In the spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 10), we offer the following firsthand impressions of the current struggle in North Dakota over the ongoing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is on a path to carry 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield to Illinois, traveling through sovereign tribal lands as well as sensitive wildlife habitats and under the Missouri River, which supplies drinking water to millions of people. The dispatch below (excerpts from a cell-phone-dictated email transcription sent on October 4) comes from GLIDE’s own Kim Bender, who traveled to North Dakota two weeks ago to bear witness and stand in solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous and grassroots activists from all over the U.S. and Canada. Kim sent word from North Dakota to her Glide community back home because, as she says, “it feels really important and something that everyone should be aware of.”
Greetings from Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
[I am here with] about 1500 protestors, down from double that last week. Hundreds and hundreds of tribes from all over the country. Most of the protesters are indigenous peoples.
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, so peaceful; such incredible, beautiful people.
The protesters chose this exact site for the camp and protest because it is close to a burial site that the pipeline already bulldozed through. The very next day after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe publicly announced that the burial site was on the map for the pipeline, dozens of bulldozers showed up and tore open large sections of the sacred burial grounds. It was deliberate and viciously disrespectful.
President Obama’s assistance with the [court-ordered] stay, until further investigation, only stopped construction in a very small area of federal land. The press on Obama’s action had a negative effect, making people around the country believe that the pipeline has been halted. It has not been halted. Construction continues around the clock.
This last week, there were three peaceful prayer services on public highways, and on Tuesday the result was violent. With military-style tanks, assault weapons, riot gear, tear gas and the release of some unknown chemicals from an airplane that they later claimed was a crop duster, which in and of itself is terrible, the protesters were harassed, arrested and otherwise violently treated even though they were, again, on public land peacefully praying to save the water. It’s appalling, and deserves national attention.
People here believe that that proponents of the pipeline, including Big Oil, North Dakota government officials, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard, the sheriffs, all law enforcement involved, are willing to kill protesters in order to finish this pipeline.
Privately owned helicopters and drones buzz around this peaceful camp, counting numbers [of people], looking for gatherings and gathering intelligence. I would not be surprised if cell phones and text messages are under surveillance. Hired mercenaries infiltrate this camp every night seeking intelligence on political actions.
Today at noon the Red Warrior Camp, where I’m staying, will gather to discuss potential actions going forward. There is a heightened sense of security to avoid being infiltrated by the mercenary spies.
Are churches and congregations in Bismarck truly in favor of this pipeline that will destroy further the sacred burial grounds and sully the water source for thousands of people, not only indigenous people but others who depend on the Missouri River to be clean?
This is a frontline for the people versus Big Oil and corrupt government. People who have been cheated out of their land, lied to, systematically disenfranchised, are now simply asking to be heard and for existing laws to be respected. For example, the tribes were never consulted on this pipeline. And no environmental impact study was done. It’s unconscionable.
It is the same struggle for African Americans in this country—to be heard, to be recognized, to be offered an apology, for restorative justice, for reparations. Solidarity between these movements is what I must hope for and that many people are talking about now. I heard there was a large Black Lives Matter contingent here at Standing Rock for quite a while. They have left now. But the links are obvious and solidarity is opportune.
What [we] can do is spread the word, let people know that the struggle is ongoing and will continue through the winter until the pipeline construction is stopped. There are people here from all over the country, from all walks of life—praying, protesting, working together, getting arrested, unwilling to let go and allow this criminal action to continue.
The cameras around the camp area are discouraged. You can follow the Red Warrior Camp on Facebook. Unicorn Riot is doing decent media coverage. There is hardly any other media here, which is disappointing.
I’m going to go back now and do more dishes for this amazing group of people. Getting the message out to my network is probably my best contribution, that and doing the dishes.
Kim Bender is Director of Individual Giving in GLIDE’s Fund Development department.