By MARTY GOODMAN
More than bitter winter weather lies ahead for hundreds of Native American nations and their supporters battling hazardous fossil-fuel pipelines on sacred Sioux land at the Standing Rock camp near Cannonball, North Dakota. A far more bitter struggle looms for Native American rights and climate justice with the incoming Trump administration. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump’s choice for the Department of Energy, is a climate-change denier and sits on boards of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco, two companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Oil company execs are vowing to complete the pipeline despite a Dec. 4 decision by the Obama administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not give the go-ahead to Dakota Access Pipelines (DAPL) to dig pipelines under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, a source of drinking water for the Sioux nation and millions downstream. The decision instructs the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an environmental study with community input, a process that could take one or two years.
On Dec. 13, the New York Daily News posted a recording it had received in which Mathew Ramsey, a top exec at Energy Transfer Partners, DAPL’s parent company, was said to be telling ETP staff, “I’ve got to tell you, election night changed everything.” Ramsey said on the recording, “We fully expect as soon as he is inaugurated this team is going to move to the final approvals, and DAPL will cross the lake.”
Vulture capitalist and President-elect Donald Trump has declared his support for the pipeline and is personally invested in DAPL for up to $1 million. Also invested are many of the corporations of Trump’s billionaire pals, such as Chase Morgan bank, the Bank of America, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo—which alone has invested $467 million. The pipeline will extend 1170 miles from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through sacred Sioux land to Illinois and ultimately to the Gulf Coast. The cost is $3.7 billion.
A lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal laws in allowing the pipeline to be dug under Lake Oahe. If the Army Corp’s permission to dig is restored, or if the federal court in North Dakota accepts DAPL’s arguments, pipeline construction could resume.
North Dakota’s laws are the strictest when it comes to allowing out of state public defenders to represent “water protectors” facing charges in court, now totaling at least 550. The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) of the National Lawyers Guild provides legal support but is overwhelmed and urges the state to relax its guidelines. Seventy-five North Dakota lawyers have been assigned 165 cases, but an additional 264 water protectors remain without lawyers.
The WPLC has also called for the dismissal of State Attorney Ladd Erickson for his inflammatory comments in court, referring to water protectors as staging “fake news” and “simply props for videos of stage events.” The hearings have been postponed, and the Trump administration’s actions will ultimately determine the continued relevance of the lawsuit. Whatever happens, the first rule of capitalism will still apply: ‘laws are meant to be broken’ … if they stand in the way of profits!
Originally, DAPL was to traverse an area close to the mostly white Bismarck, some 50 miles distant, but when the plan encountered opposition, the pipeline was rerouted to Standing Rock. DAPL is in violation of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the treaty of 1868. In the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of acres of Sioux land was seized to make way for a dam, with little or no compensation. In the treaties, the Sioux agreed to keep the area undeveloped and for hunting, but it is now ravaged by fossil-fuel polluters.
Demonstrating corporate contempt for the environment, a recent examination of oil spills in the last 30 years revealed over 8700 pipeline spills. On Dec. 13, two hours from Standing Rock, a pipeline spilled an estimated 176,000 gallons of crude into the Ash Coulee Creek. Sunoco Logistics, DAPL’s future operator, has the worst safety record of all. According to government statistics, it has had over 200 leaks since 2010. Last October, a Sunoco gas pipeline ruptured in Pennsylvania, spilling 55,000 gallons into the Susquehanna River.
The outrage at Standing Rock is a continuation of 500 years of the rape of Native American rights through massacres, racism, land theft, and forced displacement. DAPL is a textbook case of environmental racism and is in violation of international laws and agreements on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Veterans arrive in Standing Rock
Many attribute the timing of Obama’s Dec. 4 decision to the president’s fear of political blowback after 2000 veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan arrived at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock.
Upon his arrival , U.S. Navy veteran Brandee Paisano said, “I didn’t think I have to do it here, on this land, so here I am. This is what I need to be doing.” Army veteran Angie Seacrest said, “We want them to know that, though they may be feeling like they’re left out there alone, they’re not.”
The veterans often described themselves as “human shields” between cops and water protectors. The National Nurses United Union sent $50,000 to fund the expenses of the “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock.”
On Nov. 1, Obama said that he would let the situation at Standing Rock “play out” for several weeks—that is, regardless of Native American rights. Obama’s cynical posture came just days after cops, DAPL’s private security goons—with links to the notorious security firm Blackwater—and the National Guard brutalized peaceful water protectors on Oct. 27, arresting over 100 (see the November Socialist Action). Dem–o-cratic candidate Hillary Clinton remained silent about the brutality.
Arrests at Standing Rock included the use of rubber bullets capable of breaking bones, concussion grenades, water cannons in sub-freezing weather, tear gas, rifle-propelled bean bags, and—shades of Mississippi in the 1960s—attack dogs. Peaceful water protector Sophia Wilansky may lose her arm after being hit with a projectile fired by police goons.
In December, vigilantes attempted, KKK style, to silence Native Americans. In Bismarck, N.D., two white men in masks violently confronted a car driven by men from Standing Rock. The masked men threatened to assault them and bragged about sexually assaulting their wives. Also in December, three indigenous people were chased by white men in a pickup truck and masked men in snowmobiles. The attackers chased them at up to 100 mph on dangerously icy and snow-covered roads.
As with other struggles under capitalism, the struggle to stop DAPL will depend on the fight waged by Native American peoples and their working-class allies, especially oppressed communities.
Standing with Standing Rock
A movement to divest from DAPL has erupted nationwide. According to the divestment group #defundDapl, the total divested from DAPL is nearly $44.5 million from 17 institutions. Some 334 divestment actions took place in December alone.
On Jan. 1, protesters marched in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, Calif. In Minneapolis a giant “Divest NoDAPL” banner was hung from a scaffold high above a Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings game held at the U.S. Bank Stadium. U.S. Bank is an investor in DAPL. In Seattle, Kashama Sawant, a city council person and a socialist, is demanding that Seattle divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo by December 2018.
It is critical that the struggle to defend Standing Rock include the demand to free American Indian Movement political prisoner Leonard Peltier, still in jail since 1976 on frame-up charges of killing two FBI agents during the 1975 siege at Wounded Knee, S.D. Supporters cite retracted testimony by one witness who suffered FBI intimidation, suppressed evidence, and a lack of proof, which even Peltier’s parole commission admits.
The demand for his freedom is supported by Amnesty International and human rights supporters worldwide. Supporters called on Obama to pardon Peltier.
Other Pipeline Struggles
Struggles against gas pipelines have erupted across North America, some a threat to Native peoples. New Jersey is facing a number of pipeline projects, including one that would cross the ecologically sensitive Pinelands area. The Sabal Trail Transmission, a $3.2 billion gas pipeline, would cut through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. In tiny Alpine, Texas, protesters are fighting another Energy Transfer Partners pipeline.
In western Canada, the $6.8 billion Trans Mountain gas pipeline is being built to carry oil from the Alberta fields to terminals in Vancouver, in addition to the $7.5 billion Enbridge Line 3 project. Both projects are enraging Native Canadians.
On Jan. 6 in New York, the “Montrose 9” water protectors were sentenced in the Cortlandt Town Court by Judge Daniel McCarthy for “trespassing,” i.e., peacefully blocking access to Spectra Energy’s Algonquin pipeline construction in November 2015. Each pled “necessary defense,” meaning that they had exhausted all other avenues to stop the reckless act of building a gas pipeline near the Indian Point nuclear plant and under the Hudson River. They described the danger as “imminent.”
The judge dismissed the defense’s request to drop the charges, thus shielding Spectra’s politically connected corporate criminals. The Montrose 9’s attorney, Martin Solar, will file an appeal. The Montrose 9 were sentenced to a $250 fine plus a $125 “surcharge” and five hours of community service. The courtroom was filled with 100 supporters, who stood silently in solidarity.
Spectra has completed its hazardous 42-inch pipeline through sacred Ramapough Lenape land; it passes 105 feet from safety facilities of the Indian Point reactor. If the accident-prone nuke had a Fukashima-style meltdown, New York City, some 30 miles south, would be in its kill zone. (Breaking news: Indian Point may close in 2021.)
Spectra’s pipeline has completed one-third of its route up the East Coast. Spectra pretends that the pipeline is three separate projects for greater leeway in circumventing regulations.
We say, keep fossil fuels in the ground! Stop Spectra! Victory to Standing Rock! 100% renewables now! — M.G.
For more information, see Facebook: IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork, Labor for Standing Rock, #NoDapl, ResistSpectra or Standing rock.org, standwithstandingrock.org.
Photo: Stephanie Keith / Reuters