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Standing Rock protesters brace for changing political landscape

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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While resistance continues at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation against an oil pipeline routed through reservation lands straddling the U.S.-Canadian border, President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order that caused alarms to be raised among the pipeline’s opponents.

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The president’s executive order, according to press reports, called for resumption of work on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the equally controversial Keystone Pipeline, which is meant to take an estimated 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines that would carry the crude to refineries in Texas.

The DAPL, a smaller pipeline being built by the Energy Transfer Partners company, is expected by industry observers to be easier to get underway again and completed, as it already is 95 percent finished except for a short stretch underneath a reservoir along the Missouri River near the Standing Rock site.

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The DAPL, at a cost of roughly $3.8 billion, is projected to carry nearly 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to a pipeline juncture in Illinois, from which it would be sent to refineries and shipping facilities in the southern U.S.

The Standing Rock and nearby Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, with the assistance of thousands of Native Americans from other tribes as well as non-tribal individuals, for about 10 months have been fighting against  the DAPL, which is being built by a company called Energy Transfer Partners or ETP.

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The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” fear that leaks from the pipeline could contaminate the Missouri River and surrounding groundwater, which is the primary source of drinking water for the tribes and other, downstream communities.

The tribes also contend that the pipeline construction already has disturbed sites that are sacred to the Sioux, and that further construction would worsen that disturbance.

In early December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to issue a critical, final construction permit for the pipeline, declaring the agency needs to study the situation further and instructing ETP to cease working.

A recent notice in the Federal Register, the official journal of federal actions, hearings and other matters, carried an announcement about the Army Corps’ plans to start an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to further study the DAPL.

No information was available on Tuesday as to whether President Trump’s executive order would immediately cancel out the Army Corps of Engineers’ call for an EIS on the Dakota Access pipeline.

But Tim Brogdon, a Carbondale activist who has been a leader in the local support for Standing Rock, this week urged his fellow supporters to send comments on the EIS, if the study goes ahead as planned. He said anyone interested can contact him by email at tbrogdon@gmail.com.

Native American leaders condemned the order, including Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, who compared the pipeline’s threat to the tribe’s water to the water contamination in Flint, Mich.

“Creating a second Flint does not make America great again,” Archambault said in a Jan. 24 story on the InsideClimateNews website. “It not only violates the law, but it violates tribal treaties. Nothing will deter us from our fight for clean water. We will be taking legal action and will take this fight head on.”

Support continues

Brogdon, who lives in Carbondale, has been working with numerous local supporters of the Standing Rock resistance effort, said last week that the effort continues by residents of the Roaring Fork Valley to support the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes to keep the pipeline out of their lives.

According to Brogdon, as of about a week ago there were approximately 1,000 water protectors still living in three camps — named Sacred Stone, Rosebud and Oceti Oyate — in the area of the pipeline construction.

And it is to these camps that a contingent of Carbondale and Roaring Fork Valley residents have continued to send supplies, clothing and winter gear to help the water protectors maintain their vigil safely.

But changing conditions at the camp have brought changes to the local valley’s aid efforts.

“It always morphs, it always changes,” Brogdon told The Sopris Sun by telephone.

Following the Corps decision in early December to withhold the final DAPL  permit, Brogdon said, winter set in and it became increasingly difficult to obtain firewood in the region around the camps, creating a scarcity that was somewhat offset by deliveries of firewood from the Roaring Fork Valley support network.

As December progressed, Brogdon said, winter conditions and pleas from tribal elders resulted in an exodus of people from the camps, where the number of supporters once reportedly exceeded 10,000.

In the wake of that exodus, Brogdon reported, are piles of stuff left behind, including clothes, building materials and other detritus that has been buried in snow and frozen in place.

The area also is bracing for spring melt-off, which can bring sudden and massive flooding, and which makes the cleanup of all materials and goods left at the camps an imperative.

Brogdon noted that a GoFundMe site has been started (Support the Bald Eagles at Oceti, or simply search for Bald Eagles) to assist tribal elders Amos Cook and his wife, Phyllis Beautiful Bald Eagle, and other leaders as they get to work both sustaining the remaining water protectors, directing a clean-up campaign and preparing for the needs of the camps once spring arrives.

In addition, Brogdon said, another Carbondale supporter of the Standing Rock resistance, Amy Kimberly of the Carbondale Arts organization, recently heard from a man in Minnesota who has a semi-truck loaded with 22 cords of firewood and hopes to deliver it to the camps.

“So we’re in the wood hauling business again,” said Brogdon, referring to past supply trips carrying firewood and other supplies.

Other avenues

Shawna Foster, minister to the Two Rivers Universal Unitarian Church in the Roaring Fork Valley and a key figure in the local Standing Rock support effort, said last week that she has been helping to raise money to help the tribes build a “model village” that gets its energy from alternative sources, primarily wind power because “North Dakota has a lot of wind.”

The idea, she said, is to show the world how to live without dependence on fossil fuels. Such endeavors, she said, can act as both a limiting factor for global warming, and a way for communities in the region to create jobs and an energy infrastructure that bolsters the local economy rather than international oil conglomerates, and would not involve “trampling on indigenous peoples’ rights.”

According to Foster, she and Jessica Catto of Aspen, who Foster said has taken at least one trip to Standing Rock to help out, have been talking about working with some Aspen groups or individuals as a way of raising money for the Standing Rock effort and getting valley residents involved in a “disinvestment” strategy aimed at putting pressure on various financial institutions to stop financially supporting the pipeline.

Foster said she plans to hold a meeting in Carbondale, in the Calaway Room at the Third Street Center on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m., to discuss the president’s executive order and other matters.

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