Hundreds of Native Americans from across the country have gathered in North Dakota to protest the construction of a massive oil pipeline in what has become the least talked about police standoff in recent history.
Native Americans began protesting the 1,100-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline in April, but when the company announced it would begin building across land the tribes consider sacred the situation escalated.
Now, there are several hundred members from over 100 different tribes camped out in rural North Dakota facing down police officers and construction efforts, Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux told the Los Angeles Times.
“Every time there’s a project of this magnitude, so the nation can benefit, there’s a cost. That cost is born by tribal nations.”
The pipeline is a $3.8 billion project intended to carry 570,000 barrels of oil every day across four states; it would run underneath several large rivers, including the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux along with some 200 smaller rivers and creeks. In comparison, the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama vetoed, was planned to run 1,179 miles through Canada to Nebraska and carry 830,000 barrels of oil.
The Native American tribes say a spill, which is possible, would devastate nearby farmland and contaminate drinking water for 8,000 tribal members and millions more downstream.
In early August, when the company behind the pipeline announced it would begin building near the reservation, a grass roots protest movement sprung up. Soon, activists began to gather at what is being called the Sacred Stone Camp and now they number in the hundreds, Archambault told Indian Country.
“We don’t want this black snake within our Treaty boundaries. We demand the pipeline be stopped and kept off our Treaty boundaries.”
Protestors come and go as they please so it’s hard to get an accurate head count, but officials put the number between 1,500 and 4,000 activists who are camped out in rural North Dakota. Some 30 protestors have been arrested in recent weeks and the company has been forced to halt the beginning stages of construction, which would carry the pipeline across land the Native Americans consider sacred.
On Aug. 19, the governor of North Dakota declared a state of emergency in the area, which allows easier access to federal funds, but didn’t call up the National Guard, according to the UPI.
“The State of North Dakota remains committed to protecting citizens’ rights to lawfully assemble and protest, but the unfortunate fact remains that unlawful acts associated with the protest near Cannon Ball have led to serious public safety concerns and property damage.”
A court date is scheduled for Sept.9 to determine whether the pipeline can continue as planned. Lawyers for the Native American tribes argue the Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Historic Preservation Act when it approved the pipeline.
The oil pipeline has also been met with anger elsewhere along its route as farmers whose land is being taken by eminent domain complain about soil damage, but that pales in comparison to what’s happening at Sacred Stone Camp.
The pipeline protest in North Dakota has sparked a sympathetic rally in Washington D.C. where Native Americans were joined by environmental activists outside the U.S. District Court. The crowd, numbering more than 100 people, carried signs bearing the words “native lives matter,” and “water is life.”
As word of the pipeline protest continues to spread, the activists have been joined by Hollywood celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Shailene Woodley and Leonardo DiCaprio on social media. Amnesty International has also arrived at the North Dakota campsite to monitor the police response to protestors.
Although the pipeline protest involves hundreds of activists from across the country, a police standoff, and a declared state of emergency while involving a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project, it has drawn little attention from the mainstream media.
In contrast, when Ammon Bundy and his right wing supporters stormed a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon, the nation was glued to daily news reports. The armed occupation sparked a national conversation as political pundits weighed in on the ranchers movement and the black lives matter movement. The Native American protest in North Dakota, however, remains largely ignored.
What do you think of the pipeline protest and police standoff in North Dakota?
[AP Photo/James MacPherson]