Standing Rock & the Fight to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

By: Jade Begay

Right now, water protectors are being evacuated from the main camp at Standing Rock. The state of North Dakota issued an emergency evacuation last week for the main camp, formerly known as Oceti Sakowin, that goes into effect today.

While some are optimistic as new camps emerge on higher ground and as the land is returned to its former state, others can’t help but feel heartache to see the camp pack up and to see Dakota Access prepare to drill under the Missouri River.

While the Governor says this evacuation is for the safety of the people and the river, we know better than to believe these claims. The brutal actions by law enforcement and treatment of the Water Protectors throughout this fight make it clear that their true motivation is to make way for the pipeline that’s being forced into the Earth and will poison thousands of people when it breaks.

Ironically, the Governor also voiced his concerns about flooding and how this puts people at risk. Flooding is happening sooner than anyone anticipated due to warmer-than-normal temperatures. Across the country we are seeing spring- like weather and there is no doubt that this is due to climate change — which we all know is made worse when more oil is taken out of the ground and shipped through pipelines to be burned.

This is why the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, The Indigenous Environmental Network and Native Organizers Alliance among many others have called for Native Nations Rising: Rise with Standing Rock on March 10 in Washington D.C. Our mission is to carry the momentum Standing Rock started to other Indigenous communities and to focus not just on the rights of one tribe but of all Native Nations.

From March 7th — March 10th Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island (The United States) will hold a tipi camp near the Washington Monument and on March 10th thousands of Indigenous Peoples and their allies, including 350.org, will march through Washington D.C. to demand that Indigenous rights be respected, that tribal consent is given when any economic development happens on tribal land, and that President Trump meets with Tribal Leaders so he can take accountability for his actions.

March with us. Rise with Native Nations. Click here to sign up and learn more.

As another transition takes place for the camps and for this movement, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on how and why this movement began, what we learned, and where we are going next.

Three Lessons from Standing Rock

1. We Need to Work Together

This movement taught us that we need to work together, that it no longer works to organize or work in silos as if our issues are separate. Respecting Indigenous rights means climate justice, self-determination for Indigenous Peoples means water systems and ecosystems will be protected for generations, and respecting treaties goes go hand in hand with respecting the rights of Black and Brown people across this nation.

2. We Are Powerful

We also learned or we were reminded that collectively we can change history. One tactic of colonization that has been used to eliminate our existence is erasure. Excluding our narratives from history books, media, you name it. With Standing Rock and with the sustained support from our allies, the Indigenous voice became apart of mainstream news and media. Because of this, millions of people, not just in America but across the world, can never unknow what they know now. Together we broke the pattern of erasure.

On this day, and since the beginning, standing for the water: Joye Braun, Tania Aubid, Ladonna Allard. Photo by: Toni Cervantes

3. Indigenous People Must Lead

Finally, we learned that Indigenous Peoples must lead environmental, climate, and political movements. Indigenous Peoples have an inherent connection to how to live in harmony and in reciprocity with the Earth, unlike the colonized mind that is taught to extract and commodify the resources we have been offered.

How We Got Here

Just six months ago, a group of Indigenous youth ran 2,000 miles from Standing Rock, North Dakota to Washington D.C. Their mission was to call attention to a massive oil pipeline that would put their community’s sole water source at risk. In doing so they also called attention to the appalling racism and colonization that is still alive in America.

The Dakota Access pipeline was originally proposed to go through Bismarck, a predominantly White community. After locals pushed back on the pipeline for fear that it would poison their water system, the pipeline was rerouted through tribal land without proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation or their consent.

In response to this injustice, the youth began a spirit camp on the land that would become known as Oceti Sakowin. Their courage and determination sparked a unified Indigenous-led movement that not only fulfilled ancient prophecies but also elevated and centered Indigenous issues that go beyond Dakota Access.

Photo by Rob Wilson

Between August and December over 10,000 people joined the spirit camps in Standing Rock where hundreds peacefully resisted the project along the pipeline route, and thousands more took action in their communities. After months of lawsuits and global mobilizations pressuring President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers, it was announced that the project would undergo an environmental review.

This hard-fought win wasn’t a complete victory, but it required that the pipeline be evaluated for the danger it posed to drinking water and sacred sights. Under federal law, pipelines are eligible for a fast-tracked permitting process, which is how Dakota Access bypassed more rigorous environmental and public review.

The review was underway in the final weeks of Obama’s presidency, but in his first week in office, Trump signed an Executive Memorandum telling the Army Corps of Engineers that the pipeline is in our “national interest” and told them to “consider” revoking the environmental review initiated by the Obama Administration.

On February 7th, the Army Corps obeyed Trump’s orders and announced that it would cancel the review and approve the final easement for the pipeline — allowing the company to drill underneath the Missouri River and complete the project.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as the Cheyenne River Tribe have filed numerous lawsuits which are ongoing challenging Trump’s decision to cancel the review. They plan to continue to use all legal avenues available even if oil starts flowing.

At the same time, the campaign to #DefundDAPL by pressuring the banks financing the project to pull out has taken on a life of its own. Just this month, the city of Seattle divested $3 billion dollars from Wells Fargo because of its role in financing Dakota Access. People are withdrawing their individual accounts and more Divest Your City campaigns are popping up every day.

While the ultimate fate of the legal challenges is unknown, with Trump in office, there is reason to believe that oil could soon flow through Dakota Access and under the Missouri River in a matter of months.

If you’re like me, this reality is frightening especially as we see abnormal, spring-like weather in February across the nation, a symptom, no doubt, of climate change. Climate chaos will only get more severe and continue to threaten all of us — especially Indigenous and Black and Brown communities — if another pipeline is allowed to shore up millions of barrels of crude oil being taken out of the ground.

Yet, despite what we are up against, because of what Standing Rock has taught us, I feel strong, and I know that our collective resistance, if sustained, will have a long term impact on stopping the fossil fuel industry.

Where We’re Going

Looking ahead, all of us who stood with Standing Rock need to follow through with our solidarity and stand with Indigenous communities everywhere. From the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Texas to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in the Gulf and up to the Line 3 and Line 5 Pipelines in the Great Lakes region, there are numerous places where we can continue to put pressure on the Fossil Fuel Industry and demand that Indigenous Rights and climate science be honored.

To all of those who were spurred to action because of this fight, we need you now more an ever. No other fossil fuel project in U.S. history has galvanized people to action like Dakota Access — and moving forward, we need this level of collective action everywhere.

Take time to grieve and reflect — and when you’re ready, joins us in the continued fight for our future.