Armored military vehicles, tear gas, pepper spray and police battling protesters. These images are etched into the minds of anyone who witnessed Black Lives Matter protests. But those images can also be found in North Dakota.
The local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fighting a billion-dollar pipeline designed to carry crude from North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois. But there’s fear that the $3.7 billion pipeline could pollute water supplies and destroy land that the tribe considers sacred. The line was originally designed to pass near Bismarck, N.D., but the mostly white residents successfully fought against it.
Dakota Access Pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
In September, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior put out a joint statement calling on Energy Transfer Partners to halt construction of the pipeline.
“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” read part of the statement. “Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.”
In late October, Hillary Clinton’s campaign adviser Charlie Galbraith sent a statement to the Indian Country Today Media Network addressing the former democratic presidential candidate’s perspective.
“We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” read the statement. “From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers; rights to do their jobs safely.”
Energy Transfer Partners ignored the pleas of the government and completed construction up to the river that provides water to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Company officials argued that they have all the permits to continue construction.
“Dakota Access has now completed construction of the pipeline on each side of Lake Oahe and is currently mobilizing horizontal drilling equipment to the drill box site in preparation for the tunneling under Lake Oahe,” read a statement from an Energy Transfer Partners representative. “Dakota Access expects that its mobilization of equipment will be completed over the next two weeks and that it will commence drilling activities upon completion of mobilization. Dakota Access remains confident that it will receive the easement for these two strips of land adjacent to Lake Oahe in a time frame that will not result in any significant delay in proceeding with drilling activities under Lake Oahe.”
Protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were joined by other tribes and environmental activists to voice their displeasure and rally against the pipeline. Democracy Now Reporter Amy Goodman was arrested and faced charges for recording the demonstrations. She was eventually cleared. Actors such as Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have all made appearances at the construction site to show solidarity with the tribe. Four-hundred arrests have taken place since the protests began, with charges filed ranging from engaging in a riot to criminal trespassing.
A group from the United Nations is currently investigating allegation of excessive forces used by authorities.
According to the Bismarck Tribune, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services will receive $4 million in additional funding to assist the response to protests. As for the protesters, with the North Dakota part of the pipeline almost complete, they’ve vowed to keep on fighting.
“The struggle to protect sacred land has been bitterly contested by police and state officials,” said Thomas Joseph II, a community organizer with PICO, a faith-based organizing body, and a member of The Lower Klamath River Tribes in California. “Early one morning, I gathered with other native people to pray and sing on lands being destroyed by the Dakota Access Pipeline. We were met with brutal force by a multicounty, interstate military force that was large enough to overtake a small country. Although we complied with police commands, more than 140 of our youth and elders were wrongly arrested and detained for three days. We were pepper sprayed and beaten to the ground. One of our members suffered a broken arm in the police attack. For our part, indigenous communities want nothing more than to protect sacred land and our water source. While we are wounded physically and emotionally, we refuse to back down.”