A Victory at Standing Rock, But It’s Not Over Yet

In response to the Army Corps of Engineers announcement denying the easement to Dakota Access, LLC, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics have stated that the corporations remain “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Is the federal government prepared to take aggressive action to stop the company from drilling under the river without a permit? What will happen under a new administration?

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said, “Today, the Obama Administration has told us they are not granting the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This is not just an amazing victory for Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin – but also for the many other Tribal Nations, grassroots Indigenous communities and millions of Americans around the country who have stood in solidarity with us here in person, at rallies around the country, and through phone calls and letters.  This is a victory for organizing, and it doesn’t stop now.  We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration.  More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”

The $3.8 billion project nearing completion of its 1,172 mile pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois and threaten the Missouri River, our climate and cut through sacred ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Early on in the process, the proposed Dakota Access pipeline was rerouted away from Bismarck, North Dakota with a predominantly white population that would not tolerate a pipeline routed through their land contaminating their water supply. So the pipeline was rerouted through tribal land and sacred sites and under the Missouri River. Pipeline construction operations have already desecrated sacred burial sites. 

The Missouri River is a major water source for the Sioux Nation and supplies water to 17 million people downstream of the crossing. Over the last several months hundreds of North American tribes and thousands of nonnative people from across the nation and around the world including hundreds of faith leaders have descended upon the Standing Rock encampments to join in solidarity with the Sioux tribe in peaceful and prayerful protest to protect their water, their sacred land and their lives from the approaching pipeline construction. Children and grandparents are also part of the encampments. Better known as Water Protectors, they proclaim, “Mni wiconi, water is life”. 

Despite their peaceful assembly, the unarmed Water Protectors have been repeatedly confronted by violent, heavily militarized North Dakota police forces equipped with large tanks and riot gear, who have deployed attack dogs, rubber bullets, mace, pepper spray, concussion grenades and water cannons (in 20 degree temperatures).  Hundreds have been injured including one young girl who was blinded and a 21-year-old woman from New York City whose arm was shattered by a concussion grenade as she handed out water to the Protectors. Two elders went into cardiac arrest. Hundreds of others were arrested without rights read to them, many of them strip searched and thrown into dog kennels. Filmmakers, journalists and clergy were among those arrested. Despite the violence and countless human rights violations perpetrated by the North Dakota police who called for police forces from other states, the Water Protectors have remained peaceful and prayerful.

The National Lawyers Guild monitors were counted among those converging in Cannon Ball, North Dakota and were joined by a United Nations group that opened an investigation into local law enforcement abuses.  This past weekend, more than 2,500 U.S. veterans began converging at the Standing Rock camps ready to act as human shields to defend the Water Protectors against the brute force of the police militias. Then the announcement came on Sunday afternoon from the Obama administration denying the easement.  It would be much easier to celebrate this victory and go home.  But, the Protectors and their allies are not leaving Standing Rock. This is only the beginning. 

The Sioux Nation’s struggle to stand as Protectors against the multiple threats of the Dakota Access Pipeline has become an international rallying cry for indigenous people’s rights and sovereignty and the public awakening to centuries of sustained economic, environmental and social oppression of Native Americans. Clearly embedded in the struggle is the moral imperative to protect our precious air, water, land and climate and ensure a just transition to a new renewable energy economy.

We know from our own Jewish history that we can never be bystanders in the grip of silence.  We must act. Hillel the Elder taught us to apply our knowledge to act for ourselves and others exhorting, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Here are a few basic action steps that you can take to continue supporting the Water Protectors:

  1. Stay vigilant, informed and involved. 
  2. Participate in rallies in your community to support Water Protectors. 
  3. Write letters and make calls. 
  4. Demand an end to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  5. Demand the immediate cessation and full investigation into law enforcement abuses. 
  6. Dismiss all criminal charges against Water Protectors. 
  7. Call the White House to support the Obama administration’s decision to deny the easement for the pipeline. 

Important contact information:
White House: 202-456-1111
North Dakota Governor’s Office: 701-328-2200
Morton County State’s Attorney Office: 701-667-3330
Army Corps of Engineers-Bismarck: 701-255-0015

Ellen Weininger is an environmental health educator and is the Director of Educational Outreach at Grassroots Environmental Education, a science-based environmental health nonprofit serving local and state governments, school systems, health and environmental organizations and communities nationwide.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.