Features looks at the construction of the Dakota Pipeline and the threat it poses not just to sacred Native American land but the water supply and the economic stability of surrounding areas.
The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock, are caught in a quagmire of legal rambling, faux economic arguments, and possibly the purchase of property bordering Sioux Native land for the purpose of bringing police force against protesters.
The ongoing protests are not calm, or pacifistic. They are bitter, angry, and confrontational over what the protesters believe is a betrayal of Indigenous land rights. At stake is the very nature of Native American self-determination.
Proponents of the pipeline have argued it will bring significant employment and economic gain to the Midwest. The pipeline will be a strikingly efficient system. That, however, is exactly where any pro-pipeline rhetoric strays into complete falsity. In Iowa, where Standing Rock lies, construction would create between 2,000-4,000 jobs, but once built there would only be 15 permanent jobs, and 40 across the whole pipeline. For such an expensive project this is hardly a large boost to the local economy. Also, once completed, despite the environmental pluses of having a pipeline as opposed to an all-polluting rail freight, would most likely result in job losses across the Midwest as a result.
Environmentally, the protesters are worried that the pipeline will contaminate the Sioux water supply, if not by botching construction through the river (their main water source) then with a potential oil spill. Their concerns are well founded. Within two days at the end of October, two American pipelines failed, leaking oil in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. In the latter, 1300 barrels of oil drained into Susquehanna river, a major source of water for the Pennsylvanian Lancaster County. The pipeline also has been approved as a multitude of small construction sites, meaning it doesn’t have to adhere to the same environmental regulations as a larger one.
There’s a certain seediness to the whole affair with ETP (the funders of the pipeline) “donating” tens of thousands to Iowan state and federal parliamentarians. Not only that but ETP’s director, Texas governor Rick Perry, aided in Iowa governor Terry Branstad’s fundraising. So before indigenous peoples have even been brought into the debate, there is already a rhetoric that stinks of corruption and cover up, not dissimilar to the fracking debate in the UK.
The environmental concerns are a backdrop of course however, to the underlying historical issue: Native Americans having a right to their own lands. Do the ‘Reservation’ agreements, signed by the US with individual tribes as the States expanded westwards, still hold up? So far, the answer appears to be no. So the protesters and the Sioux have turned to other means.
To stop construction, protester’s main tactic appears to be occupying sites to stop construction before it enters the reservation. Amy Goodman, a ‘Democracy Now!’ journalist was arrested and was charged, a charge which has now been dropped, for trespassing on private property, in one such protest. This is where things start to get really messy. The local police have been undertaking a strategy of mass arrests for trespassing, and riot. But whose property is it that’s being trespassed on?
Though most of pipeline’s surface area covers that of landowners compensated by Energy Transfer Partners, it would appear that land has been bought purely in order to evict protesters and drive people out of occupation. A Fox News report on October 30th noted that “protesters were evicted last week from property owned by the company building the pipeline”. If eminent domain privileges extend to allowing ETP to treat construction sites as their own private property, then they have used these privileges to call in police and evict protesters. If they do not, then ETP have been quietly acquiring land adjacent to the reserves, with the specific purpose of directing police against Standing Rock protesters and the Sioux community.
Either way it would seem that a great deal of smoke and mirrors is taking place. An indigenous presence in America is once again being ignored and explicitly silenced, whereas underhand political and economical tactics are being harnessed to continue construction. With very little coverage on mainstream news, Facebook and other social media platforms have been harnessed in order to aid the protestors and show support. Two policemen have already resigned rather than continue to beat and mace protestors, sparking what will hopefully turn into a mass movement. If enough people occupy the space, if enough of the police force equally refuse to comply, then this may start a much needed dismantling of capitalist colonialism.