The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
It is with a heavy heart that I bring you this news today, word that the amazing and historic Standing Rock Sioux protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is coming to an end north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
While most of the official tribal leadership is going along with a Trump administration’s order announced Friday that it was dispatching Bureau of Indian Affairs agents to help clear out the protest camps, they vow to keep up the fight in the courts and take the protest to Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump, who violated a clear conflict of interest since he and others in his administration still own shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s developer, signed an executive order this week to expedite the review of an easement for the pipeline to run under the Lake Oahe freshwater impoundment on the Missouri River.
In response to that order, acting secretary of the Army, Robert Speer, ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the review and close the camps.
“The Trump administration’s actions towards the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their lack of respect for all first peoples of these lands is unfortunate,” the tribe’s chairman, David Archambault II, said in a statement. But he backed down on supporting those protesters determined to remain in the camps and fight on.
“In these past few weeks at camp, I see no reflection of our earlier unity, and without unity we lose,” Archambault said.
For much of the past year, the tribe and an army of environmental activists been protesting federal approval of a 1,170-mile oil pipeline, which crosses four states and would carry crude from the rich shale oil basins of western North Dakota to the pipeline networks and refineries in Illinois. While many business, farm and labor organizations back the project, arguing it remains the safest ways to transport oil, a coalition of tribal and environmental groups argue it will accelerate climate change and disturb sacred burial grounds and archaeological sites.
While most of the protesters withdrew from the camps at the tribe’s request for safety concerns back in early December when the weather dipped below freezing, the winter winds and snow came, some tribal members and protesters remained.
Corps officials have said that the extended protests have contributed to soil erosion that could make any potential spring flooding worse, so some activists moved to higher ground. Local police arrested 74 of them on Wednesday, those who had decamped from Corps of Engineers land to private property owned by the pipeline’s developer.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had already passed a tribal resolution asking protesters to leave, and asking for federal aid in closing the camps.
Acting assistant secretary of Indian affairs Michael S. Black said the agency had sent “enforcement support and will assist” the tribe “in closing the protest camps within the Standing Rock Reservation boundary.”
“North Dakota Governor [Doug] Burgum, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leadership, local law enforcement, and local landowners have all warned the public and those still camped of the dangerous spring flooding expected due to the heavy amount of snowfall the state received this winter,” Black added. “The closing of the camps is a matter of public health and safety and working together at this time will allow for the safe removal of waste and debris that will impact the local environment and protection of those camped.”
Anthony Diggs, a spokesman for Veterans Stand, vowed to keep up the fight. But it is not clear what outside opposition groups can do now that the tribe is going along with closing the protest encampments.
“We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence, and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected,” Diggs said. “That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch.”
President Trump was asked a question about the Standing Rock Sioux tribe shortly after signing the executive order, but he completely ignored it.
“The look on his face indicated that he just really didn’t care,” according to activists who posted the video all over social media.
While federal officials in the Obama administration agreed to give the tribe their say and temporarily halted the construction to conduct a thorough environmental review to see if other routes would be a better option, Trump didn’t agree with that assessment, halting the review and ordering the pipeline construction project to move forward will all deliberate speed.
“This is an anti climatic and disheartening end to what was one of the most inspiring, empowering, and massive movements for Indigenous Peoples in here in so called ‘North America’ in recent history,” one Native American news commentator said on the web in a post being shared on Facebook and Twitter. “The real question now is how will those steadfast and brave souls who have pledged not to leave until the Black Snake is dead be treated by the feds that have been called in by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and given permission to oust them? There have been recent requests for support people to come back to the camps, (but) will those calls be answered?”
One local citizen journalist team interviewed Archambault and others still in the main protest camp. Watch this video to see what they said.
In conclusion, as one of the journalists who visited the protest camps and covered the story from the beginning, I think the lesson here is this. Non-violent citizen protests are great and an important part of making democracy work, especially when there is a major crisis. But clearly the day-to-day nuts and bolts of building political movements and participating in elections is also critical.
Think about this. Of all the candidates running for president last year, only one, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, visited Standing Rock and stood against big oil and it’s pipeline through the fresh drinking water source for a Native American tribe. While I don’t know how productive it is to look back and say “I told you so,” if Sanders had been the Democratic Party’s nominee there is a good chance he would have been the one making the decision in the Oval Office this week on the fate of the pipeline, rather than television celebrity businessman Donald Trump.
I’ve been stomping around on this earth for nearly 60 years now, and I can’t recall a more clear example than this. Elections matter, people. Get involved. Get busy.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.