JAMES CALABRESI ’20
Back at the end of the now-infamous 2016, you may have heard via mainstream news or your Facebook feed, of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Native Americans fighting . The pipeline, built by Dakota Access LLC, has been the subject of major scrutiny and frequent peaceful protests. What started last year as small scale resistance within the Native community of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has spread. This is due to their persistence and the presence of celebrities such as Shailene Woodley and Mark Ruffalo. The water protectors at Oceti Sakowin camp are deeply concerned about the pipeline, which would run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir used for their water consumption. Energy Transfer Partner, the official parent company owner, released statements trying to assuage those worried about the leaks: “The pipeline crosses 90 to 115 feet below Lake Oahe with heavy wall pipe and, as we all know, the pipe is inspected, tested and re-tested prior to being placed into service to ensure its long-term integrity.”
While Energy Transfer Partners has pledged to work with the Natives at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the efforts by police to remove protestors from private land have been outright violent at times. A infamous interview by Erin Schrode features a man explaining the battle lines between armed North Dakotan police and peaceful Water Protectors when a gunshot is heard and the video tilts to show the pained and shocked expression on Schrode’s face as she flails and falls. While the incident itself is abhorrent, the reporter was not on the front lines of the protests, nor was the protest violent. Perhaps the more concerning issue is that of the land that is at stake for the Standing Rock Natives.
It is important to understand that the pipeline itself does not physically cross Sioux land. If that were the case then clearly the Army Corps of Engineers would have to stop drilling and begin rerouting. So what is the problem here? Why can’t they let the pipe through? The answer is, Lake Oahe. The lake, a reservoir on the Missouri River, is intersected by the pipeline as it snakes its way around the Native land of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The fight becomes difficult to understand regarding water, which the Sioux view as a precious, God-given resource. For them, this means the water itself is part of the tribe and should not be tampered with by outside forces. Thus, when Energy Transfer Partners claims that “Dakota Access was designed with tremendous safety factors and redundancies, including compliance with and exceeding all safety and environmental regulations,” one can’t help but wonder why the company had to go through such a resource-rich area.
The answer lies in the history of the pipeline. The pipeline was originally planned to be routed through Bismarck, but the plan was scrapped when the environmental assessment determined that the it was too close to wellhead source water protection areas which should be avoided. This news is striking considering that an environmental impact statement was concluded to be “not required” by the Regional Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
On top of this comes the news that a pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas as of Jan. 30 has spilled a second time since opening in mid-2016, and is owned by Enbridge, who are equity co-owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Another Pipeline just burst in Bayou, Louisiana, killing one person and injuring three in the resulting explosion.
This is not the first time that the rhetoric of the Pipeline owners has conflicted with reality, as they continue to disparage the efforts of the protestors as violent: “the destruction of equipment and encroachment on private property must not be tolerated.” This statement is completely false as all first-hand accounts comfirm there have been no attacks since the inception of the peaceful protests.
This comes after the North Dakotan police have, on multiple occasions, tear gassed, maced, and shot the Water Protectors with rubber bullets and water cannons. Artistic director, Josh Fox, tweeted ,“Today at #standingrock, protectors held mirrors to the brutality of the police. Then, police tear gassed and maced them as usual. #nodapl” along with photographs of visible tear gas among protestors. This particular incident came just after the North Dakotan police force assembled on a hill where, according to the Sioux, their ancestors are buried. The Bismark Tribune reported on the incident, citing Sioux and Morton county references where the deceased were moved during the construction of Lake Oahe over 50 years ago. A Standing Rock Sioux tribe archaeologist had something else to say: “Different cultures have different beliefs on graveyards… That’s hallowed ground. Period.”
In the coming weeks, as President Trump works to confirm the pipeline through executive orders, many look to army Veterans as the last chance for a stand to be made against the pipeline after they visited DAPL and managed to help convince President Obama to halt the pipeline. Under that administration, Native Americans seemed to have a friend in the White House, with a statement released supporting an investigation into alternative routes that could help both the people of Bismarck and those of the Standing Rock tribe. Now, however, under the Trump administration, it is likely that the Army Corps will plow ahead with or without a full environmental impact statement, or the approval of our ever-belittled, original American landowners.