By Marty Nathan
An issue of worldwide concern is at stake in the drylands of North Dakota, where those opposing climate charge are supporting Native Americans from all over the country who fear for the loss of their water and sacred grounds and demand the respect for their treaty rights.
Thousands of people have gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, bedding in recreational vehicles, tipis, tents, yurts and vans. The flags of different native American bands wave in the wind as residents of all ages and many ethnicities share food, outhouses, campfires, information, and work. They have come for a single purpose: stopping the building of the enormous underground Dakota Access Pipeline that will carry fracked crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to Illinois and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. If this Dakota Access Pipeline is finished, 500,000 barrels of oil a day will pour through it to New Orleans for refining and shipping.
Paki Wieland, my friend for more than two decades, called me from Standing Rock. She is a retired social worker and former nun, a woman deeply devoted to peace and the rights of the poor. She has used her retirement to engage in all the social change that work had previously forestalled.
The encampment of Native Americans is led by the local Standing Rock Sioux and calls itself the Water Protectors. Its leaders put out an international call for help to stop the Pipeline which will run under the Missouri River just upstream from their water source. Any leak in the pipeline would destroy that precious resource and make their community unlivable. Such an accident could contaminate both the Ogalala aquifer underlying all land between the Missouri and the Rockies as well as the Mississippi River that the Missouri enjoins some miles south.
Further, the pipeline is being constructed through traditional Sioux burial grounds. On Labor Day construction crews invaded that sacred site. The Water Protectors’ attempt to stop the destruction met a heavy-handed response by local sheriffs and corporate private security who sicced vicious dog on peaceful protesters.
Paki had responded to the Water Protectors’ call, packing a few belongings into a friend’s RV and driving the 27 hours to Standing Rock. There she witnessed a profoundly moving display of unity among folks who have not acted together for decades, if ever.
For the first time in 140 years the seven bands of the Sioux Nation had come together physically and politically to oppose the pipeline. Navajo traditional runners made the trek on foot all the way from Arizona and a group of young people, ReZpect Our Water, ran to Washington. DC, to deliver a petition to President Obama.
The circle has widened beyond indigenous peoples. Five hundred religious leaders incensed by the inexorable violation of Native American treaties stood together in early November to protest the ongoing colonization that the DAPL represents. Non-native environmental activists have joined tribal members lashing themselves to the construction machinery. Money for the encampment has poured in from around the country.
Why the focus here? What is pulling these disparate groups together?
1. The call of justice and the rights of Native Americans to their land, communities and livelihoods is a major propelling force.
2. The destruction of precious aquifer and surface water, at a premium in the west, would be an irretrievable loss throughout the region.
3. Pipeline owner Energy Transport Partners has used corrupt insider tactics to gain access to the land, and federal oversight has been lacking. ETP has never performed an environmental impact assessment, has never negotiated with the Standing Rock Tribe and has continued with construction despite a joint recommendation from the Department of Justice, Department of the Army and Department of the Interior to halt.
4. The purpose of the DAPL, like its now defunct sister, the Keystone XL is to release to the world more fossil fuels to burn. The US is drilling too much oil and natural gas for domestic consumption, and prices are too low for fossil fuel companies to profit. They must reduce production and transport costs and send the excess oil to overseas markets. Yet the emissions from burning the DAPL oil pose a true threat to an atmosphere that already has absorbed enough carbon dioxide to raise world temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade.
We have the capacity to substitute the oil drilled in North Dakota with conservation measures and renewable energy. And for the sake of the Standing Rock Sioux and our own children’s future, we must.
There will be a standout in support of the Standing Rock Sioux on Nov. 29 in Springfield.
It will be a tough fight since Donald Trump himself is invested in Energy Transport Partners and its CEO donated to his campaign.
If you would like to support the Standing Rock Sioux, visit the website http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/donate.
Marty Nathan MD is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center, lives in Northampton, and is on the steering committees of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and Climate Action NOW.
Published in MassLive: http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/11/showdown_at_standing_rock_siou.html