In most circles, the protest is known as NO DAPL – No Dakota Access Pipeline. To American Indian journalist and historian, Nick Estes, the fight is generations-old, ongoing and characterized as, “Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) resistance against the trespass of settlers, dams, and pipelines across the Mni Sose, the Missouri River.” Taking lessons learned from First Nations victories against pipelines in Canada and the successful defeat of the Keystone Pipeline proposed for the United States, American Indians have assembled to protest at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in numbers and coalitions of tribes not seen for a century.
American Indian leaders across the country talk of an awakening among native peoples fighting various fronts against oil drilling at the expense of assured clean water and the preservation of the environment and sacred sites. Elders warn that DAPL may only be the first of many fights currently facing the native community and call for collaboration with allies from other countries and inside the United States to resist the unlawful appropriation of resources. As warning, Ute nation officials point toward Bill 5780, currently in the US House of Representatives, brought by Utah Congressman, Bob Bishop which could take 26 percent of Ute land in Utah and prioritize oil and gas exploration over conservation. Leaders are hopeful that the momentum around fighting DAPL will help with future battles in Indian country.
During the months-long DAPL protests, started during the summer and intensifying this fall, local police along with private security have been mobilized to move protestors from the path of construction. To date, hundreds of protestors have been arrested and numerous protestors have been hurt.
Protestors have blocked roads near the capitol in Bismarck, poured oil on capitol steps, and marched repeatedly to bring attention to the danger of building the pipeline. Besides Bismarck which has been on lockdown, DAPL opponents have organized across the country. In Colorado, rallies have taken place in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver. Thornton State Representative, Joe Salazar, spoke to protestors on the Colorado Capitol and later posted live feeds from Standing Rock where he gave status updates and met with legal representatives on site.
The University of Denver hosted the Pipeline Leadership Conference on November 15-16, where topics included pipeline management, use of new technology and regulation compliance. Thousands protested outside the conference, led by the University of Denver American Indian Student Alliance, chanting, “Water is sacred, water is life.” Activists objected to the university as host and participation of the Michels and Energy Transfer companies who are directly involved in constructing the DAPL.
Like most popular U.S. movements, the fight has been aired in digital media. Green Party presidential nominee, Jill Stein was filmed defacing DAPL construction equipment and has tweeted about her Standing Rock protest. Actor Susan Sarandon started an online petition asking for 110,000 signatures and for divestiture in the banks funding the pipeline - Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Chase and Citigroup. Singer/songwriter Dave Matthews live streamed a concert in support of protestors and actors Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio have joined in the Twitter war. Chuck D of Public Enemy fame took to Facebook to publish the emails and telephone numbers of people to contact if you object to DAPL. Over 130,000 “checked-in” on Facebook at Standing Rock to prevent the local sheriff’s office from using geolocation to pinpoint protestors.
Sept. 9: U.S District Judge James Boasberg denied a lawsuit brought by t.he Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, allowing construction to continue on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since the denial in court, many Standing Rock supporters, and opponents of the pipeline figure their legal remedies are exhausted and see protest as their only avenue remaining.
This is Boasberg’s second controversial ruling in as many months. In August, the DC judge ordered the expedited release of 15,000 emails on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s server. Boasberg is brother to Denver Public Schools Superintendent, Tom Boasberg.
In anticipation of the ruling, three federal departments issued a joint statement asking for a voluntary halt by the construction company until impact could be further studied. The Departments of Justice, Interior and Army requested, “…that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
November 15: Global Day of Action against DAPL. From the Energy Transfer main offices in Houston to the Army Corp of Engineers headquarters in Los Angeles, protestors came out in droves in support of the “Water Protectors” at Standing Rock. From west coast San Francisco where thousands marched in that city’s Civic Center Plaza to thousands in New York City on the East Coast, the movement has gained momentum. Bernie Sanders and other celebrities spoke to a protesting crowd in Washington DC.
December 4-7: Veterans against the DAPL are planning to assemble in North Dakota to join the protests. Nearly two-thirds of a GoFundMe page goal of $750,000 had been raised to be used for logistics and legal fees. On the web site, veteran Michael Wood makes his case, “If the cops there want to be state sanctioned agents to brutally beat non-violent veterans, that have served their country honorably, if they’re going to beat us, then that should be the signal the rest of the world of what our country’s doing.” Wood explains why veterans should support the cause, “American people in this country have served at a higher percentage in the United States military than any group in this entire country.” Wesley Clark Jr. is heading the organizing effort, he is the son of former Democratic presidential candidate, retired general Wesley Clark.
December 5: Dakota Access Pipleline (DAPL) protestors have been told they have to disassemble camps and move by December 5th or face arrest. In a letter to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, Cave Archambault II, Colonel John Henderson of the Army Corps of Engineers said, “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditiwons.” Archambault countered by expressing disappointment and saying, “The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now.”
January 1, 2017: Energy Transfer Partners, the largest oil pipeline company in the country claims the pipeline must be built by the first month of the new year in order to fulfill oil contracts. From their website, the company claims an operating principle is to, “…make accommodations, minimize disruptions, and achieve full restoration of impacted land. We will listen to and address questions from the community, landowners and other interested stakeholders about the project, proposed routes, landowner communications and more.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,100+ mile-long, 30-inch diameter pipe that can transport up to 570,000 gallons of oil every day from North Dakota to transportation and distribution hubs in Illinois. At a construction cost just shy of $4 billion, the pipeline route starts near Fort Bethold Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota travels southwest near Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota, continuing through Iowa and Illinois. The path of the pipeline is under the Missouri River twice and comes within half a mile of Standing Rock Reservation.