Written for the print issue released on October 19, 2016.
Water is life and we belong to this earth – the earth does not belong to us!
The water protectors out at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota understand this notion and are trying to spread this message through peaceful protests that are taking place along the Cannonball River at Sacred Stone Camp.
In April of this year, Energy Transfer, a Texas-based oil company, proposed to lay down the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken pipeline, to transport oil through four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Indiana. In doing so, crude oil from the tar sands in Canada would be carried through this line.
The plan includes a portion of the pipeline to run directly under the Missouri River. It is estimated to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day. According to Energy Transfer, the 1,172-mile pipeline would allow the oil from North Dakota to “reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner.”
However, not everyone agrees. Many Native American tribes say that the pipelines would result in the destruction of sacred land and burial sites on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Hundreds of people are camped out in peaceful protest on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in North Dakota, and the issue is now in court.
Water Protectors’ Rights and Progress
Since the Missouri River is the longest river in the U.S., with more than 40 rivers and creeks that intersect it, an oil spill or leak on this pipeline could have detrimental implications not only to the water, but to the land that lives off the water.
In April, TransCanada, a pipeline developer, reported that roughly 16,800 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota. Given that the new pipeline is scheduled to run directly under a section of the Missouri River, if there is a rupture in the pipeline or spill, it could contaminate drinking water for thousands of people while desecrating sacred land and burial sites.
It’s events like these that has the water protectors at Sacred Stone Camp holding onto their rights to the lands and access to clean water.
According to Red Warrior Camp, about 40 to 45 people started gathering in opposition to the pipeline in order to protect the land and water at Sacred Stone Camp. Now the number has risen to more than 2,000. This is a community that the water protectors have created within the campsite.
As of Sept. 15, Red Warrior Camp said that they have a school for the children, a full kitchen, a medical tent and waste management facilities on site.
The Fruition of an Old Prophecy
There is an old Lakota prophecy in which Black Elk, a member of the Oglala Lakota and famous medicine/holy man, foretells that in seven generations, the youth will come together to fight.
Here, seven generations later, we are witness to a fight against a pipeline that would carry crude oil, the “Black Snake,” in hopes to stop it from running through the heart of mother Earth to avoid the death and destruction it will bring.
It seems as if the words from Black Elk’s prophecy are coming to fruition.
There have been protests across the nation in regards to this pipeline – from Washington, D.C. to Minnesota to Seattle to Iowa.
Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, justice department chair and professor at Mount Mary University, said the issue is far more complex than most people think.
“To really grasp it, knowledge of energy regulation and environmental policy as law is required, in addition to seeing the protests of the Native American people in a very long historical context,” Monaco-Wilcox said.
“Both sides are struggling to hear the real interests of the other side clearly. As an American audience, we have to do better not to oversimplify things,” she said.
This semester, Monaco-Wilcox’s Leadership for Social Justice class will be working with the non-profit Arts @ Large.
There have been four teams assigned to different parts of an art and writing project in order to understand how Milwaukee’s Native American voices are affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.
This gathering is not only monumental; it is historical. There are so many moving pieces to the No Dakota Access Pipeline Movement that it is far from over, and I anticipate it will last for years to come.
Sahiyena Favel, an 11-year-old water protector, said the camp where the protesters were living was amazing.
“Everyone was laughing and visiting; kids were playing,” Favel said. “I felt so happy being there and participating in that big thing because we cannot live without water.”
“Their questions are real and need to be answered honestly and with fairness, for example: they want clean water and land preserved by nature to only exist, policy makers and big oil want oil to flow regardless of who or what it hurts.” -LeRoy Adams (Social Development Commission; Security Faculty )
“One thing about the gathering at Standing Rock is that it is historical, big time. Something going on much bigger than opposition to oil and some of us probably won’t see the end result of.” – Mitch WalkingElk (Singer/songwriter, musician, actor and political and environmental activist from an Indigenous perspective)
“The people that are there are not just people they are my brothers and my sisters, and I am happy to call them my brothers and sisters. It made my heart feel good to see all the tribes come together and help each other!” -15 year old, Dorice Burson, Uintah River High School student (Fort Duchesne, Utah on the Northern Ute Reservation)
More Information About the Pipeline