The peaceful protesters, who were members of around 200 tribes, were raising tribal flags in opposition to the oil pipeline that would cross right through their sacred lands that are the resting places of their ancestors and revered to the Lakota and Dakota people. In only one day, bulldozers destroyed sacred tribal sites “turning the place into hollow ground,” according to Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II. “This demolition is devastating,” Archambault claimed. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced.”
But that is not where the story ends. The pipeline which was licensed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late July is a major threat to the tribe’s water supply. Transportation of fossil fuels through the pipeline, as reported by environmentalists, might “contaminate their (Native Americans’) water resources infringe on their fishing rights, or desecrate their sacred lands.”
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners has arranged for nearly half a million barrels of crude oil to be carried from the Bakken shale directly to the U.S. Gulf per day. The oil is planned to be transferred through the 1,172-mile (1886 kilometer) pipeline which would pass through the Dakotas and Iowa on its way to Illinois or better said, it would cross public waterways including the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Native Americans consider water as their first medicine and believe in water protection as a means of energy security, agricultural security and national security. That’s why they have treaty rights over land and water use. As agreed upon, the U.S. government is obliged to take account of these treaties and prevent any kind of violation of tenets of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples, including the “right to health, right to water and subsistence, threats against sacred sites including burial grounds, treaty rights, cultural and ceremonial practices, free prior and informed consent, traditional lands and resources including water, productive capacity of the environment, and self-determination.”
But the Dakota Access Pipeline project has turned out to be a direct violation of Native Americans’ rights since it poses an inevitable threat to the Missouri River upon which the Tribe depends. What is intimidating is that the tribes’ subsistence and their physical and cultural health will be threatened due to “potential contamination by oil spills directly impacting their drinking water.”
According to Georgianne Nienaber of Huffington Post, “prayers have been met with attack dogs, blockades re-routing traffic routes to the reservation, low flying planes constantly buzzing the encampments of the water protectors, and the militarization of roads by the National Guard.”Rallies were scheduled and large groups of Native Americans held peaceful protests in North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux. Moreover, some tribal youths ran 2,000 miles from the Standing Rock Reservation to Washington to save their land and their future. The peaceful and prayerful protests, however, were met with violence by security guards hired by the company. The protesters in North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux were threatened, pepper sprayed and some were even bitten and injured by guard dogs. According to Georgianne Nienaber of Huffington Post, “prayers have been met with attack dogs, blockades re-routing traffic routes to the reservation, low flying planes constantly buzzing the encampments of the water protectors, and the militarization of roads by the National Guard.”
Along with Native Americans, large groups of peaceful protesters around the U.S. gathered in solidarity against the pipeline, holding signs and banners and chanting "Oil Kills." Whereas the demonstrators enjoyed the support of big names such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Pharrell Williams, celebrities like actresses Shailene Woodley and Susan Sarandon also joined the rally. Likewise, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate who was among the protesters, spoke at a rally in the nation's capital stating that:
“We cannot allow our drinking water to be poisoned so that a handful of fossil fuel companies can make even more in profits… This pipeline must be stopped! ... Stop the pipeline, respect Native American rights and let us move forward to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuels.”
As the candidate whose priorities during his Democratic presidential nomination was to meet the challenges of climate change and Native American issues, Sanders pointed out the federal government’s relationship to the Native Americans, proposing that, “the Native American people in this country have been taken advantage of for too long, they have been lied to, they have been exploited. That has got to change.” He also called on President Obama, demanding him to take action against the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline and to react to violation of Native Americans’ rights.
In the first place, the federal government notified the demonstrators not to interfere with the rights of Energy Transfer Partners, since they have obtained the local, state, and federal approvals to construct the pipeline. The peaceful protesters, however, remained steadfast calling international attention to a renewal of Native American activism.
This led the federal government to step in on September 16, 2016 to halt the project and to ask the company for a spontaneous pause on construction of the pipeline near the reservation so that the court could have more time to review the initial decision and determine whether Energy Transfer Partners has correctly followed federal environmental law in granting permits. The government also agreed on meeting with Native American leaders later this fall to come to a conclusion on the subject based on evidence and observations.
In the meantime Archambault broke the news that the Cannonball Ranch—“where there are known and unknown burial grounds”—was sold to the pipeline company and that “months of prayerful and peaceful protest have come under additional assault with the sale of private land adjoining the protest area to Dakota Access LLC.” In a fait accompli, ETP has purchased roughly 9,000 acres of a privately owned ranch adjacent to the federal land at a price of $18 million (not officially known), and is now the owner and is brazenly going to try to move forward without any consideration of Native American tribes.
It is also stated by Georgianne Nienaber that, “Constant emails and phone calls to the press officer in charge of inquiries regarding the special permit have gone unanswered. (Also) phone messages left for personnel in other departments go unreturned.” Therefore, it is crystal clear that unfortunately the gag order is going to remain in full effect and another tricky treaty with Native Americans is now ready to be added to the glorious heresies of the federal government. But this case raises the question about who is behind the tragedy of building the pipeline.
As he mentioned in an interview with Bloomberg last year, “the most wealth I’ve ever made is during the dark times.”As mentioned previously, (ETP) or Energy Transfer Partners’ majority sponsorship of the $3.8 billion pipeline project reveals it has the most on the line. Behind ETP itself, is a billionaire—Kelcy Warren—who is very fund of taking advantage of tragedies and silver lining in disasters. Warren, who is a rock and roll aficionado, is ETP’s infamous chairman and CEO and known for systematic attempts to manipulate natural gas prices in Houston in the fall of 2005 and making $12 billion on Hurricane Rita. The gold digger guy is also notorious for making $7.3 billion out of oil bust. Swooping in and buying small oil companies out, during the dark times of oil industry is Warren’s obsession. As he mentioned in an interview with Bloomberg last year, “the most wealth I’ve ever made is during the dark times.”
The Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was criticized in a Sept. 7 Los Angeles Times op-ed by Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben for not taking a stand on the pipeline. McKibben believes there must be “a connection between her (Clinton’s) reticence and support from the fossil fuel industry and banks.” According to McKibben, “the people who’ve built Clinton’s campaign war chest and her personal fortune are the same people who paid for the dogs that bit young Native Americans.” Likewise, large groups of environmentalists and activists have recently accused Hillary Clinton of apparent support for the pipeline. “They’ve been using backdoor process to get the pipeline approved,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a Native American activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
In a last stitch effort, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has appealed to the United Nations addressing the human rights commission in Geneva on Tuesday. But it is clear that the case of the Standing Rock Sioux is another shameful example of treaties broken and violated by the U.S. Government. The whole world is watching what is going on to Native Americans one more time, but will goodwill overcome the deep pockets of pipe line billionaire interests?
Fatemeh Ravangard has done her MA in North American Studies and in her studies she has had a focus on Native Americans.