Water protectors were granted a partial victory on Dec. 4th when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that no easement will be granted for Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction to continue under Lake Oahe, and alternate routes will be examined.
Over the course of the last month, winter has come to Cannonball, ND, and those same protectors have been met with serious confrontations from police and escalating threats from the state of North Dakota. People from all over the country have diverted their attention to Standing Rock, and speak out against DAPL.
Sunday’s announcement is an impressive feat for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, after concerns as to how long the Obama Administration planned to “let it play out” before taking any action.
This decision comes after thousands of veterans arrive at Oceti Sakowin, the main camp for the #NoDAPL occupation, promising to act as “human shields” between the militarized police and the water protectors. Similarly, the denial of the easement validates the claim that Energy Transfer never properly consulted the tribe for construction in the area, despite arguments in the lawsuit they filed on Nov. 16th.
However, the fight is far from over.
The same day as the Corps’s announcement, Energy Transfer issued a statement that they will still complete construction “without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.” With the company admitting that they will disregard federal and tribal law to save themselves millions of dollars, the Corps’s announcement needs immediate enforcement to prevent illegal drilling. Asking to voluntarily stop construction isn’t working, as Energy Transfer has already refused to do so three times.
A concern also exists that the Corps’s decision could be reversed once Donald Trump takes office in January, as he has vocalized support for the pipeline’s completion.
Excessive use of force by law enforcement in months prior has been condemned by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai. On top of the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, 528 people arrested since August, and detainment has been in overcrowded cages with insufficient medical care.
“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is an individual right, and it cannot be taken away indiscriminately or en masse due to the violent actions of a few,” said Kiai in his report. “The use of violence by some protesters should not be used as a justification to nullify the peaceful assembly rights of everyone else.”
On Nov. 20th, water protectors were met with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets by police after trying to clear two damaged military trucks blocking Highway 1806. More than 300 protesters were injured, facing hypothermia with temperatures as low as 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Dozens were hospitalized, including tribal elders, and a 13-year-old named Vanessa was shot in the face and has damage to her cornea, and Sophia Wilanksy almost lost her arm after the police threw a grenade and is still undergoing treatment for tissue reconstruction.
The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC-formerly Red Owl), an initiative of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), filed a lawsuit against Morton County, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirschmeier, and other law enforcement agencies for using excessive force against water protectors on Nov. 20.
Four days after the violence on Backwater Bridge, on Thanksgiving Day, water protectors occupied Turtle Island on Cannonball River in remembrance of Indigenous genocide.
While the U.S Army Corps of Engineers survey the area to determine a different route for the pipeline, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has not rescinded his evacuation notice that identifies any campers remaining after Dec. 5 as trespassers. Despite the easement denial, we must remain vigilant in any action taken to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline in a way that infringes on sovereign Standing Rock Sioux territory.
It is our obligation as stewards of the water to defund DAPL and to continue to urge the Obama administration to stand strong against this pipeline and in solidarity with 18 million people who rely on the Missouri River for clean drinking water. Sign our petition at lakotalaw.org to tell President Obama that he must remain vigilant on this issue and continue to order the Corps to stand down in the face of corporate greed.