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Native People React to Standing Rock Setback

Water Protector rides an Appaloosa at Standing Rock | Photo: Dark Sevier, some rights reserved
Water Protector rides an Appaloosa at Standing Rock | Photo: Dark Sevier, some rights reserved

On February 8, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the owners of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline a green light to drill a borehole beneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, removing one of the last obstacles to the pipeline's completion.

This was a 180-degree change in the Corps' stance on the pipeline from last December, when it announced it would delay granting pipeline owners an easement under the Missouri, a response to a many months long campaign of opposition waged by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Sioux hold the area as sacred, and rely on the river for their drinking water. A pipeline rupture that contaminated the river could mean serious illness and displacement for the Standing Rock Sioux.

That's why since the middle of 2016 there's been a Native encampment near the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri rivers. At times numbering in the tens of thousands, the Native activists and their allies at Standing Rock have waged a historic non-violent campaign to alert the world to the problems with the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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The Corps' decision to delay the easement and pursue a full federal environmental review took place under the Obama administration. But within days of his inauguration, Donald Trump ordered the Corps to let the pipeline proceed. The Corps granted an easement to the pipeline's owners on February 8.

In the five days since, reaction from Native Water Protectors and their supporters has been swift. People at the Standing Rock encampments are preparing for a new wave of activity, a task complicated by minor flooding from snowmelt. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe fare asking a federal judge to deny the easement, calling it a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The filing asks the judge to send the Corps and the pipeline owners back to square one to restart the environmental review process. 

We'll report on the progress of that request as the judge considers it over the next few days. In the meantime, here's a sampling of reactions from some Native writers, scholars, journalists and activists about where Standing Rock stands now. (We list their affiliations here for identification purposes only, and not necessarily to imply that they speak for the groups mentioned.) 

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

“President Trump claims he has not received ‘a single phone call’ opposing this widely criticized project. Millions of people have raised their voices against this dangerous project… “The drinking water of millions of Americans is now at risk. We are a sovereign nation and we will fight to protect our water and sacred places from the brazen private interests trying to push this pipeline through to benefit a few wealthy Americans with financial ties to the Trump administration. Americans have come together in support of the Tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process. The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated.”

(Source: EarthJustice)

Dina Gilio-Whitaker, author and journalist, Indian Country Today Media Network

"Our nightmare of a 'President' Trump has come true, and he has begun his presidency (illegitimate though it may be) in lock step with the principles of a true settler state: total disregard for Indigenous rights. No one in their right mind in Indian country had reason to think that Trump would do anything other than pander to the fossil fuel junta which has seized our government, laws be damned. Let us not mince words: we have experienced a hostile corporate takeover of what is supposed to be a democracy in the United States, with the incestuous forces of Republican-dominated finance and fossil fuel interests at the helm in the White House and in congress. Native people are always the first on the chopping block when the greed-blinded have our lands and resources in their cross-hairs. But as Standing Rock made clear, Native causes are everyone's causes when it comes to protecting the environment from extreme extractivism. We must stay united in our future fights against the dark empire of fossil fuel industry."   

(Source: personal communication)

Harry Williams, historian, Bishop Paiute Tribe

"Ugly America raises its head again with no Honor in its Treaties. This is unconstitutional and unjust . Oil interests first; people's health? Forget about it. No honor, America.  [To] the rest of the world, this is a heads up: when you deal with the U.S., beware!"

(Source: personal communication)

Lee Sprague, activist and cultural educator, instructor at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College

[Note: the North Dakota wind makes a minute or so of Sprague's statement very hard to hear. Nonetheless, it's a good reminder of conditions people must endure at the encampments.

(Source: Facebook live)

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In The Ground Campaign Organizer at Indigenous Environmental Network

You know, what started out as literally 20 to 30 people in the middle of the prairie in this grassroots fight against this multibillion-dollar corporation has culminated into what just happened the other day in Seattle, where the city made the announcement that they are going to divest over $3 billion out of this company—or out of Wells Fargo, who funds this company. I think that shows the power of unified action. It shows the power of mobilization. And it shows the power of us, as the people, and what we can do when we really put our energy and focus on building a better, sustainable world.

And so, right now, we have a call to action across the planet, and specifically on Turtle Island, also known as so-called North America, for people to take to the streets, to rise up and rise with Standing Rock in mass mobilization, to support this effort and this fight against the abrogation of indigenous rights, the complete disregard for the law of the land. 

(Source: Democracy Now)

Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network

“Donald Trump will not build his Dakota Access Pipeline without a fight. The granting of an easement, without any environmental review or tribal consultation, is not the end of this fight — it is the new beginning. Expect mass resistance far beyond what Trump has seen so far.

“The granting of this easement goes against protocol, it goes against legal process, it disregards more than 100,000 comments already submitted as part of the not-yet-completed environmental review process — all for the sake of Donald Trump’s billionaire big oil cronies. And, it goes against the treaty rights of the entire Seven Councils Fires of the Sioux Nations.

“Donald Trump has not met with a single Native Nation since taking office. Our tribal nations and Indigenous grassroots peoples on the frontlines have had no input on this process. We support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and stand with them at this troubling time. "

Source: (Indigenous Environmental Network)

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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