Lakota protest Dakota Access oil pipeline

September 6, 2016

From the September-October 2016 issue of News & Letters

Citizens of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation and allies are maintaining a Camp of the Sacred Stones along the proposed route of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to defend the water, sacred and burial sites and wildlife habitat. The camp in North Dakota began on April 1, near where the pipeline, which is to carry up to 570,000 barrels of fracked Bakken shale oil daily to Illinois, is supposed to dive underneath the Missouri River.

The resistance struck such a chord that supporters have flooded in from over 60 tribes, joined by environmental activists and others. At press time between 2,500 and 4,000 are sleeping in tents and tepees. Daycare has been set up. Members of the Standing Rock Lakota formed Spirit Resistance Radio, 87.9 FM, to broadcast updates.

Demonstrators at Standing Rock making their ideas known.

Demonstrators at Standing Rock making their ideas known.

Dozens have been arrested during actions at the construction site. On Aug. 15 Native women halted work by putting their bodies around the heavy machinery. Construction remains halted at press time. Tribal governments have sent 87 letters and resolutions in support. Rallies have been held as far away as Paris, and support has come from Indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere.


In a Run for Our Lives relay, Native youth ran 500 miles from Cannon Ball, N.D., to the district office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, Neb. Since the pipeline was approved anyway, they ran 2,000 miles to Washington D.C., where a rally was held on Aug. 24.

The Corps granted permits for the construction over written objections from three federal agencies. The Standing Rock people have sued, saying that the pipeline is affecting treaty land without tribal consent, in violation of treaty law and several federal laws such as the Clean Water Act.

In response to the protests, state officials removed the medical trailer and the drinking water supply despite oppressive heat. Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency Aug. 19, citing “outside agitators” responsible for “hundreds of criminal acts” at the firmly nonviolent camp.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier similarly claimed there were “pipe bombs” and gun violence at the protest site. He set up a military-style checkpoint on the main road in from Bismarck, turning away anyone suspected of heading to the camp. To scare parents, he announced that school buses would be escorted by cops.

While they are fiercely fighting this specific pipeline, participants have made clear that they are pushing back against a whole pattern of exploiting and transporting fossil fuels for the profit of some at the expense of Native American peoples. Many supporters also see it as a focal point for the struggle against climate change.

Franklin Dmitryev

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