If there’s one thing that Sarain Fox wants you to know about #NODAPL, it’s this: the fight to protect Standing Rock’s water supply has ramifications for everyone.
“Indigenous people are fighting for water for millions of people and they’re doing so regardless of any of the wrongs that have been committed,” says Fox, the Anishinaabekwe host of Viceland’s Rise—a new documentary series about indigenous resistance and resilience that premieres on January 27. “They’re still willing to stand up against force for everyone’s water.” Fox is currently in North Dakota, documenting the Standing Rock Sioux’s lengthy struggle to have their concerns heard by federal regulators, the company behind the pipeline and the Obama administration.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of other indigenous people and supporters have spent the last few months living at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota in peaceful protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the water supply of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Life at the camp has been difficult. Winter temperatures, clashes with private security forces and a standoff between police on November 20—in which unarmed protesters were blasted with water cannons, rubber bullets and teargas grenades—are just a few of the obstacles the group has faced.
At the crux of the issue is the 1,170-mile long pipeline that intends to connect an oil field in North Dakota, the country’s second largest oil-producing state, to a refinery in Illinois. The pipeline will run across four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
The Sioux are most concerned about a proposed route built beneath the Missouri River, about a mile from the Standing Rock Reservation. The tribe argues that the pipeline poses a significant threat to the safety of a water supply that provides drinking water to 17 million people, and also violates tribal treaty rights in the destruction of sacred land.
This past July, the Sioux filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers (the U.S. federal agency that oversees water supply), claiming they had not been properly consulted in relation to the project. Shortly after that, a work stoppage order was put in place.
The threat to water safety is real, according to the tribe’s lawyer, Jan Hassleman of Earthjustice. In a Washington Post interview, he revealed that the pipeline route originally “crossed the river just north of Bismarck, N.D. — a capital city that is nearly 90 percent white.” It was re-routed to Standing Rock “when regulators expressed concern over the risk of a spill to the city’s water supply.”
Protestors are now getting legal help in relation to the violence that occurred on November 20. On November 28, the Water Protector Legal Collective—an initiative of the National Lawyers Guild, an organization that prioritizes “human rights over property interests”—filed a suit against Morton County, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirschmeier, and other agencies for using excessive force.
“The Morton County Sheriff’s office not only violates the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters, but their actions highlight the long history of abuse against indigenous peoples,” said Brandy Toelupe, a WPLC lawyer, in a statement. “From the beginning, governments have used their latest technologies to take land and resources from native nations and oppress indigenous peoples. Sheriff Kirchmeier’s actions make it clear that nothing has changed.”
As these lawsuits take shape—and as the U.S. government decides whether to proceed with the pipeline—support for Standing Rock has swelled, and supporters remain camped out even after North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple ordered an evacuation earlier this week out of concerns over public safety in the increasingly cold temperatures.
However, King Downing, director of mass defense at the National Lawyers Guild, says that there’s a question as to who actually has the right to ask for an evacuation, because the Sioux believe this land is theirs. That may be a major reason why the protestors aren’t packing up.
“There is not much intention to leave across the camp,” confirms Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, which has been active in the protest against the pipeline both on and off the campsite. “But we are preparing to ensure the safety and removal of vulnerable groups should the state of North Dakota initiate an act of aggression.”
Overall, morale is good.“Folks are happy and calm. State oppression is nothing new to us as native people, so this is, sadly, just another day in the United States of America,” says Goldtooth. “We stay committed to nonviolence and peaceful civil disobedience.”
However, there have been reports of minor discord within the camp. In the past month, non-aboriginal supporters have reportedly flocked to North Dakota, with some allegedly treating it as a kind of proxy Burning Man. “The people at Standing Rock are there to fight a pipeline,” says Fox. “It’s not a party or a weekend destination. It’s an organized occupation.”
Celebrity appearances are also met by “mixed emotions,” she says, mainly because boldface names, however well-intentioned, are not the ones directly affected by the outcome of the pipeline. The voices that need to be heard most by the public are those of the people who live at Standing Rock.
So what can you do? Aside from coming to stand with the people opposing the pipeline, Fox suggests donating to the Standing Rock Sioux, or to the camp (which needs money to purchase water, propane and blankets) or to one of many legal funds set up for water protestors, including the Water Protector Legal Collective and the Sacred Stone Legal Defense. You can also educate yourself about the DAPL and the culture it threatens: “Getting to know us has to be a part of standing with us.”
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