On Monday, August 29, the largest civil rights bar association in the country announced its solidarity with the Great Sioux Nation in opposition to a massive fracking oil project called Dakota Access Pipeline. A National Lawyers Guild press release accuses the United States of breaching treaties, exercising colonial power, and violating the collective human and environmental rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) also cites racial discrimination against indigenous Americans.
“In a flagrant violation of environmental justice principles, the pipeline was redirected towards lands near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from its original route north of the drinking water intakes for Bismarck, ND, in part to avoid non-Native lands and communities. This act of racial discrimination placing the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at disparate risk of harm violated their collective human rights as secured by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and violated the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, EO 12898.”
In its effort to silence the Standing Rock Sioux and others who stand in fierce opposition to the pipeline, Dakota Access, LLC filed a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota on August 15. In their complaint, Dakota Access demands an injunction against the Sioux and anyone else who interferes with construction of the pipeline. The suit also seeks to add federal contempt charges against Tribal Chairman David Archambault and other pipeline protesters who were arrested earlier this month when they stopped heavy equipment operators from digging trenches for the Dakota pipeline.
Energy Transfer Partners are known polluters
Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, has a long, dirty record of environmental law violations. A number of lawsuits against the company are currently pending in New Jersey, Louisiana, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Missouri, and Puerto Rico, as well as in their home state of Texas. Energy Transfer Partners has also received numerous citations for releasing hazardous materials into groundwater, according to the NLG.
The Dakota Access pipeline project was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late July in defiance of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite the objection of these three federal agencies, construction of the $3.8 billion project is slated for completion before the end of the year. Unless pipeline protesters prevail, the 1,172 mile Dakota Access pipeline will carry 570,000 daily barrels of hydraulically fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota across more than 200 rivers, tributaries, and creeks on indigenous tribal lands.
Sacred Stone Spirit Camp
The current pipeline protest began on April 1 as a small prayer camp established on the banks of the Cannonball river along the border of the Standing Rock reservation. Today, more than 1,000 pipeline protesters have traveled to Sacred Stone Spirit Camp to join the Sioux in resistance to the Dakota pipeline. Among them is American Indian Movement co-founder, Dennis Banks.
“What’s happening here is equally as important, because of the stand that you’re ready to make. When they threaten the environment, they’re threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they’re threatening you. You have to be in that mindset like that. That’s who you are. That’s who we are. And our culture, our heritage is what has made us warriors.”
Oglala Lakota water rights activist Debra White Plume issued a call for more protesters to join the cause and come to Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
“We’re putting a call out for warriors to come here to do direct action, to stop them from boring under this water, because that’s going to contaminate it. We can’t stand for that. We can’t let that happen. I, for one, made a commitment. They’re going to have to kill me, or they’re going to have to lock me in jail, but I’m going to stand to protect the sacred water.”
Tribal Chairman David Archambault described the Sacred Stone camp to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on August 23.
“Right now what’s going on is it’s about peace, and it’s about prayer, and it’s about uniting. And there’s a really good feeling, if you were to walk through the camp. There are no guns, no violence, no drugs, no alcohol. And it kind of took a life of its own. It evolved into something very special.”
Cultural significance of proposed pipeline land
Jon Eagle Sr., the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe tribal historic preservation officer, explained the cultural significance of the threatened land to The Socialist Worker.
“The land between the Cannonball River and the Heart River is sacred. It’s a historic place of commerce where enemy tribes camped peacefully within sight of each other because of the reverence they had for this place. In the area are sacred stones where our ancestors went to pray for good direction, strength and protection for the coming year. Those stones are still there, and our people still go there today.”
Whose land is it?
For more than 15,000 years, the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation, inhabited the region that now covers 24 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. In the mid 19th century, after most of the buffalo that sustained the nation had been slaughtered and wasted by advancing American-Europeans from the east, the Oceti Sakowin fought to protect their people and resources. Realizing they could not win against the mighty Sioux warriors, the United States requested a peace treaty with the Sioux. In 1851, the first Laramie Treaty was signed and another in 1868. Both treaties were reconfirmed on March 3rd, 1871. According to the Sioux Nation Treaty Council, the land currently in dispute was promised in perpetuity and reserved for the “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation.
The people responsible for the planning of the pipeline changed the proposed course of the oil artery because it threatened the water supply of Bismarck. One must wonder why they then decided it was okay to build the pipeline on land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]