Standing Rock Sioux Tribe begins its fight against Dakota Access Pipeline, activists arrested, governor declares emergency state
By C.S. Hagen
CANNON BALL, ND – The Bakken Pipeline began quietly, leaving few footprints along its legal trail straight into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lap. Shortly after the 1,172-mile project was green-lighted, protests erupted in western North Dakota. Arrests and lawsuits, calls for peace and threats of violence, followed.
On Friday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency situation due to civil unrest, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department, and Morton County Commissioners extended the declaration on Monday.
The protest along the pipeline’s route less than one mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation of North Dakota and South Dakota, started on August 10 when tribesmen blocked an access point for Dakota Access, LLC construction crews, effectively forcing workers to leave the area. A total of thirteen arrests were made, but the activists’ war cry did not change – water and oil do not mix.
Within a week the activists’ numbers grew from 200 to more than 2,000 people coming from across the United States and Canada, activists said.
On August 15, Dakota Access LLC moved equipment and employees back to the construction route. A hole was cut into a fence, allowing access to more than 50 activists, leading to accounts of broken machinery windows and an assault on a private security worker, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Activists on horseback charged police, forcing them to retreat from their line, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. More arrests were made. As of Monday, a total of 29 activists, including Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, or the Hunkpapa Oyate, had been arrested, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. Of those arrested, 26 were charged for disorderly conduct, and three were charged with criminal trespass. All have since been released.
A standoff between activists and law enforcement ensued.
The outcry against big oil attracted Hollywood movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio’s attention, and on August 11 brought Divergent movie series heroine Shailene Woodley to join the protesters.
“The spirits are there, the people are there,” activist Margaret Landin said. “They are empowering each other.”
Tensions are brewing. While Archambault calls demonstrators to peace, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier fears for safety.
Black Land Rovers with tinted windows are parked nearby, watching, activists report. Authorities began investigating two incidents of laser strikes against aircraft conducting surveillance on the protesting encampment, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. The strikes allegedly occurred on August 17 and Sunday, temporarily blinding one pilot, and is considered a federal crime leading to a fine or imprisonment for up to five years or both if convicted.
Six miles south of Mandan, State Highway Patrol troopers closed Highway 1806 to traffic. Cellular phone services have been terminated to the area, activists report. Local parks, campgrounds, boat ramps, and fishing areas have been shut down. Work on the pipeline has been halted. Rumors that construction workers had discovered old Native American burial grounds were not verified.
“We’re trying to provide a line, a safe line for the pipeline people to enter and to go and do their legal work,” Kirchmeier said. “And they were preparing to throw pipe bombs at our line, M-80s, fireworks, things of that nature to disrupt us.
“That, in itself, makes it an unlawful protest. In that area people are compromising the private land down there, and they’re compromising the equipment that is down there.”
Online threats have also been made on social media against the lives of law enforcement officials in the area, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. “We take these comments very seriously,” Kirchmeier said. “We have to take these comments very seriously to protect not only officers’ safety, but residents who live in the area along with those participating in the protest activities. The threats are very concerning.”
Dalrymple’s declaration of an emergency situation was also instituted by fear.
“The State of North Dakota remains committed to protecting citizens’ rights to lawfully assemble and protest, but the unfortunate fact remains that unlawful acts associated with the protest near Cannon Ball have led to serious public safety concerns and property damage,” Dalrymple said in a press release on Friday . “This emergency declaration simply allows us to bring greater resources to bear if needed to help local officials address any further public safety concerns.”
Declaring an emergency situation also allows for the coordinated and effective effort of “appropriate government departments” to minimize the impact of the emergency, according to the executive order issued by Dalrymple. Rumors the National Guard had been called in for support were not verified at press time.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., stressed the importance of protecting the rights of all parties involved, and that she would continue to meet with anyone wanting to discuss the issues.
“As North Dakota continues to reduce its reliance on moving crude by rail, producers will keep looking to pipelines as an important part of our energy infrastructure – both for our state and the nation,” Heitkamp said.
“Just as with any infrastructure project, we need to make sure the Dakota Access Pipeline is thoroughly vetted, reviewed, and if approved has the proper safeguards in place. It’s critical that as federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers review energy infrastructure projects, they follow all applicable environmental requirements, and respect treaty rights and as well as the need for proper consultation with tribal nations.”
Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle was among the first people arrested at the encampment. She was released on bail. Jumping Eagle is a mother of three, and a pediatrician at a hospital in Standing Rock.
“It’s very frustrating seeing the actions by the state, they’re the ones escalating this and spreading misinformation,” Jumping Eagle said. “They’re using falsehoods to find ways to escalate their own agenda.
“Historically, they would hype up in the newspaper, hype up the local people, hype up the police forces, so that basically the Army could come in. That’s the history of the United States. There is no incentive for them to take it down a notch, there’s a financial incentive to make it appear our camp is potentially violent or threatening.
“Yes, we are protesting and protecting the land,” Jumping Eagle said. “But people are doing that in the manner that is consistent with our beliefs.”
On Monday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the International Indian Treaty Council appealed to the United Nations for assistance, according to media outlet Indian Country.
“We specifically request that the United States Government impose an immediate moratorium on all pipeline construction until the Treaty Rights and Human Rights of the Standing Rock Tribe can be ensured and their free, prior and informed consent is obtained,” Archambault and the Treaty Council said in their petition to the United Nations.
The Seventh Generation
Landin joins the protest traveling from her home in Bismarck every other day. Families with infants, the young and the elderly, Native Americans, and people from all races and cultures have gathered in the Dakota prairie. Citizens are donating food, sleeping bags, outdoor chairs, drinking and washing water, Landin said, and she has not seen or heard of pipe bombs or weapons, in fact, protest organizers do not allow weapons, drugs, or alcohol on to the encampment grounds, she said.
“It is an amazing thing to see,” Landin said. “I literally tear-ed up, there are so many people there to support, and it doesn’t even matter your race.”
No firearms, no alcohol, no cameras allowed, photographer and ambrotypist Shane Balkowitsch said. He traveled from Bismarck to photograph the encampment using the wet plate photography technique, a painstaking process where exposures must be quickly developed in a dark room on scene. Balkowitsch was one of the first to photographers on the scene, he said, and he joined the protest to support the friends he met during his recent work on a photography project for for the Historical Society of North Dakota called “Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective.”
“I saw no weapons, no pushing,” Balkowitsch said. “It was a civil and peaceful protest. They are very adamant, very dedicated to this obviously, but being dedicated to something is not a bad thing.
“I was treated with hugs.”
Longtime activist Winona Laduke may ride horseback at Stanley Rock, where the thousands camped at Camp of the Sacred Stone are attracting more support every day. Since nearby highways have been blocked, activists are leading supporters into the area on foot. “They’re trying to put the squeeze on this tribe by blocking the highway to their casino and to the protest. And it has backfired on themselves,” Laduke said.
The ‘squeeze’ is not working.
As the executive director of the Native American environmental group Honor the Earth, and twice Ralph Nader’s Green Party vice presidential candidate, Laduke traveled from her home at White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and stayed two days at the encampment. Friday night during a rainstorm, more than 800 people ate dinner at the tribe’s Prairie Knights Casino, Laduke said. “It’s having a booming business. And this talk about pipe bombs is just not true. They’re using [smoking] pipes. I even brought my pipe down there. There are no bombs, no weapons.”
Laduke spent her birthday at the encampment, among the rolling prairie hills where she could imagine the buffalo that once roamed freely. Nestled against the Missouri River – the mother river – Laduke said it was the best birthday present she could have hoped for.
“I picked sage, sat in my tipi, and joined in with about 40 people younger than me,” Laduke said. “That is a pretty good birthday present to myself.”
Landin noticed a difference in the protesters, a difference that invokes an ancient prophecy.
“It is the youth,” Landin said. “The youth are really standing up and speaking out. They are a different generation. They are the Seventh Generation.”
The Seventh Generation, descendants of those forced into reservations approximately 140 years ago, are supposed to set rights to wrongs, Landin said. The principle is more than legend or prophecy; it is recorded in the Iroquois Great Law of Peace.
Besides being involved in the protest, young activists, or protectors as activists call themselves, participated in a relay footrace from western North Dakota to Washington DC called “Run for Our Water” earlier in 2016, and then joined protests before the US Supreme Court and at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Despite Standing Rock Sioux objections, the Bakken Pipeline, officially known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, began in May 2016, and if finished will snake through the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, where it will join up with a second 774-mile pipeline to Nederland, Texas. More than 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil will pass through the pipeline per day after it is finished third quarter 2016, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Dakota Access LLC pipeline, which is a joint venture between Enbridge Energy Partners LP and Marathon Petroleum Corporation, would also span 200 water crossings, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission, and in North Dakota alone would pass through 33 historical and archeological sites. Initially, the pipeline was to run north of Bismarck, but because it proved to be a potential threat to Bismarck’s wellhead source water protection areas, the route was cancelled and relocated to its current course, less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee, who for the sake of his job wished to remain anonymous, a safe oil pipeline does not exist. Erosion by time, plate tectonics, natural disasters, shoddy workmanship or faulty parts, and cutting corners to fill big oil coffers are part of any pipeline recipe.
Since 2010, more than 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures have occurred in pipelines within the United States, according to the Center for Effective Government. The incidents have killed 80 people, injured 389, and have created $2.8 billion in damages, not to mention the lingering effect on humans, and the release of toxic chemicals into soil, waterways, and air. Nearly one third of the spills since 2010 came from pipelines carrying crude oil, as the Dakota Access Pipeline plans to carry.
In 2010, the first year after the Keystone pipeline was completed, 35 leaks were discovered, according to Earthjustice, an environmental law organization.
In a statement from Archambault on August 16, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said the issue is not only a Lakota or Dakota issue, but it is a human issue.
“I am here to advise anyone that will listen that the Dakota Access Pipeline project is harmful,” Archambault said. “It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is one of the cleanest and safest river tributaries left in the Unit States. To poison the water is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water.
“How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”
On July 27, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe represented by Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claiming that the project violated the “National Historic Preservation Act” by endangering river waters and by authorizing the construction of the pipeline underneath Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, approximately half a mile upstream from the tribe’s reservation. In the lawsuit, the tribe sought an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in addition to a full inspection of compliance, and a declaration that the corps’ authorizations for the pipeline were in violation of the reservation’s rights according to the two Treaties of Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868.
“The current proposed route across Lake Oahe a half of a mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation boundary, where any leak or spill from the pipeline would flow into the reservation,” the lawsuit said. “The tribe and its members have been deeply concerned about the potential impacts of the Lake Oahe crossing since its inception.”
The tribe, according to the lawsuit, relies on the lake for drinking water for thousands of people, and for irrigation, fishing, recreation, and for cultural and religious practices. “An oil spill from the pipeline into Lake Oahe would cause an economic, public health and welfare, and cultural crisis of the greatest magnitude,” according to lawsuit documents.
Fearing bodily injury to Dakota Access LLC employees and contractors, the oil company struck back, filing restraining orders on August 15 and seeking monetary damages against members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Meanwhile, other issues are piling up for Dakota Access LLC.
On July 20 Enbridge Energy Partners LLP was ordered by the Justice Department and the EPA to pay $177 million for its responsibility in the 2010 Michigan Tar Sands Spill. Enbridge spent six years and more than one billion dollars in cleanup efforts, but the area was not restored, according to media outlet Bold Nebraska.
After spending millions, and wasting years battling for approval of a Bakken crude oil pipeline across Minnesota, Enbridge Energy Partners LLP switched gears, joining with Marathon Petroleum Corporation to run a different pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, through North Dakota, a state that is far less strict on environmental issues than Minnesota. The Minnesota Sandpiper pipeline has been put on the back burner until 2019, according to Enbridge, and analysts predict the project will never be resurrected.
In Iowa where work on the pipeline is underway, three fires erupted causing heavy damage to equipment and causing an estimated $1 million in damages. Investigators suspect arson, according to Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty.
In October 2015, three Iowa farmers sued Dakota Access LLC and the Iowa Utilities Board in an attempt to prevent the use of eminent domain on their properties to construct the pipeline.
Dakota Access LLC personnel did not return telephone calls by press time.
More Dirty Blankets
Tribal leaders claim the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not discuss the pipeline project adequately.
“The tribe has never been able to participate meaningfully in assessing the significance of sites that are potentially affected by the project,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lawsuit stated.
The Standing Rock Tribal Historic Preservation Office received a generic letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking consultation on February 12, 2015 pertaining to bore hole testing, according to the lawsuit documents.
Tribal leaders objected, but received no response until September 16, 2015, when a second letter stated the consultation process ended on January 18, 2015, according to lawsuit documents. Again, tribal leaders objected, demanding joint consultation and a class III survey in conjunction with tribal archeologists.
Instead of addressing concerns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ next step was to publish a draft environmental assessment that did not include a single mention of the potential impacts of the pipeline project to the tribe, according to lawsuit documents.
Not until February 2016 did the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel John Henderson begin discussions with Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders. Several visits were made, at which point tribal archeologists showed military personnel shards of bone and pottery that had been pushed from the ground by burrowing moles.
On April 22, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ response was to make the formal finding that “no historic properties were affected,” according to lawsuit documents.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disagreed, stating that investigators followed procedure.
“The Corps conducted formal government-to-government consultation with tribal representative via meetings; site visits; distribution of pertinent information; conference calls, and emails in order to inform tribal governments and private members, and to better understand their concerns.
“All information received during the … process was considered during the Corps decision-making process. Ultimately, the District made a ‘No Historic Properties Affected’ determination.”
Historically, British and American governments have deceived Native Americans by many means, through trick, by trade, and according to some, with biological warfare.
In 1763, a British captain gave smallpox-infested blankets to Ottawa Native American warriors. The account is documented in the journal of William Trent, a local trader who had close dealings with British soldiers.
“Out of our regard for them, we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect,” Trent wrote in his journal on June 24, 1763.
Carl Waldman’s Atlas of North American Indian described the same instance, but in a different light. “… Captain Simeon Ecuyer had bought time by sending smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort – which started an epidemic among them.”
Historians estimate three-quarters of the Native American population in the Ottawa area died from smallpox outbreaks after taking the blankets, according to media outlet Indian Country. Many agree that germs annihilated Native Americans, and not the “white man with guns.”
An unsubstantiated instance allegedly occurred in June 1837 when the U.S. Army began to dispense trade blankets to Mandan tribal people at Fort Clark along the Missouri River in North Dakota, according to the History News Network. The blankets were said to have come from a military smallpox infirmary in St. Louis, and brought upriver aboard the steamboat St. Peter’s. When the Native Americans showed symptoms of the disease, fort doctors allegedly told them to scatter and seek sanctuary with healthy relatives.
No matter how disease was introduced to the Mandan tribe in 1837, more than 100,000 Mandan Native Americans died from smallpox pandemic between 1836 and 1840, according to historians.
Closer to home, the events from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during 1890 and the 1970s have further exacerbated mistrust between the U.S. government and the Lakota people. In 1890, Sitting Bull, a holy man and leader of the Lakota, was killed during the Ghost Dance movement at Wounded Knee. Later that year the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded another band of Ghost Dancers slaughtering 150 Lakota tribesmen.
In 1970, the American Indian Movement known as AIM occupied the Wounded Knee holy site, sparking a 71-day siege by federal agents. Two Native Americans were killed, and one federal officer was paralyzed during altercations. In 1975, AIM activists killed two FBI agents during the “Pine Ridge Shootout.”
Additionally, in 1944, the Pick-Sloan Plan for flood control of the Missouri River gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the authority to build 107 dams, effectively forcing the relocation of nearly 1,000 Native American families. Later in 1946, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota, which in turn flooded 22,091 acres of Yankton Sioux land and forced 136 families to move elsewhere. According to online reports when the tribes affected informed the Department of Interior, government officials told them to start looking for new homes.
Again, in 1948, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the Oahe Dam, near to the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline today. The project destroyed 90 percent of the timberland on the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux reservations, and is known by some as the most destructive public works project in US history.
In 1959, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Big Bend Dam in South Dakota, on lands belonging to the Crow Creek Sioux and the Lower Brule Sioux. The project took away 21,026 acres of Sioux land, and flooded the town of Lower Brule. In 1960, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed a condemnation suit against the Crow Creek Sioux and the Lower Brule Sioux to obtain the land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was allowed to take title of the land.
For more than 130 years in the Black Hills, South Dakota, gold miners, and in recent history the Homestake Mine, poisoned river waters with sulfur, mercury, aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, selenium, lead, and arsenic through Native American, private, state, and federal lands, according to a 2005 report filed by the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, United States Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Services, and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. The aftereffects of a century of gold and lead mining are toxic to flora and fauna, according to the report. Starting in 2005, efforts were being made to restore the areas affected along the Whitewood Creek, the Belle Fourche, and the Cheyenne rivers, and the Homestake Mining Company of California, Inc. ceased mining and production in 2001.
Whitewood Creek flows into the Belle Fourche River, which flows into the Cheyenne River, which flows into the Missouri River at Oahe Reservoir, according to the report.
“Whitewood Creek is an example of gross environmental degradation tacitly condoned by public apathy…” the report stated. “Once pollutants were no longer discharged, the ecosystem repaired itself, a tribute to its resilience… this story has not reached its conclusion… and the potential for future problems with heavy toxicity are real.”
The poisoning, swallowing, and destruction of Native American lands not only forced tribesmen to move, it crippled their way of life, their hunting and fishing grounds, their chance to sow crops on once fertile soil, their spiritual practices pertaining to ancient burial grounds, and further impoverished those living on reservations, government reports and activists said.
With such a historical pattern of deception and at times brute force, it is little wonder why Native Americans distrust anything government officials say, activists said.
“Native people including the Lakota, have no experience with the United States keeping its word, or that of corporations keeping their words,” Laduke said. “It is time for people to start keeping their words. They have a treaty right to that water.
“Corporations have more rights than people and eco-systems,” Laduke said. “These corporations need to be challenged. I am not afraid of them, and we all should not be afraid of corporations. They need to be put in their place.”
Although Jumping Eagle has charges hovering over her head, she is not daunted.
Jumping Eagle, an Oglala Sioux who married into the Standing Rock tribe, lives and works there, and she did not plan on getting arrested. A court date has been set, but she is not daunted. Instead, she plans to create hand-washing stations at the encampment.
“This is not something I take lightly, I keep it in mind, but I want to be able to protect the land and water. This is a crucial time. For too long we’ve allowed corporations to be more important than people. The company and the police are protecting the interests of an oil company directly violating the rights of people. We’ve already suffered enough. The fact that they want to place the pipe just north of our community when we are already dealing with so many other issues that could threaten our drinking water, and put us into a situation like Flint, and people will have to buy water? Is not right.
“They think they can do whatever they want,” Jumping Eagle said. Not only is she active against Dakota Access Pipeline, she has also worked on other environmental issues ranging from new North Dakota Health Council regulations permitting the increased storage of oilfield waste – radioactive materials and chemicals – to fighting local uranium mines. “They think we are expendable or without a voice, without a choice. Going across Standing Rock land is against the treaty. But people don’t want to think about it. People want to trust their officials. The arguments they make are just trying to reassure themselves.”
Despite the deck being heavily stacked against her and her family, her tribe, and anyone living near or depending on the Missouri River or its tributaries for sustenance, Jumping Eagle remains hopeful that one day, things will change.
“Our concerns are never going to change.”