by Sarah Aziza
November 15 was a momentous day for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its allies in the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL. Responding to a call issued by the Standing Rock leadership, thousands of supporters took to the streets for a National Day of Action against the construction of the pipeline. While demonstrations targeted offices of the Army Corps of Engineers and banks that are financing the pipeline, hundreds held their ground at the Sacred Stones camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota to resist and pray.
In San Francisco, over 2,000 demonstrators gathered Tuesday morning for a “Sunrise Ceremony” in support of Standing Rock. Similar demonstrations were planned in over 200 cities, including Minneapolis, Houston, New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. In Bismarck, North Dakota, anti-DAPL activists were confronted by pro-pipeline demonstrators, but the interaction remained peaceful.
Resisters of the DAPL, who refer to themselves as “Water Protectors,” have garnered a national solidarity movement since the Sacred Stones Camp appeared last spring to block the path of the $3.7 billion-dollar project from cutting under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir regarded as sacred by many Native people. After months of nonviolent resistance and activism, the protectors have succeeded in getting the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend construction permits for the pipeline, which is already 85 percent complete.
The Army issued a statement on November 14 in response to a September case brought by the Standing Rock Sioux: “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property.”
Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP, the company overseeing the pipeline, responded to this ruling on Monday by filing a case at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. ETP is seeking a court order to end the delay issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, requesting a judicial ruling to “end the [Obama] Administration’s political interference in the Dakota Access Pipeline review process.” The ETP reports that delays caused by the controversy have already cost over $100 million.
These legal proceedings were a central focus of the demonstrators on Tuesday, many of whom feel a new urgency about their cause following the election of Donald Trump. The president-elect has several personal investments in ETP — and Phillips 66, which owns 25 percent of the pipeline — and received over $100,000 in campaign donations from ETP CEO Kelcy Warren. Warren has praised Trump, saying he is “100 percent” confident that the project will be completed under a Trump administration. Trump has yet to comment directly on the DAPL, but recently said in a statement, “We’re going to allow the Keystone Pipeline and so many other things to move forward.”
As hundreds of anti-DAPL demonstrations swept the country on Tuesday, a group of prominent U.N. human rights officials weighed in, denouncing U.S. security forces for using “excessive force” against protestors at Standing Rock. Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai expressed dismay over the “inhumane and degrading” treatment endured by some after being detained near Standing Rock, including “marking people with numbers and detaining them in overcrowded cages, on the bare concrete floor, without being provided with medical care.”
Kiai and his co-signers urged U.S. law enforcement to recognize that “people feel that their concerns are being ignored, and it is their right to stage peaceful assemblies so that these concerns can be heard.” When local law enforcement chose not to charge a private citizen who harassed demonstrators and discharged a weapon on Saturday, many raised questions of bias.
On Tuesday, the Standing Rock Sioux also announced the release of a new documentary on their months-long struggle to protect their sacred lands. The eight-minute film, titled “Mni Wiconi,” which means “Water is Life” in Lakota, chronicles the nearly eight-month struggle of the Water Protectors to halt the DAPL, and within 24 hours had nearly 70,000 views on the Standing Rock website alone.
Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement on Tuesday that he’s heartened by the signs of solidarity around the country, and believes there is reason for hope. “The tide is turning against this project,” he said. “We thank all of our water protectors who have raised their voices against it. You are being heard.”
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