By MARTY GOODMAN
Mni wiconi (water is life)! The siege at Standing Rock, North Dakota, continues the 500-year rape of Native American land, resources, and culture. Driven by a capitalist system in crisis, oil profiteers have thrown overboard any concern over human rights or disastrous climate change.
Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Energy Transfer Partners (ETR), the pipeline’s developer, backed by a militarized police force, high-tech surveillance, and private security goons, seek to complete a 1130-mile pipeline that will deliver 470,000 barrels of oil per day through four states from western North Dakota to Patoka, Ill.
Costing $3.8 billion and scheduled for completion by the end of the year, the pipeline will go under the Missouri River, a source of water at Standing Rock and for some 18 million people downstream. Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Tribal Chair, states, “We won’t step down from this fight. … This is about our water, our rights, and our dignity as human beings.”
Currently, the digging is on “private land” that actually belongs to the Sioux, according to the Treaty of 1851. The pipeline is now within a few hundred yards of the Missouri River.
The attacks have ignited a fightback by the Sioux and over 100 other Native American nations to a degree that has not been seen since the struggle waged by the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973, for which political prisoner Leonard Peltier remains in jail on trumped-up charges. Native Americans have been joined by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of supporters (including this writer) at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock.
As of this writing, over 400 overwhelmingly peaceful pipeline opponents have been arrested at Standing Rock, 141 on Oct. 27 alone. Opponents were thrown into cages described by activists as dog-kennels and deprived of blankets in the cold Dakota night. Bail was set at $1500, but the protesters were released after bail was provided by an anonymous donor.
Pipeline opponents, calling themselves “Water Protectors,” have been brutalized by potentially bone-cracking rubber bullets, club swinging cops, dogs, pepper spray, tasers, concussion grenades, ear-piercing sound cannons, and high-velocity bean bags. The militarized police force at Standing Rock, supplied with Army equipment to police departments nationwide by the Obama administration, include armored trucks called MRAPs that sit next to the “frontier” between state and Sioux land.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a top Donald Trump supporter, called in the state National Guard in September. Oil production has increased by 600% inthe state, but the poverty rate in Standing Rock is a staggering 43.2%.
The resistance has sparked solidarity actions around the United States and in Canada. Mainstream environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, have lashed out against DAPL, calling it, “Yet another example of an oil pipeline project being permitted without public engagement or sufficient environmental review.” Portland’s Climate Action Coalition is sending an old school bus to Standing Rock, retrofitted as a refuge and medical care facility. On Nov. 15, the climate organization 350.org has initiated a national day of solidarity with Standing Rock.
The First Nation of Canada has issued statements in solidarity with Standing Rock, as protests break out in Western Canada against a projected 600-mile pipeline that will transport Alberta Tar Sands crude to the Pacific Coast, home to many ancestral Native territories. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will more than double output to 890,000 barrels a day.
“Many were hit without warning.”
Water protector Erica Gutierrez, a Cherokee, spoke with Socialist Action and described the chaotic protest scene she witnessed on Oct 27: “Women were screaming, “We love you,” not doing anything, hands up. Cops just grabbed [their] hands. One bean bag hit a woman in the face. Another was thrown on the ground for no reason. They were all doing nothing. Medics with armbands were arrested, their equipment taken away.”
Gutierrez’s great, great grandmother was on the “Trail of Tears,” when Native Americans east of the Mississippi were brutally expelled, beginning in 1838. Some 4000 died as they were force-marched west by U.S. soldiers.
Another witness, Andrea Waitner of Michigan, told Socialist Action at the campsite that on Oct. 27 she saw cops arresting 50 water protectors in a prayer circle that she was in, including medics and journalists. Waitner also said that she saw a grandmother shot in the back with a rubber bullet and knocked down. Many, young and old, were hit with clubs without warning, she said.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and member of the Society for World Peace, told Socialist Action that he was “in the front of the line” on Oct. 27 with his sacred pipe. The National Guard were pushing back using the “sound cannon,” he said. “We had no weapons. The elderly were treated like criminals and all arrested. Over 100 were arrested, numbers were put on their arms and we were denied access to the jails.”
Suddenly, he said, one man pointed an AR-15 rifle at water protectors. He was quickly chased by water protectors as he fled in his car. When caught, the man had a DAPL ID and other company identification. Nevertheless, corporate media portrayed the incident as protest “violence.”
Obama administration delays and deliberates
DAPL’S partners in crime are a slew of big banks such as Chase, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo—even Donald Trump has skin in the game. There was no serious environmental impact statement from DAPL or Energy Transfer Partners as required by law, nor the required meaningful consultation with the Sioux Nation, easing the way for pro-fossil fuel government officials to okay the plan.
Barack Obama, mislabeled a “pro-climate” president, could stop the corporate outlaws in their tracks. Unlike the Keystone XL project, which was finally canceled by the Obama administration last year, the Dakota Access project does not cross an international border with Canada. As of Oct. 28, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is deciding whether to grant the pipeline company an “easement” to build under Oahe Lake, a dammed-off section of the Missouri River.
On Sept. 9, the Obama administration issued a statement ordering the Army to not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.
That same day a federal judge rejected efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux to stop pipeline construction, saying the tribe failed to show “it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the court could issue.” The decision will be appealed. The company arrogantly never ceased operation.
On Nov. 1, Obama told news outlet “Now This” that his administration is monitoring the situation and held out the possibility of an Army Corps re-route of the pipeline. But, despite the arrests and brutality, he insisted, “we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”
The chairman of the Standing Rock people, David Archambault II explained to Democracy Now! that “[The] company just destroyed some more sacred sites. And they knew about these sites on Oct. 17, but they didn’t inform anyone until Oct. 27. They plowed through it. And, you know, that’s cause for the state to ask the company to cease work. That’s cause for the Corps of Engineers to say, ‘Shut down now. You’re not going to get this permit because you continue to violate indigenous peoples’ rights.’ The Obama administration or the Army Corps of Engineers can release that statement today, and then the construction will stop.”
Labor for Standing Rock
An important development is the establishment of the rank-and-file “Labor for Standing Rock” (LSR), which is challenging AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s support for DAPL (see Facebook Labor for Standing Rock). Trumka described DAPL as, incredibly, “providing over 4500 high-quality, family-supporting jobs.” But, as the saying goes, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” An on-line statement opposing Trumka’s “business unionism” was issued by “Labor for Palestine,” which garnered over 12,000 signers.
Michael Letwin, a co-founder of LSR, is a veteran of the Wounded Knee support movement in 1973 and former president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, in New York City. Letwin said, “Escalating police attacks against unarmed water protectors at standing rock on behalf of the oil and gas industry evokes images of Wounded Knee in 1890 and 1973, brutality against the civil rights movement, and state violence today from Ferguson and Baltimore to Palestine.” He continued, “The labor movement has faced similar violence throughout its history, and from the same forces of greed and injustice.”
Over the weekend of Oct. 28-29, a dozen LSR members established a campsite at Standing Rock with a flag that stated “Union Camp.”
As Water Protector Dallas Goldtooth said in a recent video, “Colonization hasn’t ended. This process of imperialism where we are regulated in our ability to decide what happens to our land, our water, our bodies, our futures in an overtly militarized law enforcement, we stand strong and committed to peaceful disobedience and to stop this pipeline.”
Photos: Marty Goodman / Socialist Action