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Standing Rock update: “Water protectors” still at it

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun staff writer

According to news reports and local accounts, despite the first round of bitter winter weather that has swept through the Dakotas, an unknown number of people remain in the various camps in the Standing Rock area, preparing to wage their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) into the New Year and beyond.

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And it appears that supporters from the Roaring Fork Valley, who have been delivering supplies and assistance to Standing Rock for months, will continue to do so, starting with a meeting scheduled for tonight (Dec. 15) at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.

According to various news accounts, there have been between 400 and 700 Native American tribes represented at the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux reservation, where a standoff started seven months ago between the tribes, the Energy Transfer Partners company (which is building the pipeline) and their security forces, regional law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others.

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The confrontation concerns a pipeline nearly 1,200 miles long that would carry roughly 470,000 barrels per year of crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to a pipeline junction in Illinois, and then on to refineries and shipping points in other parts of the country.

The $3.8-billion pipeline is more than 95 percent completed, but a final segment — under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation, where the tribes get their water from the river and related underground sources — has been held up due to resistance by tribal “water protectors” and their supporters.

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The latest setback for the project was a Dec. 4 Corps announcement that it would withhold the permit needed to authorize drilling for the last segment of the pipeline.

In addition, the Corps has been making plans to flood that last, unfinished part of the pipeline route, after critics argued that Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) might simply finish the pipeline even without the permit and happily pay a $50,000-per-day fine rather than lose out on millions of dollars per week in oil revenues.

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Flooding the site, the Corps believes, would prevent ETP from doing further work illegally.

And last Friday, Dec. 9, a federal judge at the Washington, D.C. District Court rejected a motion by ETP for a quick approval of the final permit, according to the Wall Street Journal. Dist. Judge James Boasberg opted instead to seek legal briefs from the different factions in the case, which are due at the end of January. A hearing on the facts of the case is expected in February.

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Local linkage

For several months, a couple of dozen Roaring Fork Valley residents have put together a kind of pipeline of their own — filling up trucks, cars and other vehicles with supplies, gear and people headed north to Standing Rock to help out in whatever way they can.

According to organizer Tim Brogdon, that effort is still underway.

“It’s very strongly connected,” he said of the link forged between here and Standing Rock, “but it’s becoming more refined.”

Brogdon acknowledged the factional splits among tribal leaders, tribal members and non-tribal supporters at Standing Rock, noting that the leadership last week asked protesters to go home following the Corps’ decision to hold off on the final permit.

Many have left, according to reports, but others have decided to stay on at one or another of three camps — known as Sacred Stone, Rosebud and the Oceti Sakowin (which means “seven council fires,” the name the Sioux nation uses for itself) — in part because they worry about such matters as how president-elect Donald Trump will deal with the situation when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump has indicated he supports the oil and gas industry in general, and that he wants to eliminate any hurdles that he feels are blocking the industry’s projects as quickly as possible.

Plus Brogdon said, those who have chosen to stay in the camps believe they can handle whatever the winter throws at them, although they have expressed gratitude to tribal leaders for concerns about protestor safety.

One faction that Brogdon said is particularly adamant about staying is the International Indigenous Youth Council, an organization formed earlier this year following a call for support from young Native Americans staying at the Sacred Stone camp.

“We are youth from all nations, tribes and races,” the group states on its web site. “We know that each of us everywhere have our own struggles to protect our land, water and people. We follow in the tradition of our elders and the American Indian Movement in coming together nationally and internationally to form a solidarity movement that builds people power.”

The group has renamed Oceti Sacowin camp, which Brogdon reported had mostly emptied out following the elders’ calls for people to leave. The new name of the camp, which Brogdon said currently holds about 800 people, is Oceti Oyate camp, which means “all nations” or “all peoples.”

Brogdon said the Carbondale contingent of supporters for the Standing Rock effort remains committed to doing all it can, including sending supplies and people to the protest site as often as is practical and needed.

Last week, he said, a truck loaded with firewood, propane heaters, chain saws, winter wear and a Dutch oven, among other materials, was driven to Standing Rock by locals Moses Greengrass and Jonah Fueschel.

According to Brogdon, the meeting scheduled for tonight (Thursday) in Carbondale is to discuss the current situation at Standing Rock and to plan the Roaring Fork Valley’s continuing response to that situation.

The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Calaway Room of the Third Street Center, Brogdon said.

Struggle continues

Even as supporters rethink their efforts to provide support for Standing Rock, many of the tribal members who have been at the site for months have stiffened their resolve to cast the struggle in broader terms than simply the concerns of the Sioux tribes most directly involved, and to keep the momentum going.

“A lot of interest fell off with the news of the permit being denied,” Brogdon said, citing a significant decline in news coverage of the ongoing confrontation. “But there’s still people fighting.”

According to tribal elder Rachel Figueroa, 65, who was featured in a National Public Radio story about those who plan to remain at the site, the effort definitely will go on, though it may change in nature.

“It’s going to be hard to get people back on track,” Figueroa conceded, “but it’s the women that will do it. It’s the women that will stand up and say enough is enough. We’ve had enough of that. Anger, fear, all that doesn’t work. What works? Love, compassion, forgiveness, all those things work.”

And 21-year-old Alexander Howland, who traveled to Standing Rock from the Jicarilla Apache reservation in New Mexico, said he plans to stay for as long as it takes to protect the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes’ water resources.

“We are made up of water, we are born in water, we come from water. Water is an essence of our being. That’s why a lot of us are here,” Howland told NPR. “I’m going to stay as long as it takes to ensure the safety of our future generations, to make sure that they have water for their children, for my children, for my future generations to come, for everyone’s future generations to come. I’m not going anywhere until I see the drilling equipment leave.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 15, 2016.

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