Standing Rock: cautiously optimistic as international solidarity builds
This morning, the water flows a little easier in the Cannonball River. The thousands of people that have arrived in support of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access oil pipeline are still sleeping soundly, dreams dancing with victory. The sacred fire is still alive after a night of ceremony and celebration in temperatures well below zero.
For a day that many thought might never come has arrived: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, and ordered a full Environmental Impact Statement. In a historic gesture, the Obama administration has met the two demands of the ‘water protectors’, as the protesters that have been living in the eight-month long resistance camps are known. The New York Times declared it a ‘victory for protestors’.
‘This is a turning point, and this is a real victory, for us as Native people that have lived through genocide. And we’re still here! And we’ve never changed our story over 500 years: that you have to take care of the Earth. So that she can take care of us,’ said Kandi Mossett, (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), in a live broadcast following the announcement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had chosen today as the deadline for the Standing Rock Sioux Lakota and allies to abandon their resistance camps. Governor Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota had echoed the call with an immediate evacuation order. They declared those that remain will be considered trespassers, and face arrest on their own ancestral lands.
Yet, the camps will remain. Having faced deceit from the U.S. government for hundreds of years, Native leaders are cautious in their celebration. They know that, with the incoming presidency of billionaire businessman Donald Trump, much is yet to be determined about the future of the $3.7 billion pipeline.
‘Even after today’s small victory, we can say thanks, but remember we have been down this road before. I know that Dakota Access will continue to work,’ said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, tribal member and historian of the Standing Rock Sioux, in a social media post late last night.
‘The lights are still on above the camp, Morton County has not removed the barriers, they are moving in troops by Fort Rice. They think these people will leave the camps and [they] will be able to continue to work. Never trust these crooks we have already seen what they will do to our people. Make them accountable, we need everyone on the ground until every pipe is removed. We stand.’
Allard is a co-founder of the Sacred Stone Camp, located on her land along the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline route. In the eight months since the camp’s founding it has swelled to be home for thousands of Native people and allies gathered in protection of land and water. With more than 200 tribes present, now in multiple camps, this is the largest gathering of nations in a century.
Police response has been brutal and militarized, with forces currently camped on the hill on which Allard’s son was buried. They are keeping prayerful water protesters from this and other sacred burial sites with razor wire, sound cannons, water hoses, rubber bullets and attack dogs.
The evacuation orders from the Army Corps and Governor still stand, despite the temporary respite for the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux people. The orders cite concern for the safety of the protesters, yet not due to the escalating police violence that has injured hundreds, but amidst ‘harsh winter conditions’.
‘We have always been here. We know how to live in winter. We thank you for worrying about us, but we have been here always, and you haven’t worried about us last year or the year before,’ said Allard. The Governor’s sudden caring stings with the memory of Debbie Dogskin, 61, who froze to death in her home on the Standing Rock reservation, where heating poverty is widespread, in 2014.
The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty designates the currently disputed land as territory of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, though it was later illegally taken into federal control for dam construction by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1948. The easement that was denied yesterday means that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, will face significant fines if they continue to bore beneath Lake Oahe on this disputed territory. The majority of the 1,178 mile pipeline has already been built, stretching from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to terminals in Illinois.
According to research by EnergyDesk, UK banks have bankrolled Energy Transfer Partners with support of more than $800 million in the last 5 years. Barclays, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) all have had dealings with the company and its subsidiaries. While Native people and allies work to stop the pipeline on the frontlines with ceremony and direct action, a global call out is asking supporters to ‘Defund DAPL’ through actions against involved financial institutions.
‘While I'm aware that a lot of bank investments are dodgy, I have never ever felt something to be so wholeheartedly, disgustingly wrong from so many angles as the Dakota Access Pipeline,’ said Anya Gleizer, an artist who chose to publicly close her account at an RBS branch in Edinburgh last week. ‘Imagining that my money is facilitating further fossil fuel extraction, while poisoning the last remaining source of fresh water for a native people who already lost so much to Euro-American expansion… Well, it's just pushed the limit of what my conscience can stand.’
The connections between European colonisation of the Americas and the struggle at Standing Rock were drawn out further in five UK actions on 1 December, the first day of a month of global solidarity actions. Activists with the UK Tar Sands Network and Sacred Stone Camp UK Solidarity Network gathered outside RBS offices in London, protesting the bank’s ties with Energy Transfer Partners.
Photo by: Oonagh Cousins
‘My reason for being here is to serve as a reminder to the people of Europe and the UK of their history of colonisation and genocide against the first peoples of the Americas... And it is this history that brings me to speak to you today. Genocide and colonisation is still taking place in different forms. The financial institutions of the UK are partners in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. With your money these banks are complicit in the same old methods of ignoring and harming the indigenous people. With your money they are complicit in the endangering of the Missouri river and the millions of people downstream,’ said UK-based Native activist Kiaza BigMountain Fillmore (Mohawk/Comanche/Apache).
The more than 50 people attending the action formed a circle at the building’s entrance at 9am, passing a ball of black ribbon from person to person, weaving a complex web in an arts ritual symbolic of the connection between the Dakota Access project and the City of London, as well as the ‘Black Snake’, as a Lakota doomsday prophecy names the pipeline. Each participant spoke to what brought them to the protest, many naming the historical responsibility UK citizens have to ‘decolonise’ – a sentiment, if not a spelling, that those on the ground across the pond would recognise.
Following the action, two RBS employees followed organisers to a nearby cafe. While unwilling to speak on the record, Kirsty Britz, Director of Sustainability, later provided the following statement: ‘We’re not funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. RBS provided financial support to the parent company of Dakota Access LLC but exited the relationship a year ago. In fact, we no longer have a significant presence in North America as a result of our strategy to become a smaller, simpler bank.’ While welcoming the news, activists demanded that the bank make a public commitment to funding no further fossil fuel infrastructure.
Also on 1 December, activists gathered in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux at the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, at Barclays Bank in Bristol and in Parliament Square in London. The latter event, organised by Black Lives Matter UK, The London Latinxs and The Wretched of the Earth, specifically focused on calling out British imperialism, while also inviting attendees to participate in a ritual ‘calling on ancestors to help us send out protection over water.’ Some supporters also chose to sit in meditation for the 45 minutes before the action, in temperatures two degrees above freezing. This dedication to prayer, honouring of the ancestors and ceremonial action echoes what has been called for by elders and organisers at Standing Rock.
‘Whether we are Dakota, Lakota, Sahnish, Nueta, or Só'taeo'o.... this is the land where our ancestors dreamt of our songs and lives, long before the blue coats came, long before so-called America got its democratic ideas from the Haudenosaunee, long before this ‘NoDAPL’ fight even began… this land and water fed us,’ said Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota/Dińe), Keep It In The Ground organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, in response to the evacuation order.
‘So we stand by our original instructions, as Indigenous Peoples, ready to defend the dreams of our ancestors and protect the sacredness of Mother Earth. We stand by our rights to self-determination and justice. We stand by our territorial treaty rights. So I say, don't panic relatives, we got this. Hard times may be ahead, but we got this. We are our ancestors' wildest dreams.’
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