Growing in number and spirit, the Standing Rock Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is swiftly gaining strength, as a federal hearing delayed a decision on the controversial project on August 24.
Support for the protest has spread across the country. Thousands have descended on the peaceful “prayer camps" at Cannonball River in North Dakota in recent days. In retaliation, state officials removed the demonstrators' drinking water supply on August 22.
As indigenous activists maintained resistance, allied groups sent an open letter to President Barack Obama on August 25 asking him to urge the US Army Corps of Engineers to pull its permits for the project.
The letter, signed by groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club and 350.org, said: “After years of pipeline disasters — from the massive tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2010, to the recent oil pipeline spills in the San Joaquin Valley and Ventura, CA — our organizations and our millions of members and supporters are concerned about the threat these projects pose to our safety, our health, and the environment.”
High profile activists and supporters rallied in Washington DC outside the US District Court, where US Judge James Boasberg delayed a decision on halting work on the pipeline until September 9. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux told the hearing that the US Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Transfer Corporation approval for the 1172-mile pipeline without tribal consent.
Tribal activists say the state's response to anti-pipeline protests, which includes surveillance, road blockades with military checkpoints, and a state of emergency declaration, has been overly aggressive and manipulative.
“It is deeply ironic that the Governor would release emergency funds under the guise of public health and safety, but then remove the infrastructure that helps ensure health and safety in the camp,” said Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth.
The supplies were provided by the North Dakota Department of Health at the tribe's request to support the roughly 2500 people gathered along the Standing Rock reservation's border on the Cannonball River, near where the pipeline is slated to cross.
LaDonna Allard, director of one of the prayer camps, said: “The gathering here remains 100% peaceful and ceremonial, as it has from day one. We are standing together in prayer … Why is a gathering of Indians so inherently threatening and frightening to some people?”
“This is nothing but repression of our growing movement to protect our water and future generations.”
Standing Rock spokesperson Steven Sitting Bear said he had received “notifications from tribes all over the country that have caravans in route, so it's continuing to grow”.
The tribe said that the pipeline — which will carry up to 570,000 barrels of fracked Bakken oil daily across four states to a market hub in Illinois — puts the sacred waters of the Missouri River at great risk.
Climate campaigner and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote at Grist.org on August 22 about “what it might mean if the if the Army Corps, or the Obama administration, simply said: 'You know what, you're right. We don't need to build this pipeline.'
“It would mean that after 525 years, someone had actually paid attention to the good sense that Native Americans have been offering almost from the start.”
There is an ominous sense of grim history about to be re-enacted at Standing Rock. North Dakota authorities — who are in essence a subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry — have insisted that the Sioux are violent, that they have “pipe bombs”. There are rumours about calling in the National Guard. The possibility for renewed tragedy is very real.
In an August 25 statement, Sacred Stone Camp Leaders and Elders said: “This is our land, as defined in our times as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a Sovereign Nation. In fact, what we call the United States is really comprised of Nations, it is a 'united' Nations, of relationships formed by diplomacy…
“So it's right on all counts to provide basic information from the leadership of Sacred Stones Camp in helping all parties understand what is at stake, become more educated, and raise the level of conversation about the environment that sustains us — including our water supply.
“Sacred Stones Camp was begun by women, as a prayer. It is our prayer that the waters of the homelands of the Standing Rock Tribe and all the peoples of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, or 'Greater Sioux Nation', remain pure. That includes the Missouri River and it's tributaries, flowing into the Mississippi in the greatest river system within the continental boundaries of the United States.
“With over 200 river crossings, the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline puts the drinking water supply of a large part of the country at risk. Our prayer is to keep the waters pure for all tribal peoples and all Americans.
“We pray for the waters used by farmers in Iowa and Illinois, the water consumed by school children in South Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Millions of Americans get their drinking water from this system.
“We are Protectors not Protesters. Our camp is a prayer, for our children, our elders and ancestors, and for the creatures, and the land and habitat they depend on, who cannot speak for themselves.
“We wish the Army Corps had done their job in protecting federally administered lands, unceded Indian lands, and Tribal lands, relying on science and judgement in protecting Indian culture from construction. Whether by intention or omission, the Army Corps broke federal laws, and didn't do their job.
“The state didn't do its job, overstepping jurisdictions and boundaries placing police barricades inside a Sovereign nation's borders, disrespecting treaties, conducting an illegal 'occupation' on Indigenous lands in direct counterveillance to most of the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document signed by 144 other nations and (later) endorsed by the United States of America and President Obama.
“The Governor of North Dakota didn't do his job, when instead of ensuring all parties get to the table on energy and environment, he let negative words and accusations cloud our hearts and judgement, and threaten to divide us.
“What is going on here is that over 80 nations and thousands of people have arrived on the Canonball River to pray for our environment and our cultures together…
“Protect the environment from being 'savaged' by speculators, carpetbagging Texas energy companies owned by lone wolf billionaires. Don't let them take our public, and our Native lands, and the resources they hold, the water we all depend on for our future in a changing world and climate.”
Updates are being shared on social media with the hashtags #NoDAPL and #RespectOurWater.
[Compiled from Common Dreams.]