United States: Standing Rock water protectors refusing to back down

A water protector at Standing Rock defies the militarised police.

Update: The US Army Corps of Engineers denied the Dakota Access pipeline company a permit to drill underneath the Missouri River on December 4 Democracy Now! reported. The decision officially halts construction of the US$3.8 billion oil pipeline that has faced months of resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota and members of more than 200 indigenous nations from across the Americas, as well as their non-Native allies.

Below, Leonard Klein and Sara Rougeau​ report from Standing Rock on the struggle, in a piece abridged from US Socialist Worker.

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Indigenous water protectors and their supporters are standing strong against threats by the US Army Corps of Engineers to clear the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been opposing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through their treaty land and under the Missouri River since 2014.

In April, the struggle took a new turn as the Lakota Sioux set up the Rosebud Camp on the southern bank of the Cannonball River, near the path of the pipeline construction. The camp has served as a launching point for peaceful protests.

The Oceti Sakowin Camp was built several months ago on treaty land on the north bank of the meandering Cannonball. The Army Corps claims this encampment of indigenous activists and supporters is trespassing on land under federal control, but the Lakota claim treaty rights to the land going back 150 years.

Now the Army Corps is threatening to clear the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chair Dave Archambault II said on November 26: “Today, we were notified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that on December 5th, they will close all lands north of the Cannonball River, which is where Oceti Sakowin camp is located.

“The letter states that the lands will be closed to public access for safety concerns, and that they will allow for a ‘free speech zone’ south of the Cannonball River on Army Corps lands.”

But the Lakota remain defiant. As one Lakota leader said at a November 26 press conference: “There is not one Indigenous person here who intends to leave on any but their own terms. To the Army Corps that sent that letter, that letter means nothing to us, because this is treaty land.”

The Army Corps claimed it needed to clear the encampment to protect protesters from the oncoming harsh winter conditions. But so far, the only thing the federal government has protected is Energy Transfer Partners’ construction schedule. This is despite the fact that ETP has failed to get permits allowing its crews to drill under the Missouri.

Peaceful actions held on roads and along pipeline easements have been met by militarised police, private security, attack dogs, water cannons and pepper spray.

But, despite the threats and brutality, camp residents are in the struggle for the long haul. Many winterised temporary structures are going up next to tipis and tents. The sound of hammers, saws and drills echo through the camp, along with songs, prayers and drumming.

Many people involved in the struggle against DAPL reference the ongoing contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Solidarity with Flint residents was a central part of the November 15 national day of action for Standing Rock.

Preparations for winter and prayer ceremonies continue in defiance as hundreds and perhaps thousands of people travel to Standing Rock to show their solidarity. Most prominent among them are people from many different indigenous nations.

Indeed, the camp, with its several thousand inhabitants, boasts seven kitchens, daily orientations and training, a sacred fire and a school.

“There is strength in numbers, and [the police and security forces] are scared of our strength,” said Waylon, pointing to the razor wire along one bank of the river near the DAPL drilling pad site. “Evicting us won’t silence us. We will pop up somewhere else.”

Cars, campers and vans arrive hourly, despite the coming North Dakota winter and the Army Corps threat. Banner after banner states “Water is Life” and calls out to “Defend the Sacred”. Prayers, drums and singing can be heard around the clock.

The backward, planet-wrecking priorities of capitalism are constantly on the minds of water protectors and supporters at the Oceti Sakowin camp.

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