Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
What is the latest news on the Dakota Access Pipeline?
On Tuesday, February 7, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will grant the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to cross the Missouri River. The Corps is skipping both the Environmental Impact Statement as well as the congressional notification period required by law. These actions have been taken in response to a Presidential Memorandum that ordered, “the acting secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law.”
Yesterday, members of the Senate and House Natural Resource Committees have issued a letter to the President denouncing the Trump Administration’s tactics, stating, “This blatant disregard for federal law and our country’s treaty and trust responsibilities to Native American tribes is unacceptable. We strongly oppose this decision and any effort to undermine tribal rights. We urge you to immediately reverse this decision and follow the appropriate procedures required for tribal consultation, environmental law, and due process.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe maintain their opposition to the project. They are planning to file a lawsuit and have filed two temporary restraining orders. The Indigenous Coalition at Standing Rock has called for February 8th to be an international day of emergency actions.
APTN National News reports that hundreds of U.S. veterans are self-deploying for Standing Rock to join the demonstrators, known as water protectors, who remain at the camps. Last December, some 2,000 veterans arrived at Standing Rock before the courts ordered a delay and they dispersed. Since then, the camp’s population has thinned from several thousand to 300 due to severe winter weather.
Meanwhile, local governments are joining in the fight against DAPL. On January 31, the Seattle City Council voted to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo, one of 17 companies funding the pipeline. The bill requires the city to invest those funds in a bank that does not fund DAPL or private prisons.
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline project?
DAPL is a 1,168-mile, $3.8 billion oil pipeline that would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the state’s Bakken Formation to Illinois. There are conflicting reports as to whether the oil would be used in this country, or exported for sale. DAPL is funded in large part by banks. You can see a list of banks and their investments at Food and Water Watch to see if your bank is involved.
When did the tensions begin?
Last September, peoples from more than 90 Native American tribes have gathered at Standing Rock Sioux reservation, North Dakota, to protest against the creation of a four-state oil pipeline that would run through their land. Tensions reached a crescendo on September 3, after destruction of sacred tribal lands began while a complaint filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was pending decision. Construction crews began running bulldozers across the reservation, destroying sites of historic, religious, and cultural significance. Native Americans from more than 90 tribes had already been gathered on site, in an ongoing protest that began when complaint had first been filed on July 27— only to face mercenaries, pepper spray, and dogs set loose against them.
How did tensions escalate?
Organized by Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access (which is headquartered in Texas), the pipeline was fast-racked last month when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a general permit to allow construction to begin, using a loophole known as Nationwide Permit 12 that does not require environmental review, tribal consultation, or public input.
On July 27, 2016, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a complaint in federal court stating that, “the construction and operation of the pipeline…threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe.”
The complaint further reveals that the two Treaties of Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868 were given reserved land rights “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” by the Sioux (in exchange for ceding a large portion of their aboriginal territory in the Northern Great Plains). The complaint notes that Congress betrayed the terms of the treaty twice, stripping large portions of the reservation, leaving nine smaller reservations including Standing Rock.
On September 3, construction crews began running bulldozers across the reservation, just hours after layers representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filled evidence in federal court documenting how DAPL would run through a sacred burial site.
Tribal Chairman David Archambault II stated, “The demolition is devastating. These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, out sacred land has turned into hollow ground.”
Jan Hasselman, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said, “We’re days away from getting a resolution on the legal issues, and they came on a holiday weekend and destroyed the site.”
What happened next?
There was no law enforcement on the site when the bulldozers began to remove topsoil from an area about 150 feet wide, stretching for two miles. There was, however, a team of unidentified private security guards hired to protect DAPL interests, who arrived with guard dogs.
Upon discovering that their land had been destroyed, the protesters became incensed. In response, the guards sprayed mace directly in the faces of at least 30 unarmed protesters. Then they released the dogs. Six people were bitten, including a pregnant woman and a young child who was bit in the face. Reports have come in that the dogs were so scared and confused that they turned on their handlers and bit them as well. One security guard and two dogs were taken to Bismarck for treatment of undisclosed injuries. Video is available here.
The attack, which occurred on the 153rd anniversary of the White Stone Hill Massacre, which took the lives of more than 3000 Dakota men, women, and children, also recalls horrific images of the Civil Rights Movement, when police unleashed dogs on protesters in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama.
What has been the government’s response?
In September, neither President Obama nor Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have addressed the subject publicly. However, Green Party candidate Jill Stein arrived today to show support for the protest.
The Morton Country Sheriff’s Department, which was not on site during the conflict, put out a press release in which Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier claimed that four security guards where viciously attacked by the protesters. He alleges, “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles. The aggression and violence displayed here today is unlawful and should not be repeated.”
On September 9, the Obama administration announced it would halt construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline near North Dakota’s Lake Oahe until it can do more environmental assessments. The announcement came just minutes after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington D.C. denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for a temporary stop construction on DAPL.
Update October 21: That halt was overturned on October 9, when the United States Court of Appeals ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s original complaint—allowing destruction of Native lands and burial grounds to continue.
Update October 22: Police arrested 83 unarmed Water Protectors on charges of criminal trespass, inciting a riot, and resisting arrest after spraying them with pepper and beating with them with batons. Video of police activity can be seen at here.
Update October 25: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted a 12-day, 14-mile “No Fly Zone” over Cannonball, North Dakota, where the protesters are camped, prohibiting all aircraft, including drones, with the exception of law enforcement officials. As the Washington Post reports, “…the establishment of a ‘No-Fly Zone’ is tantamount to a declaration of war.”
Update November 15: The police have arrested more than 460 water protectors since protests began on August 10. The Los Angeles Times and The Daily Beast report that protestors have been flanked by military vehicles releasing high-pitched “sound cannon” blasts, shot by rubber bullets, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, arrested of trumped up charges, then hooded, put in stress positions, strip searched, and placed in dog kennels in the basement of the police station for days, with numbers written on their arms.
Update November 20: As temperatures dipped down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, law enforcement officials blasted hundreds of people with water cannons near Oceti Sakowin camp. Video can be seen at The Guardian. Standing behind a barbed wire fence, militarized police dressed in riot gear also launch concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas, injuring 300 people; 26 were taken to area hospitals, while 21 year-old New York resident Sophia Wilansky, who was air lifted to County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where she has been undergoing extensive surgery to save her arm from amputation after being hit by a grenade.
Update February 8: More than 700 arrests have been made since the protests began on August 10.
How can I help?
Crave put together a list of ways to contribute to the cause with Give Real Thanks: 7 Ways to Help the DAPL Protestors at Standing Rock, which provides a list of resources for people who want to donate, boycott, volunteer, organize, or protest.
Originally published Sept 6, 2016
Update, February 8, 2017: Included information from two previous updates:
Standing Tall at Standing Rock (October 21, 2016), which provides an overview of government actions in the weeks following the September 3 clash between water protectors and mercenaries, including the overturn of the September 9 construction halt and the arrest of 83 unarmed water protectors.
Standing Rock Has Become the First Major American Battleground of the 21st Century (November 15, 2016), which provides information on the October 25 FAA “No-Fly Zone” over the camp, as well as reports from The Los Angeles Times and The Daily Beast detailing cruel and unusual punishment of those arrested.
Give Real Thanks: 7 Ways to Help the DAPL Protestors at Standing Rock (November 23, 2016), which provides information on government’s actions against water protectors in freezing temperatures and a list of resources for people who want to donate, boycott, volunteer, organize, or protest.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.