On the day of the 2016 presidential election, Energy Transfer Partners announced that it would begin the final phase of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which involves drilling under the Missouri River. The pipeline is intended to carry a half million barrels a day of fracked oil over 1,000 miles from the Bakken oil field in North Dakata to Illinois.
The intended path of the pipeline runs through the Great Sioux Reservation. In addition to violating sacred burial lands of the Sioux people, it threatens the drinking water of 18 million people, including residents of the Standing Rock Reservation, located just a half mile to the south. The pipeline was previously planned to run north of Bismarck, but was relocated, in part, due to concerns about the safety of the drinking water of the (white) Bismarck residents.
Thousands of indigenous and non-indigenous people have now gathered to Cannon Ball, North Dakota to protest the pipeline. Standing Rock has become home to the largest gathering of American Indian tribes in over a century, with over 300 federally recognized tribes present. Over the past several months, peaceful indigenous rights activists and climate change activists have clashed with a militarized police force and private security contractors.
Protests began in the spring of this year, but for months, the protesters received little attention in the media. Numerous celebrities have since helped draw the media’s attention to the protest, including Shailene Woodley, who was arrested. Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, also visited the site and now faces criminal charges for spray painting the blade of a bulldozer on the site with the words, “I approve this message.”
In the meantime, former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton failed to take any stand on the matter, even after being confronted by Standing Rock youth at the New York headquarters of her campaign. President Obama also adopted a cowardly wait-and-see approach to the matter.
Meanwhile, the pipeline construction has been rushing toward the Missouri River. The pipeline company has refused to halt construction, despite “requests” by the federal government to voluntarily delay the project while other routes are considered. Police and security contractors have used pepper spray, rubber bullets, teargas, and dogs on peaceful protesters and journalists. More than 400 people have been arrested. This past Sunday, police used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters in a confined space, as well as a water canon in below-freezing temperatures, resulting in several hospitalizations for hypothermia.
As of last week, the Army Corp of Engineers has halted construction pending additional study of the situation. While it is a small victory, it may be little more than an attempt by the Obama administration to pass this political hot potato off onto the new Republican administration. President-elect Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on the matter, but he has close financial ties to the pipeline, an intolerant of protests, and a blind spot for conflicts of interest, not to mention being a climate change denier, so the outcome is predictable.
This is a rapidly changing situation, and by the time you read this, it may be old news.
But you may not realize just how old.
This story has been repeated over and over for hundreds of years.
I want to tell just one small piece of it.