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Locals consider next move as Dakota Access Pipeline moves forward

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A mixture of sorrow, confusion and commitment to further resistance were expressed by activists, in reaction to news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had gone back on a pledge made last December to conduct further environmental reviews of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
On Feb. 7, the Corp announced it would comply with directives from President Donald Trump, canceling any further review and issuing the final permit needed to get the pipeline underway.
“I’m kind of confused about what to do,” said Carbondale resident Russ Criswell, who alongside numerous others from the Roaring Fork Valley has travelled to Standing Rock to deliver supplies and lend support to the effort to block completion of the pipeline under a reservoir along the Missouri River.
Tribal members and their supporters, starting last April, have set up protest camps in the vicinity of the pipeline work, due to concern about potential leaks that could pollute the river, the tribes’ main source of potable water, as well as intrusions into sacred sites along the pipeline route.
Criswell, who had been planning to leave on Wednesday for another trip to Standing Rock, said the prospect of being arrested in connection with the protest is complicating his planning.
He said he is involved in plans by Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney to increase the local courts’ use of a judicial tool called “restorative justice,” which involves mediation rather than prosecution for certain kinds of low-level criminal behavior. Criswell said he is worried that being arrested might interfere with that work.
Plus, he said, “I don’t even know if I could get there. I’ve heard that the roads (to the protest site) have been blocked by federal, state and county law enforcement agencies and they’re harassing people, stopping them” on routes leading to the protest sites.
Tim Brogdon of Carbondale, another local supporter of the Standing Rock “water protectors” (as the Native American protesters call themselves), was in New York State when reached by a reporter and said he is unsure when he might return to the protest site.
But, he said, “There’s still people going. We are still supporting Phyllis (Bald Eagle) and Amos (Cook),” referring to a Cheyenne River Tribe couple who have been deeply involved in the water-protectors’ actions.
“We are still supporting the Cheyenne River Tribe,” Brogdon stressed, adding, “They say they’re not leaving” and will continue to camp on private land near the drilling site, and try to block completion of the pipeline.
Among other things, Brogdon said, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault has said that the fight over the pipeline will now move into the courts, where a lawsuit already has been filed.
As an added complication, Brogdon noted that he has been informed that “there’s police presence all through North Dakota now,” including state police, county sheriff’s deputies and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees tribal matters for the federal government.
Some supporters of the water-protectors’ actions, such as the People’s Climate Movement Steering Committee (PCMSC), have called for continued resistance to the pipeline’s completion, and have urged supporters to join anti-DAPL demonstrations that were predicted to happen in locations around the country.
“Donald Trump will not build his Dakota Access Pipeline without a fight,” wrote Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, which is allied with the PCMSC.
“The granting of this easement, without any environmental review or tribal consultation, is not the end of this fight, it is the new beginning,” Goldtooth concluded in an email sent out by community organizer Cindy Wiesner, on behalf of the PCMSC.
The company digging the pipeline connection, Energy Transfer Partners, was expected to resume drilling on Wednesday of a large bore beneath the river, in which the pipeline is to be laid as part of a $3.8-billion project to bring crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to refineries and shipping facilities around the U.S., which the industry maintains is vital to the U.S. economy and energy independence.
The 1,200 mile pipeline is 95 percent finished, with only the short stretch under the Missouri River remaining to be completed.
The protest was started by a youth group of the Standing Rock and nearby Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, back in April, 2016, who were the first to begin protesting the pipeline.
They were later joined by other Native Americans from hundreds of different tribes along with non-native sympathizers who surged into the area around Standing Rock.
At one point, it was estimated there were 15,000 people protesting the pipeline, though that number has since dropped below 1,000 after an exodus took place in December in the face of harsh winter conditions and pleas from tribal elders for most of the protesters to go home in the interests of safety. according to reports from the site.
Organizers were said this week to be gearing up to put out a call for supporters to return, before the Corps announcement on Tuesday left them wondering how to respond.
Phyllis Bald Eagle, a Cheyenne River elder and key organizer of the protest action, posted a message on Facebook on Tuesday in reaction to the news.
“When I heard this morning they were going to start drilling at midnight, I had a lump in my throat, wanted to cry but held back, I can’t let my boys see how this hurts, so I’m going back to fight again for our water, and most important, for Unci Maka (a Native American name for Grandmother Earth),” she lamented.
Published in The Sopris Sun on Feb. 9 , 2017. 

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