Above photo: Indigenous youth held a die-in in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Washington, D.C., on April 1, 2021, to represent the lives lost due to environmental destruction and pipelines. Jen Deerinwater.
“Build Back Fossil Free!”
On Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), frontline Indigenous youth and organizers held several actions in Washington, D.C. The activists called on President Joe Biden to end DAPL and the Line 3 pipeline and to “Build Back Fossil Free.”
“It was our youth that led today,” explained Waniya Locke (Diné, Lakota, Nakota and Anishinaabe). The youth-led actions included a rally at the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) headquarters, where organizers delivered petitions with 400,000 signatures demanding ACE withdraw its permit approving Line 3.
The actions included a die-in, in which the Water Protectors laid still on the ground to symbolize those that have died from environmental destruction, and a march to Black Lives Matter Plaza with a 200-foot-long “black snake” meant to symbolize the pipelines and the Lakota prophecy that a black snake will appear and harm the people. The organizers then engaged in a lock-down action outside the White House: Two people were suspended in tripod devices while others were locked to the bottom of the device with bike locks around their necks.
“Whatever it takes,” replied Locke when asked how long she intended to stay locked to the tripod. She remained locked to the tripod for four hours.
The running theme of the day was one of grassroots resistance and a demand for government accountability. Danny Grassrope (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) said the construction of these dangerous pipelines “disrupts our way of life” and that President Biden could be a good leader, but only if he recognized Indigenous people’s rights and needs.
While explaining the importance of tribal sovereignty, he emphasized that “consulting is not consent” and that only tribal nations have the right to decide if pipelines run through their lands.
Biden made good on his promise to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, and Water Protectors are urging him to keep up the momentum and cancel DAPL and Line 3.
DAPL is a 1,172-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline that can transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, where it links up with a network of pipelines headed to the Gulf. Much of the oil is exported to other countries.
Tribes have continued to fight DAPL in the courts. In the last year, two federal court rulings determined that the pipeline doesn’t have a valid permit at its Missouri River crossing near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The U.S. district and a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly account for the pipeline’s impacts on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and isn’t in compliance with environmental law. While the district court ordered in July 2020 that DAPL would have to shut down immediately, the appeals court ruled in January 2021 that Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL, could continue running despite the lack of a legal permit. The final decision on whether or not DAPL continues to operate is currently in the hands of the Army Corp.
Line 3, owned by Enbridge Inc., is an oil pipeline that has operated since 1968 running from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. It delivers crude to refineries and other pipelines for transport. Line 3 has been operating at a capacity of approximately 390,000 barrels per day. Enbridge wants to construct a new and longer Line 3 along a different route expanding capacity up to 760,000 barrels per day of oil, much of it from resource-intensive and climate crisis-accelerating tar sands oil.
In addition to exacerbating pollution and environmental degradation, pipeline expansion exacerbates the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirits. As Truthout’s Candice Bernd recently reported, “shelters in northern Minnesota are handling more cases of sexual assault directly linked to contractors building Line 3.” There has also been an increase in reports of sexual harassment at local businesses since construction began.
Other human rights abuses were highlighted during the events. Jasilyn Charger and Oscar High Elk are both facing charges due to peacefully protesting the Keystone XL pipeline on the Cheyenne River Sioux lands. High Elk said during the first rally of the day that he came to D.C. to ask President Biden to give him a pardon for the “false, bogus charges” against him. Charger is facing up to a year of incarceration.
While the day centered on the fights to end DAPL and Line 3, other Indigenous people spoke of the environmentally unjust extractive projects in their lands. Crystal Cavalier, a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and executive director of an advocacy group called Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women North Carolina, spoke about her fights against both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its Southgate Expansion pipeline. Cavalier said a protest walk will occur on May 2 along the Southgate Expansion route, beginning in Chatham, Virginia, and ending in Haw River, North Carolina.
Cavalier spoke of how these pipelines are heavily impacting Black and Indigenous communities. On March 23 and 24, tree-sitters were extracted by police from the tree-sits at the Yellow Finch Camp that were blocking construction of the imminently dangerous Mountain Valley Pipeline for 932 days. Both pipelines traverse Indigenous ancestral lands, but tribal nations lack sovereignty over these lands and aren’t afforded the legal right to consultation or consent.
Organizers emphasized that these pipeline fights are not only about stopping fossil fuel extraction; they’re also about Indigenous people’s overall well-being and right to life and culture. Accordingly, Locke discussed the Mni Wiconi school and clinic that were created during the 2016 protests against DAPL. The school and clinic will provide culturally appropriate education and care for those on the reservation and will soon be reestablished on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.