In a blow to indigenous rights and the fight for environmental justice, the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline is scheduled to begin commercial service—transporting oil from North Dakota to Illinois—on Thursday, according to the company behind the project, Energy Transfer Partners.
This is happening in the face of intense opposition from the Native American community and environmental activists, along with a handful of recent snags in its construction, including the recent discovery of multiple leaks along the pipeline and a lawsuit by the water protectors challenging the project.
The year-and-a-half-long stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline managed to break through the noise of a crowded, endless election cycle besieged by email scandals, leaked tapes, and tweets, and put environmental activism on the national stage in a way we haven’t seen in some time.
And while the pipeline was completed and will begin operation, the fight against more like it—a burden long shouldered alone by one of the most neglected communities in this country, Native Americans—continues. It remains an open question whether that spirit of activism can sustain the battle against more pipelines and threats to indigenous groups and the environment in our new age of Resistance. The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction may have been “lost,” but the war is far from over.
The Dakota Access Pipeline becoming operational concludes more than a year of fierce protest, legal challenges, and small victories quickly dashed by disappointment.
Soon after the Army Corps of Engineers green-lit the project, the Standing Rock Sioux sued; Energy Transfer Partners countersued. Water protectors gathered at the construction to national attention—Jill Stein would join them and spray-paint a bulldozer. Native American activists formed a “human shield” to protect the water.
As women started a school to empower young Native American activists, a federal judge allowed construction to continue, pushing tensions between water protectors and police to a boiling point, with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and water cannons being used against the water protectors. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum would soon after issue an evacuation order of the water protectors’ camp.
In December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided not to grant ETP the easement it would need to continue along the planned route, temporarily halting construction.
The good news was short-lived. Soon after taking office, President Trump signed executive orders allowing the pipeline to proceed. The area was forcibly evacuated in February.
Since #NoDAPL, over 40 organizations have come together to stop Energy Transfer Partners, who they say harm the environment and violate indigenous and landowner rights in pursuit of profit.
But that does not mean all the time spent at North Dakota’s Oceti Sakowin Camp was wasted or in vain. Under the new administration, there’s been a rush to construct pipelines, the Center For Investigative Journalism’s Reveal reports.
“I think people should also never underestimate the power of prayer and ceremony,” Indigenous Environmental Network Native Energy & Climate Campaign Organizer Kandi Mossett told Equal Times earlier this year. “The way that so many people came together at Standing Rock—15,000 at one point—it just shows that, yes, the country, indeed the world, is ready for this.”
With pipelines like the Trans-Pecos becoming operational and construction of Keystone XL underway, the lessons of direct action learned from the #NoDAPL movement will be tested time and again. There’s still plenty of work to be done.
Now would be a good time to turn your attention to southern Louisiana, where resistance is already ramping up against Energy Transfer Partners’ next project. While ETP claims the project will provide jobs and revenue to the area, opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline say the project threatens the wetlands and drinking water.
“In these troubling times, where we’re seeing such an assault on the water, on the earth, on our communities, I don’t feel like anyone has the opportunity to slack off,” Cherri Foytlin, an indigenous activist who has pushed back against the Dakota Access, the Trans-Pecos, and Bayou Bridge pipelines, told Reveal.
As EcoWatch reported, opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are hoping to learn from the water protectors who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to fight its construction through similar means, including providing comments, suing in demand of a full environmental impact statement, protesting meetings, and garnering attention through social media.
The activist have indicated they may take direct action, including occupying a camp where the pipeline is supposed to be built. They will call the camp L’eau Est La Vie (French for “water is life”), the refrain seen and heard for the past year at Standing Rock.
“Enough is enough,” the group wrote on their website. “If our leaders won’t stand up to stop this pipeline and protect our water, then we the people of Louisiana will.”