in the Federal Register. “Doing so helps solidify the decision, setting in motion a thorough regulatory process, thus making it harder for a new administration to reverse.” It has not been published yet and it is unlikely that President Trump will do so.
The Standing Rock Sioux are part of the Great Sioux Nation and come in part from the Lakota nation. A Lakota prophecy warns of a black snake that will come to destroy the world. For so many of the Native Americans who came to Standing Rock, the pipeline was the black snake and the fight against it was a spiritual one. They have fought and won against tremendous odds and the struggle continues as it has over and over again for five hundred years. The odds were long for stopping TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline as well. Then as now, an unlikely alliance has come together to defeat a fossil infrastructure project with millions of dollars behind it. And as of now, they are winning. With the right mix of resistance, prayer, humility, cooperation and luck, Water Protectors might just slay the black snake yet.
The Water Protectors at Standing Rock still need propane and money for supplies as needed but not clothes or food. Most of all, they need people (preferably with trucks or hauling vehicles) to help relocate camps Oceti Sakowin and Rosebud, which are on lower ground, to higher ground near camp Sacred Stone over the next month or two. The lower areas will flood in the spring when ice melts and may lead to river pollution if camps, supplies, donated items and garbage are not relocated or hauled away.