Part Three of a Three-Part Series
Lessons learned from the fight at Standing Rock
By Robin A. Ladue
The Black Snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) started carrying the oil from the Bakken oil fields under Lake Oahe and, within days, there was a “small oil leak.” It is important to remember that Energy Transfer Partners, including CEO Kelcy Warren, promised the safety and leak-free existence of the DAPL.
In an interesting public relations piece that can be found at daplpipelinefacts.com, Energy Transfer Partners says the $3.8 billion project crosses almost entirely private lands, and does not cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, even at Lake Oahe. The website says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held 389 meetings with 55 tribes regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. In addition, the Corps reached out to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nearly a dozen times to discuss archaeological and other surveys conducted before finalizing the Dakota Access route.
While the website says the pipeline builders respect the concerns of the Tribe, it also says, “Recently, their interests have been overtaken by politically motivated, anti-fossil fuel protestors who are using this issue as a cover for their often violent and extremist efforts to cause disruption.”
In my view, the inaccuracies, racism and fabrications in this statement are stunning. Unfortunately, they are simply a continuation of the denial of treaty rights across this country. DAPL crosses the land that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it never ceded. In the two previous articles on the Fort Laramie treaties, those signed in 1851 and 1868, the battles, legal and physical, of the Great Sioux Nation to retain its lands were examined. Moving forward from the 1870s, with the deliberate decimation of the buffalo herds, the determination of the U.S. government to destroy the nomadic culture of the Plains tribes, and the demand of land from the ever-encroaching white population from the east, the tribes were forced into smaller land areas, forced to become farmers on land worthless for farming, and into starvation.
When the route of the DAPL was announced, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed suit against the Corps. The lawsuit was not focused on the environmental concerns commonly associated with pipelines, but on the failure of the Corps to consult with the tribe on its rights under the National Historic Preservation Act. The act requires the federal government to consult with Native American tribes regarding the permitting of lands that might contain artifacts. This is the situation even if the land under question, as is claimed by Energy Transfer Partners, was ceded to the United States Government in the past.
The above information comes from a salient article in the Inter-American Law Review, published on May 18, 2017 by the University of Miami School of Law. In this informative article, it is noted that the Great Sioux Nation lost the land in question by “violence and coercive threats.” As the article points out, the Sioux Nation has sued and won its land claims in the courts. Despite setbacks, the Sioux people have fought to have their lands returned to them.
While Energy Transfer Partners’ claims about extremist efforts, the thousands of people gathered together at Standing Rock, from nearly 300 tribes and non-Native supporters, were not violent, were not politically motivated and were not anti-fossil fuel extremists. They were, and remain, people committed to the preservation of clean water.
The authorities’ response to the water warriors was brutal; arresting elders while they were praying, firing water cannons at people in 26-degree weather, throwing concussion grenades at them, and DAPL security forces driving into people and threatening them with assault rifles. Many of the water warriors were arrested; many of the cases were thrown out of court for lack of merit. While it was clear to many that the militarized and violent response to the water warriors was far out of proportion to the actions of the people at Oceti Sakowin as the camp was known, one of the people of Standing Rock, a Hunkpapa woman by the name of Tiffany Leigh, offered insight into the violent response: “Historically, there has always been tension between the Hunkpapa of Standing Rock and our neighbors to the north. We, along with our allies, defeated Custer at the Battle of the Greasy Grass in Montana. We also believe that the 7th took revenge during Wounded Knee in South Dakota in the late 1800s. Many Hunkpapa were with Chief Spotted Elk when he fled to Wounded Knee. Historically, many in the Bismarck/Mandan area don’t take too kindly to the Hunkpapa because of our history. I firmly believe that was why there was such a heavy military response.”
Leigh’s response, in the historical context of the Great Sioux Nation’s history, as outlined in the first two parts of this series, makes sense. It also adds another layer of sadness and loss to the tragedy of the Plains people. More than 150 years after the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was drawn up, the struggles among the tribal people and for their land and water are still very much sad realities.
Despite the claims made by ETP and other oil and gas companies about the safety of oil pipelines, a pipeline just 150 miles from Cannonball, North Dakota, where the Oceti Sakowin camp was, recently spilled 176,000 gallons of crude oil. 130,000 gallons of crude went directly into the Ash Coulee Creek.
Oil pipelines are notorious for leaking. For example, in a report to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management in 2013, it was reported that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline had 1,577 spills of greater than one barrel from September 1971 to September 2011, a period of just over 40 years, with an average of 39 spills a year. In a review of other spills, 2016, the latest year for which complete data is available, there were several very large spills, including:
• Colonial Pipeline, Shelby County, Alabama: September 9, 2016, 336,000 gallons of refined oil
• Dixie Pipeline: Sulphur, Louisiana: 208,000 gallons of propane were burned on February 24, 2016
• Colonial Pipeline, Shelby County, Alabama: Less than two months after the first leak, a dirt moving track hoe damaged a pipeline, which resulted in a “massive” fire. Two of the six workers on the pipeline were killedEnterprise Product Partners: Cushing, Oklahoma: a spill of 307,734 gallons of crude,
• Sunoco Logistics: Sweetwater, Texas: A one year old pipeline leaked 361,200 gallons of crude oil
The notion that oil is safely transported anywhere is simply not accurate. Because of the growing concerns of the public about pipeline safety and as a direct result of the Oceti Sakowin protests, the North Dakota legislature has advanced a bill that gives companies the freedom to conceal spills of oil, natural gas, and contaminated water. Any spill under 420 gallons—10 barrels—would not have to be reported. A quick review of the data on just the Trans-Alaska Pipeline would give any reasonable person pause regarding the safety of any pipeline. Thus, contrary to the inflammatory and false rhetoric of Energy Transfer Partners, the water warriors who stood for clean water had every reason to be concerned.
As noted in the aforementioned of the aforementioned Miami University article, the real issues for the water warriors are as follows:
The protection of the precious water of the creeks, streams, reservoirs and rivers of the area
The acknowledgement of the ongoing fight of the Great Sioux Nations for their land, sacred sites
The simple respect for an ancient people that ceased to exist when the first European set foot on Sioux land. While oil now flows through the Black Snake, a federal judge has called for further environmental review.
The fight is not over. Those who value the water, the earth, the sky, and all of the living creatures on this Earth and those who practice our traditions and believe in the spirit of the water and the Earth, will continue to speak up and stand up in the face of the militarized police, dog handlers and courts that continue to try and crush our rights and our souls.
It is important to remember the lessons of Oceti Sakowin: There is power in unity and there is power in truth.♦