Author’s Disclosure: This article was written without significant input from the oil companies involved, or from the Army Corps of Engineers, who I believe is complicit in exploiting the Standing Rock Sioux. I began my search for understanding this issue with an open mind, but the more I researched, the more I found a long history of exploitation of tribal lands and people perpetuated both by corporations and by the United States government. Had this case not become so public, I believe it would have been one of possibly hundreds of examples of ongoing abuse of power. And, an additional disclosure, my son is at Standing Rock as I write this, following his own call to help protect Native American rights and our shared environment.
There is a lot of talk about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), but for those who get their news in snippets and memes, it is sometimes difficult to understand just what is going on.
So what’s the big deal about this pipeline, anyway?
Here’s the scoop:
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is being built at a cost of $3.8 billion and will eventually carry a minimum of 320,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken Shale, where the environmentally harmful practice of fracking has uncovered billions of gallons of oil.
The pipeline, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Sonoco Logistics Partners (SLP), will carry oil from the northwest corner of North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. It was meant to reduce the costs and burden of using railroads to transport oil, and to line the pockets of the oil companies.
There are many problems with this project, but the one receiving the most attention is that the pipeline is slated to run through land given to the people of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) in 1869 through the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty.
A few years after the treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. White miners and their families flocked to the hills, which were on Sioux land, to find riches, trampling over burial and prayer sites and inciting skirmishes with the Sioux.
In 1877, the U.S. government broke the treaty and illegally took back much of that land, making it available instead to settlers.
There is no doubt that this land, which is now being argued over for the DAPL, was taken illegally. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government was in violation of the treaty when it reclaimed the land, and ordered a settlement to the Sioux of $105 million for the Black Hills, plus $44 million for additional lands that were stolen.
But the Sioux wouldn’t settle. They still want their land back. Nearly four decades later, the U.S. Department of Interior is still holding over a billion dollars in trust, money that is still collecting interest, but the Sioux have no interest in selling out.
That land is now at the center of this controversy. Not only was the pipeline designed to go through Sioux land; it was also slated to run under Lake Oahe, which is currently the only water source for the reservation. It will also go through one of 66 historic and sacred village sites on the banks of the Missouri River.
Pipeline owner ETP has repeatedly claimed that the tribe did not attend public meetings or tell them their grievances. The tribe says they did, and produced an audio recording proving that they not only met with company officials, but they told them in no uncertain terms that they would not allow the pipeline on their tribal land.
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Waste Win Young shared concerns at that meeting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would violate the National Historic Preservation Act in order to complete the pipeline regardless of tribal objections.
She said the Corps did just that, violating the NHPA in approving sections of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Enbridge Flanagan South pipeline without tribal input or approval.
It turns out she was right.
The case to stop the pipeline has gone through two federal courts, and each time has been denied. Most recently, after a federal court denied the tribe an injunction in September, outrage over the project has garnered international attention. Protesters, or water protectors, from hundreds of tribes, as well as supporters from throughout the country, began gathering at Standing Rock to support the tribe.
It is the largest gathering of Native American tribes in recorded history, and many tribal members say they are standing behind the Standing Rock Sioux because they, too, have been slighted, deceived, and discriminated against by the U.S. government.
This week, Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy announced December 4 that the federal permit required to allow the pipeline to pass through Lake Oahe was to be delayed pending a thorough environmental impact assessment. She also suggested that re-routing the pipeline would be the best course of action.
The announcement came just as thousands of U.S. military veterans descended on the largest of the Standing Rock camps, Oceti Sakowin, to defend tribal lands. Among the emotional moments at the camp, a group of veterans issued a formal apology for the centuries of oppression and abuse that Native Americans have endured at the hands of the military.
The announcement also came on the eve of a December 5 deadline issued by the Army Corps of Engineers to evacuate one of the three protector camps, which is on land managed by the Corps.
Many people cheered, thinking this was victory, but ETP and SLP responded by issuing a statement saying they would continue with the pipeline as planned, despite the delay in their permit, and despite the wishes of the tribe.
In short, it’s not over at Standing Rock.
ETP plans to continue to lay pipeline through Sioux lands, likely paying a relatively small fine for doing so. President-elect Trump has already voiced his support for the oil industry, and will likely press the final administrative buttons needed to complete the project legally when he takes office next month.
In the meantime, thousands of people are braving below-zero temperatures in teepees and campers, dedicated to keeping tribal lands and waters safe.
Where we go from here will be telling of where we are as a nation, but one place we cannot go is backward.
So What Can We Do Now?
For the first time, millions of Americans are opening their eyes to the continued injustices suffered by Native Americans in our country. Until now, they have often been all but forgotten. We don’t have to travel to North Dakota to support the tribe, although that’s one option.
We can #StandWithStandingRock from home by spreading the word on social media and in our circles about what is happening. When public opinion sways toward a cause, our elected officials and government offices will change how they conduct business.
Better yet, we can hit the pipeline company where it hurts them most: in their funding. Many of us keep our money in banks that are using our dollars to fund the pipeline. Among them are Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase.
Some banks, like Chase, CitiBank and Bank of America talk out of both sides of their mouths, funding renewable energy at the same time they are investing in fossil fuels.
If you really care what you help to fund (if you’re reading elephant journal, you probably do), you are most likely better off depositing your money into a credit union or community development bank, where your money will be reinvested into your community. Green America has put together this super handy, step-by-step guide on how to do that while making an impact and without hurting your own credit.
If you want to help fund the movement at Standing Rock, there are dozens of GoFundMe and other sites to do so. It can be difficult to ascertain which ones are legitimate and which ones are scams, so if you donate, be sure someone you know and trust can verify the source. You can also donate directly to the tribe through standingrock.org.
And best yet, we can change our own energy consumption habits to rely less on fossil fuels.
Call and write to your legislators to support alternative energy like wind and solar.
Get to know local lobbying groups who are pushing for incentives that fossil fuel energy companies are fighting against. These groups need your voice.
Walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation to reduce carbon emissions and petroleum consumption.
There is a lot we can do to make a difference, and there is no better time than now. In this moment, millions of Americans are standing up in peace and unity against injustice and destruction of the environment—for the tribe, for the entire country, and for the world. We may not be able to stop the DAPL pipeline, but the real battle has only just begun.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman