Standing Rock Sioux Nation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline: A turning point for Indigenous solidarity

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have been underway since August; the Standing Rock Sioux Nation through whose land the pipeline would pass say that it would damage the Missouri River,  their water supply, as well as sacred sites. Environmentalists object to its capacity of 570,000-barrels-per-day of oil from  North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, representing GHG emissions equivalent to 29.5 coal plants. For a chronology and  in-depth coverage of the issue, go to Democracy Now   , whose reporter Amy Goodman brought the world’s attention to the protests with her video report on September 6 ,  showing security personnel  attacking protestors with mace and dogs. The Indigenous Environment Network  also offers frequent updates.  On September 9, a U.S. court denied the Sioux Nation’s request for an emergency restraining order against the project; hours later, the White House intervened to order a halt on the disputed section, and the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a Joint Statement   withdrawing the Army’s authorization for construction until it can determine whether it needs to revisit  any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site .  Furthermore,  from the Joint Statement:  “ this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals. ”  Even before the White House intervention, the Washington Post acknowledged the importance of this dispute in  “Showdown over oil pipeline becomes a national movement for Native Americans”   (Sept. 7); for a more up-to-date appraisal see an article at Think Progress  which acknowledges the long legal road ahead, but calls the DAPL a turning point.

On September 22,  in ceremonies in Vancouver and Montreal , at least 50 First Nations from Canada and the U.S. (including the Standing Rock Sioux) signed on to the Treaty Alliance against Oils Sands Expansion, which pledges coordinated opposition to projects that will expand the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including the transport of oil sands products by pipeline, rail or tanker. That includes “all five current tar sands pipeline and tanker project proposals – Kinder Morgan, Energy East, Line 3, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL.  The Treaty, as well as the background to it, is available here  .

In the U.S., the “jobs vs. the environment”  controversy has surfaced again over the DAPL. See the August press release from the Laborers’ International Union which states:  “Today, the General Presidents of four skilled craft unions, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and United Association (UA), sent a letter to the North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple encouraging him to use the power of his office to protect the jobs of thousands of American workers who are lawfully constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.”   On September 15,  the AFL-CIO issued a statement   calling on the Obama administration to allow construction to continue, saying “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.”    Other U.S. unions, including the National Nurses Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and United Electrical Workers,  are supporting the DAPL protests:  see Portside coverage here (Sept 17), here   (Sept. 19), and see analysis at “As Tribes Fight Pipeline, Internal AFL-CIO Letter Exposes ‘Very Real Split’”  in  Common Dreams (Sept. 22).

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