BELLINGHAM ACTIVISTS PROTEST THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE

Story by Frederica Kolwey | Photo by Jesse Nichols

Community members in Bellingham, Washington protest the Dakota Access Pipeline on Oct. 28, 2016.

Community members and Western Washington University student clubs held a march in downtown Bellingham, Washington on Oct. 28, 2016, in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. The pipeline is expected to cost $3.7 billion and span 1,800 kilometers from North Dakota to Illinois.

It would cross the Missouri River near Bismark, North Dakota, a drinking water source for the region. Organizers distributed signs and chant sheets to attendees, and the local organization Food Not Bombs made food for participants.

The march in Bellingham was planned and executed in less than 24 hours as people reacted to the National Guard raid of the protest camp the day before.

Bellingham activists had wanted to do something for a while, said Maru Mora of Community to Community, a Bellingham organization that works to empower women and immigrants. She said the march came together Thursday night after law enforcement groups, including the National Guard, arrested over 100 protestors.

“We are following the leadership of the native groups [at Standing Rock],” Mora said. “We demand [government officials] withdraw their law enforcement and suspend the pipeline indefinitely.”

The arrests at Standing Rock occurred on the same day as a federal court acquitted seven members of the group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. For Mora, this exemplified injustice in the U.S. criminal justice system. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in early spring 2016.

Legally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the land under the river. Even so, the National Historic Preservation Act requires the federal government to consult with native tribes before starting construction projects to avoid disrupting sacred lands. The Standing Rock Sioux sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July for not consulting them before Energy Transfer Partners began the pipeline construction. The tribe also claimed the pipeline construction violates the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.

In early October, a federal appeals court ruled against the Sioux tribe’s request for an emergency injunction to halt construction of the pipeline. The next day, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a statement asking Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily pause construction on the pipeline. They have not complied with the request.

On October 24, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate unnecessary use of police force and violations of protesters’ civil rights. As of this writing, around 400 people have been arrested.

UPDATE:

On November 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they would not approve the permit for the pipeline to cross under the contested portion of the Missouri River, saying alternative routes will be considered after completing a full environmental impact statement.

The decision is a major victory for protesters and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. David Archambault II, the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, said in a statement on November 4 the tribe wholeheartedly supports the decision and will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration. He urged the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump to respect the decision.

The announcement by the U.S. Army Corps came the day before an evacuation order by Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota was to take effect and the same day over 2,000 veterans arrived at the Standing Rock protest camp claiming they planned to act as human shields between protesters and local law enforcement. Almost 600 people have been arrested since August.