Standing Rock is an unpredicted history lesson for all of us.
More than any moment I recall since Wounded Knee, the Vietnam War,
or the time of Martin Luther King, this moment stands as a crossroads
in the battle for social justice. It is also an economic issue,
in a time of economic system transformation, and profoundly a question
of the future of this land. The world is watching.
As the US Army Corps of Engineers issues a December 5 eviction
notice for thousands of people gathered on the banks of the Missouri
River, we face our truth. Those people at the Oceti Sakowin and
Red Warrior Camps, along with the 550 people who have been arrested
so far, are really the only thing standing between a river and a
corporation that wants to pollute it. That we know, because absent
any legal protections, and with a regulatory system hijacked by
oil interests and a federal government in crisis, the people and
the river remain the only clear and sentient beings.
In short, this is a moment of extreme corporate rights and extreme
racism confronted by courage, prayers, and resolve. This moment
has been coming. The violence and the economics of a failing industry
will indeed unravel, and this is the beginning.
The Deep North
North Dakota did not become Alabama or the Deep North,
as it is now called overnight. Native people in North Dakota
have been treated poorly for more than a hundred years, whether
by the damming of the Missouri and the flooding of millions of acres
of tribal land, or by poverty and incarceration, North Dakota is
a place of systemic and entrenched racism. Two of the poorest counties
in the country are on Standing Rock, Native people comprise almost
a fourth of the people in prison, Native suicide rates are ten times
that of North Dakotans, infrastructure (like the fifty year old
hospital with four doctors for 8000 people, and a now blocked Highway
l806, without a shoulder) is at an all time low, and people freeze
to death and overdose in the shadow of the Bakken Oil fields. That's
the first layer of abuse, aside from the day to day racism, emboldened
by Morton County and the incoming Trump government. It is visible
for the world to see now.
For many who come, North Dakota is something unknown. Americans
fly over the state, talk about how the movie Fargo was funny, and
wonder sheepishly about how it's working out in the Bakken. Very
few visit, and there is almost no civil society to advocate for
the environment or the people. Let me put it this way, until this
year, the Sierra Club had one staff person in North Dakota, and
the American Civil Liberties Union had one staff member covering
both North and South Dakota. It is as if North Dakota is just too
uncomfortable for a progressive movement to visit or work in. Instead,
we have watched.
After all, the sex trafficking, violence, and corruption has
overwhelmed most of the state's capacity to address it, and a recent
study by the National Academy of Sciences found widespread groundwater
contamination in the fracking fields. For North Dakotans it has
become just how it is
That is to say: accommodating corporations
is the North Dakota way. This last year, North Dakota health officials
excused more oil spills without penalty, and increased the allowable
levels of radiation in municipal and county dumps to accommodate
the fracking industry. The corporations direct state policy.
It's been easy to put it out of mind because after all, it seems
so far away when we view the world from our television or smartphone.
In the midst of this, we find ourselves facing a larger set of forces.
As of November 18, the Morton County Sheriff's Department inventoried
their troops at 1,287 deputies, including police from 25 North Dakota
counties, 20 North Dakota cities, and 9 states (Indiana, Louisiana,
Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and
Wyoming). Over 550 people have been arrested, many of them strip
searched and cavity searched for misdemeanor charges, and a number
of them held overnight in dog kennels. Now the state has fired on
unarmed people who want to protect the water from contamination.
After all, that's what this is about.
To serve the convenience of a deadline for Energy Transfer Partners's
corporate profits, the police have fired teargas canisters, water
hoses, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tasers, and bean bag
rounds at unarmed people trying to protect their water supply. Most
of them are Native, and the North Dakota media has continued to
portray the water protectors as outlaws.
When 21 year old New York resident Sophia Wilansky's arm was
blown off by a concussion grenade, Morton County Sheriff Kirchenmeir
suggested that the water protectors caused it. A statement of her
father, attorney Wayne Wilansky, differs: "At around 4:30am after
the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets
and pepper spray, they lobbed a number of concussion grenades which
are not supposed to be thrown at people directly, at protesters
or protectors as they want to be called. A grenade exploded right
as it hit Sophia in the left forearm taking most of the undersurface
of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely
destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing.
Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the
muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away.
The police did not do this by accident - it was an intentional act
of throwing it directly at her. Additionally police were shooting
people in the face and groin, intending to do the most possible
January 1 Energy Transfer Deadline
On January 1, the Dakota Access Pipeline may turn into a
pumpkin. This is to say, that the Dakota Access Pipeline was proposed
in 2014, when the Bakken was at a peak. The Bakken is presently
producing 900,000 barrels a day of oil, and steadily declining.
All of that oil is already being refined locally, or shipped out
by train or pipeline. The state of North Dakota has announced that
they project to have the same 900,000 barrels of oil a day coming
out of the Bakken in 2019, two years from now, and even that may
be optimistic. In other words, there's already plenty of infrastructure
to move all the oil from North Dakota; this pipeline is not needed.
We call it the Dakota Excess Pipeline.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis with
Sightline Institute just released a new report on the shaky finances
of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The report, "The High-Risk Financing
Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline: A Stranded Asset in the Making
in the Bakken Region of North Dakota," delves into "the project's
financial weaknesses, and the fact the pipeline may represent a
substantial overbuilding of the Bakken's oil-transport infrastructure."
The report notes that the pipeline's principal backer, Energy Transfer
Partners (ETP), has conceded in court proceedings that it is contractually
obligated to complete the project by January 1. ETP will most likely
miss this deadline, if for no other reason than lack of clearance.
The company recently informed investors that it would take from
90 to 120 days to complete the pipeline after it receives an easement
from the Army Corps of Engineers to cross the Missouri River. The
Corps has yet to give that permission and last week recommended
further study on the question.
If the deadline is missed, companies that have committed long-term
to ship oil through the pipeline at 2014 prices will have the right
to rescind those commitments. "In the interest of protecting their
investors and shareholders, these companies may well renegotiate
terms, seeking concessions on contracted volumes, prices, or contract
The impetus for striking new deals on Dakota Access Pipeline
contracts is rooted in radical changes in the broader economic context
in which the project was proposed in 2014 and in which the majority
of the contracts were signed. Global oil prices began to collapse
just a few months after shippers committed to using DAPL, and consensus
market forecasts see no recovery for at least a decade
In short, greed is expensive, and if Energy Transfer Partners
does not meet that deadline, many prudent shippers may want to renegotiate
or withdraw their contracts. In other words, the pipeline could
become a pumpkin, in the terms of Cinderella, and there are a lot
of people who would not be sorry about that.
So, let's be honest, all of the aggression is to see if North
Dakota can make sure that Energy Transfer Partners can make a deadline
and not lose money and continue to bilk potential shippers.
Evicting Native People
On the day after Thanksgiving, the Army Corps of Engineers
issued an eviction notice to the thousands of people camped on the
banks of the river. Creating the legal fiction of a "free speech
zone", in no relationship to anything significant. District Commander
John W. Henderson sent an email to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
stating that on December 5, the Oceti Sakowin camp would need to
evacuate Army Corps land. The letter claims that evacuation "is
necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations
between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred
in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to
inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter
conditions. The necessary emergency, medical, and fire response
services, law enforcement, or sustainable facilities to protect
people from these conditions on this property cannot be provided."
At no point did the Army Corps point out that Highway 1806 was closed
by Morton County and that all the sustained injuries were from Morton
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault responded to
the Army Corps: "Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision
by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger
than ever. The best way to protect people during the winter, and
reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized
police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny
it now. We ask that everyone who can appeal to President Obama and
the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people
and rescind all permits, and deny the easement to cross the Missouri
River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty
lands. When the Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did
not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated
directly to them in a tribal council meeting held on Sept. 30, 2014,
where DAPL and the ND Public Service Commission came to us with
this route. We have released the audio recording from that meeting."
The fact is that the Dakota Access Pipeline is not complete
because of the people camped on that land- whether in the Oceti
Sakowin, Sacred Stone, or Red Warrior Camps. The arrests of 550
people have been at a high cost to people, but also at a high cost
to Energy Transfer Partners, because they are unlikely to meet their
None of us know how this moment in history is going to work
out. On December 4, thousands of military veterans are coming to
support the people and the river veterans of Iraq, Vietnam,
and every war in between. I am interested how the Army Corps will
speak with the veterans. The veterans join the thousands of elected
officials, religious and cultural leaders who have come to stand
with the river and the people. In the end, that's what will remain,
long after Energy Transfer is bankrupt and the state of North Dakota
has come to reckoning. The river will remain.
I am reminded of a quote originating from Thunder Valley. "
How long are you going to let others determine the future for your
children? Are we not warriors? When our ancestors went to battle
they did not know what the consequences would be, all they knew
is that, without action, things would not go well for their children
. Don't operate out of a place of fear, operate from hope. With
hope everything is possible. The time is now. "
That is this time.
Oceti Sakowin Camp is a unified encampment of Water Protectors dedicated
to protecting our land and water against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We value assuring the welfare of all people by honoring human rights,
treaties, agreements, and cultures. Our goal is to peacefully and
prayerfully defend our rights, and rise up as one to sustain Mother
Earth and her inhabitants.