August 18th, 2016
By: Jason Wilson
Joey Montoya, like other protesters near Cannon Ball, at the northern boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, sees himself as not just protecting the local community from a new oil pipeline – but also the country and the earth.
“Native communities are always just the first to be affected. We’re always at the front lines when oil companies come in.”
Montoya, a 22-year-old member of the Lipan Apache tribe from San Francisco, is part an influx of Native American and environmental activists from all over the country who have gathered in the remote part of the state to take a stand against the $3.7bn North Dakota Access Pipeline, which tribal members say threatens to pollute drinking water and damage sacred sites.
Though people have been gathering on the site since the proposal was announced in April, hundreds descended on the site this week as construction began – and 18 people have been arrested.
On Monday night, protesters say pipeline workers were instructed to leave their equipment after protesters walked onto the work site and surrounded the machinery, in an action led mostly by women in the group. Cody Hall, of the Red Warrior Camp who joined the movement this week, said women had “jumped fences” to get closer to machinery in order to obstruct it. On Tuesday and Wednesday construction continued to be suspended. It is still unclear when work will resume.
If and when the pipeline is completed, it will transfer fracked crude oil from the Bakken field in the north-western part of North Dakota. It will run south-east across that state and then through South Dakota and Iowa before joining with a pipeline hub in Patoka, Illinois. According to its website, Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company behind the project, is the largest pipeline operator in the US by volume.
Although the pipeline will run outside the formal boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, tribal members have argued that it will disturb sacred sites, and that consultation on this point was inadequate. These arguments failed to stop the approval, which was granted in late July.
Kandi Mossett, an organiser with the Indigenous Environmental Network explains: “There are sacred sites out here, there are midden pile sites, historic sites. That is the main concern along with the protection of the water.”
At 1,172 miles long, it is only seven miles shorter than the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, which the Obama administration finally rejected last November. It has received less national attention that that pipeline, but that may be changing.
Tensions intensified on 10 August, when Dakota Access workers, accompanied by armed security guards, arrived to start construction of an access road for heavy machinery needed to complete the pipeline crossing of the Missouri. Workers were initially met by 15 to 30 protesters, but those numbers grew over succeeding days. According to filings made in Dakota Access’s successful application for a restraining order against protesters, by Friday, there were upwards of 350 protesters at the site.
Eighteen protesters were arrested on Friday, including Standing Rock tribal chairman, Dave Archambault II. The Guardian sought comment on the pipeline and the restraining order from Energy Transfer partners, but they did not respond before deadline.
People at the rallies uniformly reported that 400 to 500 people had gathered at the blockade site over the last two days, with 700 people camping in solidarity. Mossett says that food and other supplies are being brought to the camps, and facilities set up because “we anticipate that it’s going to grow”.
Read more at the Guardian.