Dakota Access Pipeline Latest Case of Environmental Racism

Russell Jaffe, Columnist

While many students were preparing themselves for a Thanksgiving full of feasting and celebrating with loved ones Nov. 21, law enforcement officers at Standing Rock were assaulting protesters with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been assaulted, terrorized and arrested since April for exercising its right to peacefully protest against the unethical construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, designed to serve as a key link between the state’s oil wells, was originally mapped to cut through Bismarck, ND — an area with more than 92 percent white residents as of the 2010 census — but was instead rerouted through tribal nations. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cited 11 additional miles of pipeline and Bismarck’s “high consequence area” and proximity to wellhead source water protection areas as reasons for the reroute. Prominent activist Reverend Jesse Jackson noted this as “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time.” It is no exaggeration to state that Native Americans are being forced to accept the risks and damages that white residents refused.

In addition to desecrating sacred lands such as prayer and burial sites, the pipeline would potentially displace hundreds of residents and put the drinking water of millions of people at risk. A leak or burst could poison the only clean drinking water in the area. For these reasons, the Sioux tribe has also accused the Corps of Engineers — who allowed the pipeline to go through — of violating both the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act and the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act.

Protesters, activists and water protectors have worked desperately to delay construction of the pipeline, demanding that it be rerouted away from Native lands. Although the protesters thus far have been nonviolent, law enforcement has not demonstrated the same decency. It has employed tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, stinger grenades, attack dogs and other militarized equipment in its attempts to quell the protest. Many of the protesters, including children, have sustained extreme injuries from both police forces and private mercenary groups alike. Several elders have almost died and had to be resuscitated by emergency services. Others remain in critical condition, including a 13-year-old girl who was shot in the head by a rubber bullet, and a woman whose arm was maimed by a concussion grenade.

The news of the events at Standing Rock is being actively suppressed by authorities: many reporters have been shot by rubber bullets and arrested, while several media drones have also been shot down as a no-fly zone was declared to prevent news stations from taking videos. The situation is becoming grimmer every day, and President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to reduce environmental regulations foreshadow a darker future. Nevertheless, the protests continue — as they must — because for countless people, the pipeline’s approval may be, as Aries Yumul, the North Dakota Todd County School District assistant principal called it, a “death sentence.” Surrender is simply not an option.

Sadly, the horrifying situation in North Dakota is hardly an isolated incident. This is just one of countless, rarely-discussed cases in which profit has been put before human life and the rights of Native people. In fact, according to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Standing Rock Sioux, “This exact scenario unfolded in the last three years with the Balkan pipeline and the Baker Lateral Pipeline, where the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe went unanswered [by the Army Corps] while construction commenced on both pipelines.” Additionally, it is worth noting that while the Standing Rock protests were beginning in May 2016, the White House quietly approved two additional pipelines from Energy Transfer Partners — the same company currently responsible for the abuses in North Dakota.

So what can we do to help? First and most obviously, we can join the protesters and take a stand at Standing Rock. Naturally, this is not an option for everyone. However, that does not mean that there is nothing you can do. For example, many petitions have already gone viral, pleading for the White House to stop the pipeline construction. Additionally, donations and supplies are extremely welcome to both the Standing Rock Sioux and the protesters’ legal defense fund. Medical supplies, for example, could save the lives of injured protesters, while food and water can help provide sustenance for the harsh upcoming winter. Some specific places donate include the International Indigenous Youth Council, The Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council and the Standing Rock Asheville Council.

Beyond donations, you can pick up the phone and voice your opposition of the pipeline to key government officials. Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple at (701) 328-2200 and Michael (Cliff ) Waters, the lead analyst of Energy Transfer Partners at (713) 989-2404. Those with legal or media skills have also been called to email the Sacred Stone Camp to volunteer at sacredstonecamp@gmail. com. Finally, simply educating one’s own community can often play a critical role in organizing people to take a stand. If the suppression of media is any indication, ignorance and misinformation are the key weapons that this protest’s opponents have utilized to slow down progress. Unveiling the truth and taking a stand against the current atrocities may be the only way to prevent them from repeating in the future.