by Roz Paterson • On Sunday 4 December, the Army Corps of Engineers—on behalf of the US government—refused a permit for the builders of the North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to tunnel under the Missouri River, ending months of bitter and often violent protest, and allowing the thousands who had turned out to fight this latest corporate outrage to go home for the winter.
Or did it? In fact, many of the foot soldiers are staying put. Despite exhortations from Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault himself, to go home out the -20 degree wind chill and heavy snowfall, they are staying put. Because the armed police and the oil company are showing no signs of departure either.
The smart money is on the fact that the oil company behind the DAPL, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), is simply waiting out the months till Donald Trump takes office and, they anticipate, reverses the outgoing administration’s eleventh hour decision.
Trump, it seems, has close ties with ETP, in that Kelcy Warren, the company’s chief executive, donated $100,000 to Trump’s election campaign, and a further $67,000 to the Republican National Committee. Plus, Trump has up to $1million invested in ETP, alongside another $1million in Phillips 66, a company which will have a 25 per cent stake in DAPL once it is constructed.
Thus the President Elect is already deeply compromised, and his decision with regards to Standing Rock is regarded as pretty much a foregone conclusion. In fact, he has already given the pipeline construction his official support, sending a clear message over the head of President Obama that, for the oil industry, it will be business as usual and then some. No wonder the activists’ celebrations are subdued.
Like all environmental victories, this is a holding position, rather than a done deal, but at least it gives the protesters a pause for breath after the upheavals of the last few months.
The $3.8billion DAPL stretches 1170 miles, from North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, and will potentially carry around 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day through the region, including land that is enshrined by an 1851 treaty as belonging to the Sioux.
The issue of land ownership is not all; there is the pressing problem of pollution, to farmland—Iowa farmers are up in arms too—and water. Hence the Standing Rock protesters, a determinedly peaceful grouping, eschewing guns and weapons even in the face of extreme violence, call themselves the ‘water protectors’.
The protest has seen unarmed horseback riders confronted by phalanx of armoured riot police, brandishing tear gas and deploying rubber bullets. Even attack dogs came into the equation, thanks to the private security firm hired by the ETP, echoing the worst excesses of indigenous/white stand-offs.
It also saw an intelligent use of Facebook, when supporters were encouraged to ‘check in’ at Standing Rock to confuse the police, who were alleged to be monitoring activists through social media.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that police had used these tactics to track protesters during the Ferguson and Baltimore riots last year, commenting that such monitoring “disproportionately impact communities of colour.”
Some 1.4million people worldwide ‘checked in’ at Standing Rock on Facebook, and police now hotly deny they even considered listening in on social media.
Meanwhile, on the (frozen) ground of Standing Rock, this ancient and sacred possession of the Sioux tribe, conditions will be hard as winter sets in.
Volunteers are building shelters to withstand the weather, and the mood is determined rather than defeated. Contributions are welcome, as is everyone’s continued support and watchfulness. The DAPL isn’t built yet—so far, that’s as much as we can say.