The Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Yankton Sioux peoples continue their direct action against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
On the evening of 4 December, the US Army Corps of Engineers rejected the easement needed for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This significant development means that, at least for the time being, the pipeline work must cease and alternative routes must be explored. The Army Corps will now undertake an environmental impact statement, to find a more suitable route for the pipeline. As the news came in of the easement’s rejection, there were jubilant celebrations amongst indigenous protestors and their allies.
This very positive news follows months of arrests, intimidation and violence towards local tribes (and their allies), who are fearful that the pipeline could contaminate their water source: the Missouri River. The proposed route for the pipeline also directly crossed sacred burial grounds, violating the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty which guarantees the Standing Rock Sioux “undisturbed use and occupation” of the Standing Rock Reservation. The original pipeline plans were redrawn over the reservation, in order to protect the water supply of the overwhelmingly white nearby town of Bismarck.
On the evening of the 20 November, twenty-six people were hospitalized after North Dakota police fired water cannon, rubber bullets and percussion grenades at indigenous activists. The First Nations protesters suffered bone fractures and hypothermia, as a result of police repeatedly aiming water cannon directly at individuals, despite below freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps had previously issued a warning to the hundreds of remaining activists at the numerous protest camps, to leave by 5 December or face arrest and prosecution.
The threat was yet another example of the state’s dismissal of free speech and the sheer contempt it has shown towards the lives, history and culture of indigenous peoples. Despite numerous pleas for help, President Barrack Obama and the Democratic Party had previously failed to intervene to protect the wellbeing of First Nations peoples, instead serving the interests of capital and the significant profit they expect to make from the pipeline. Once online, the pipeline was expected to transport 450,000 barrels of fracked and highly volatile crude oil per day, directly underneath the Missouri River.
Any spillage would have devastated the main source of drinking and irrigation water for the 8,200 residents of the Standing Rock reservation. State documents show that between January 2012 and October 2013, there were nearly 300 oil pipeline spills in North Dakota alone. There are genuine and well-founded fears amongst residents of Standing Rock to the threat of spillage, as well as suspicion to the “assurances” they had previously received from the government. Since the 1960s Standing Rock reservation has lost 50,000 acres of prime agricultural land, after the state Bureau of Reclamation seized land to construct the Oahe Dam. Hundreds of families from various First Nations tribes were forcibly relocated and many still live in abject poverty.
These months of protest cap one of the largest, if not the largest protest in the history of the Indigenous people of Northern America. It is a rejection of the interests of private capital, white supremacy and the disgraceful treatment of indigenous peoples by the US government. Allies from across the US and abroad have given their support and solidarity to the protestors, including delegates from Black Lives Matter, Code Pink and the American Postal Workers Union.
Despite the recent positive news, some have voiced caution, noting that Donald Trump strongly supports the DAPL and the pipeline company itself could appeal the decision. “It’s a trick. It’s a lie. Until that drill is shut down it’s not over yet,” said Frank Archambault, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Everybody needs to stay in place.”
The next few months will still be vital in this struggle against corporate power and for the lives of indigenous peoples at Standing Rock.
• To donate to Standing Rock camp, contribute to legal funds or receive updates from activists, see here
• For global solidarity with DAPL protestors, see here