Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, second from right, participates in an oil pipeline protest Tuesday in Morton County, North Dakota. Authorities plan to pursue charges against Stein for spray-painting construction equipment at a Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Tuesday that the charges would be for trespassing and vandalism. (LaDonna Allard via AP)

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, second from right, participates in an oil pipeline protest Tuesday in Morton County, North Dakota. Authorities plan to pursue charges against Stein for spray-painting construction equipment at a Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Tuesday that the charges would be for trespassing and vandalism. (LaDonna Allard via AP)

Pipeline showdown a national movement for Native Americans

By Joe Heim

The Washington Post

CANNON BALL, N.D. — The simmering showdown here between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the company building the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline began as a legal battle.

It has turned into a movement.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country have traveled to this central North Dakota reservation to camp in a nearby meadow and show solidarity with a tribe they believe is once again receiving a raw deal at the hands of commercial interests and the U.S. government.

Frank White Bull, a tribal council member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was overcome with emotion as he looked out over the ocean of brightly colored tepees and tents that have popped up on this impromptu 80-acre campground.

“You think no one is going to help,” said White Bull, 48. “But the people have shown us they’re here to help us. We made our stance and the Indian Nation heard us. It’s making us whole. It’s making us wanyi oyate. One nation. We’re not alone.”

At issue for the tribes is the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline — or DAPL — that runs through North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, and has a capacity to transport more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The $3.8 billion pipeline now under construction was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cross under the Missouri River just a mile north of the reservation.

That decision angered the tribe, because the Missouri is the source of water for the reservation’s 8,000 residents. Any leak, tribal leaders argue, would do immediate and irreparable harm. And tribal leaders point to what they see as a double standard, saying that the pipeline was originally planned to cross the Missouri north of Bismarck, the state capital, but was rerouted because of powerful opposition that did not want a threat to the water supply there.

The tribe says it also is fighting the pipeline’s path because even though it does not cross the reservation, it does traverse sacred territory taken away from the tribe in a series of treaties that were forced upon it over the past 150 years.

The reservation sued the Corps in July, saying that the agency had not entered into any meaningful consultation with the tribe as required by law and that the Corps had ignored federal regulations governing environmental standards and historic preservation.

“The construction and operation of the pipeline, as authorized by the Corps, threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance to the Tribe,” the lawsuit asserts.

“This pipeline is going through huge swaths of ancestral land,” said Dean DePountis, the tribe’s lawyer. “It would be like constructing a pipeline through Arlington Cemetery or under St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

Guard dogs, pepper spray

Tensions flared Saturday when Dakota Access workers plowed under two locations adjacent to the pipeline path that just a day earlier the tribe had identified in a court filing as sacred and historic sites. When tribe members and others tried to prevent the action, they were stopped by private security workers for Dakota Access who used guard dogs and pepper spray to drive them back. Photos of the encounter shared online showed snarling German shepherds lunging at protesters. A spokesman for the tribe said six protesters were bitten. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported that four security guards and two dogs were injured.

That incident prompted the tribe’s lawyers, from the nonprofit legal organization Earthjustice, to request a temporary restraining order on any further construction on the pipeline in that location.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Tuesday ordered a halt to construction in the area immediately adjacent to the Missouri on the west side and 20 miles on the east side until Friday. The decision did not satisfy tribal leaders, who had hoped the construction stoppage would apply to a larger area. Boasberg said he will issue a ruling Friday on the tribe’s request to halt all work on the project until permitting issues and the tribe’s disputes with the Corps have been properly addressed.

Lawyers for the Corps have argued in court that there was a standard review process for the pipeline and that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was consulted on the project.

Representatives of Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, declined to comment for this article.

On its website, Direct Access says the pipeline allows the oil to be moved in “a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner,” will create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs, and that its construction will deliver nearly $1 billion in direct spending to the U.S. economy. It also will help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the company says.

Large labor unions, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, have supported the pipeline and in a statement characterized protesters as “extremists.”

Not if, but when

Even as the battle over the pipeline was playing out in court, support for the tribe’s position poured in from all over. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called on the United States to provide the tribe a “fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process to resolve this serious issue and to avoid escalation into violence and further human rights abuses.” More than 200 Native American tribes have declared their support and many have sent food and other supplies.

On social media, activists have used the #noDAPL hashtag to spread information about the protest and provide live video feeds from the campsite and from protests. Actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson and Susan Sarandon have offered support to the tribe’s efforts.

Environmentalists also have joined the fray, hoping to halt construction of the pipeline and make it go the way of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was ultimately killed by an order from President Barack Obama last year. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited the Standing Rock reservation in 2014. The tribes and environmental groups have appealed to the president to use his authority to halt the Dakota Access project, but so far they have had no response from the White House.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein toured the area and met with protesters Tuesday. Speaking at a campfire meeting in the evening, she called on Obama to “take back this illegitimate permit given by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has stated a position on the pipeline.

For Native American environmentalists, the cause extends beyond the boundaries of the reservations.

“The goal is to stop the pipeline, and it’s not just for us,” said Nick Tilson, 34, of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “We know there are 17 million people downstream from us. The problem is bad for whatever community is near this pipeline. It’s not going to be if it breaks; it’s going to be when it breaks.”

A spiritual awakening

At the growing campsite, just a mile down the road from the pipeline’s planned route, a sense of rural village life is emerging. In addition to individual campsites, there is a central kitchen where meals are prepared morning, noon and night. Another huge tent provides clothing, food and toys. Water and other supplies arrive by the truckload. Children run about kicking a basketball and squealing. The whinnies of horses blends with the whir of a chain saw cutting firewood and the far-off beat of a drum. Smoke fills the air.

Many of the Native Americans who have come here speak of a spiritual reawakening taking place. Their messages are peaceful but determined.

As morning broke Tuesday, Jefferson Greene, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon, greeted the day with a song in Ichshkiin, his voice carrying across the slowly stirring campground. The song was giving thanks for the light coming over the horizon and for the strength it provides, he said. Greene had arrived the night before with his aunt and his young son.

“There’s such a feeling of unity here,” he said. “When tribes put the call out for help, we need to support them. We all need to be here for each other.”

Jo Kay Dowell, 59, of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, was beginning her third week at the camp in a tent she shares with her daughter Anna Walker, 25, and granddaughter Kyah Vann, 6.

Dowell, a member of the Quapaw and Cherokee tribes, said she has become frustrated hearing from so many Native Americans that “there’s nothing we can do about it” when it comes to standing up for tribes’ rights.

“To see this many people come fight for something like this is a dream come true,” she said.

Drucilla Burns, an octogenarian and tribal elder from Fort Mojave Indian Tribe in Needles, California, sat under a stretched tarp eating a breakfast of tortillas and buffalo cooked over a nearby fire.

“Water is what we’re made of,” Burns said. “We’re supposed to be the protectors of the land and water. My god, they took everything away from us. And now they want to take our water, too?”

The long haul

No one here is sure what will happen next. If the judge rules to halt construction, that will be a victory for the tribe, but it could be short-lived. Dakota Access will certainly challenge any effort to halt the pipeline construction, even for a short period. The courtroom battles are likely continue for some time.

But supporters say that the camp will not disappear and that the protesters won’t simply walk away unless an acceptable agreement is reached.

“People here are staying for the long haul,” said Robert Taken Alive, 51, a council representative for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “This is a true gathering of nations.”

For Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the questions about what happens next are existential. Standing in his back yard, he smoked a cigarette and recited a list of treaties that his people made with the government that were broken whenever economic interests outweighed tribal rights.

“How do you eliminate a race?” he asked, letting the question hang in the air. “That’s what the government has been trying to do for 200 years. But we’re still here. We have maintained our culture. We’ve maintained our way of life. We’ve maintained our dignity. We’re still here.”

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