Standing Rock: Catalyst on the Ground

Just north of Cannon Ball, N.D. (you haven’t heard of it), more than a thousand people are camped out in cars, tents, yurts and tipis—myself included. We’re all here for the same reason: to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This pipeline, operated by a company called Energy Transfer Partners, is slated to run oil from Bakken oil fields in Canada all the way to Illinois. The pipeline was originally supposed to run through land near Bismarck, N.D., but was redirected because of growing concern that the pipeline would pollute Bismarck’s water supply.

Where was it redirected? To land about 0.5 miles from the northern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. On its new path, the pipeline will run underneath the Cannon Ball River, a tributary to the Missouri. The pipeline will likely pollute the nearby water, which provides the Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply.

Energy Transfer Partners maintains that the chances of water pollution are low, but the chances of pollution are high enough for them to have redirected the pipeline away from white people’s water supply. The chances of pollution are so high, in fact, that some divisions of the United States government (the EPA and the DOI among them) disagree with the U.S. Army Corps’ approval of the pipeline.

Standing Rock Sioux members began to protest the planned construction of DAPL in April of this year. Since then, the protest camp has grown to the size of a small city—more than a thousand people.

That’s the end of the news you could find online at other news sources. The story I’ve just briefly told is an important one, and mainstream media outlets are just now beginning to cover it seriously. But within the story of the DAPL protests, there are countless fascinating and yet-untold stories. These are the stories I hope to bring you. I’ll try to bring you a new story from people on the ground every day for the next two weeks.

But the first question must be, why does it matter?

Over the course of two hundred fifty years, white foreigners who came to “America” have committed genocides, stolen land, raped, and pillaged the peoples who inhabited this land. Somewhere from 50 to 100 million people were killed. Entire civilizations were driven to extinction. White people have now come to think of themselves as native to the land. Gradually, and against much resistance, we forced countless indigenous peoples into minuscule reservations and we have continued to oppress American Indians in countless ways. One of those ways is the theft and privatization of resources that do not rightfully belong to any of us. DAPL is only the latest chapter in a long, terrible story.

The protests at Standing Rock make it hard to forget that you and I are both citizens of a nation that has committed genocides for which it has not atoned in the slightest. We continually benefit from that oppression: we live on land that is not ours and our taxes pay for a National Guard that occupies American Indian territory. It’s easy for us to pretend our privileges are not founded on continued oppression. It’s not so easy for American Indians to forget that fact.

Today, DAPL workers are building a dangerous pipeline on land that was ceded to the Standing Rock Sioux in 1851, and then stolen again, one of the many broken treaties between the U.S. and American Indians. On Saturday night, a fire burned 400 acres of nearby land and crept over a hill 200 yards outside of the camp. Camp security unsuccessfully chased a DAPL vehicle they saw who set the fire. Unarmed protesters have faced batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and heavily armed police. A two story armored vehicle stood in the way of protesters this week. Praying, nonviolent protesters have twice been arrested en masse—127 and 141 people on two separate days in the past two weeks. On Thursday, a frontline camp was raided and destroyed by the police. Now, the pipeline is less than a mile from Standing Rock Sioux land.

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