Hell or High Water at Standing Rock, Colltalers
Most Americans spent Thanksgiving blissfully, which was great, but oblivious to what’s going on in North Dakota, which isn’t. There, 300 tribes of the sixth-largest Native American reservation, are blocking construction of a pipeline that may poison the entire region’s water.
About 4,000 supporters are congregated in the area, and tensions with law enforcement are rising. Despite freezing temperatures, on Nov. 20th, police doused protesters with water canons, causing injuries, and was accused of throwing a grenade that blew up an activist’s arm.
Making matters worst, on Friday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told the Standing Rock Sioux that from Dec. 5 on, it’ll block access to the area north of the Cannonball River, which it claims to be ‘Corps-managed land, so ‘to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants,’ due to harsh winter conditions. Which would be nice if it wasn’t the first time ever the agency has shown such concerns.
But not to worry, the cavalry is on its way, says former Army officer Wes Clark Jr. He’s organizing a three-day deployment of U.S. military veterans to the reservation, in support of the resistance movement. It’ll be unusual but much more in character than the Corps’ stance.
While the government agency’s role is defined as of ‘public engineering, design, and construction management,’ normally associated with dams, canals, and flood protection in the U.S. and abroad, in this pipeline issue it has also strangely assumed a role of law enforcement.
The Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, on the other hand, is bringing retired police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical personnel and other volunteers to ‘prevent progress’ of the pipeline, and ‘draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes.’
We’re all hoping that it’ll also help prevent further escalation, moving the issue to the political realm which is where it can be fought more effectively. Nevertheless, the heroic efforts Native
Americans, and now Vets too, are engaged on show that for some, words no longer cut.
President Obama, who about a month ago said that ‘there’s a way to accommodate sacred lands,’ and that the ‘Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,’ has got to step up efforts to bring the construction of this potential environment hazard to a close.
The 1,172-mile pipeline would run from ND to southern Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and part of Lake Oahe, near the reservation. Cutting through such a huge swath of land, this ‘black snake’ is almost bound to cause irreversible damage.
It’d require major disruptions and fracking, a central objection for the tribes fighting the project. Worst, despite assurances, Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s owner, has a troubling environmental record. Since 2005, it’s lost over 18,000 barrels of crude oil in spills, across the country, and along with its subsidiaries, in six years it’s been fined more than $22 million in environmental and other violations.
Moreover, besides being another confrontation between residents defending the environmental integrity of their land, and powerful oil interests, the months-long Access Pipeline protest has became a focal point of an even wider conflict: that over the rights to potable water.
That’s where the confluence of finding alternatives to fossil-fuel sources of energy, and ending the permanent damage caused by extraction of coal and natural gas, become coincident with the rights of citizens to preserve their property’s value and natural resources.
But while the few hundred terrible coal-related jobs are finally on their way out nationally, leaving behind generations of workers whose health is forever compromised, natural gas extraction, which depends on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, continues to grow.
Few factors are behind this artificially-sustained increase in projects throughout the country. One is that gas, unlike oil, in its final consumption-ready stage is relatively clean, a sales pitch that a much profitable industry smartly uses when spending millions of dollars to advertise.
That this is an illusion, considering the wide array of high pollutants it employs to get to that final stage, is what’s often missed, except by those whose land became sterile, groundwater poisoned, and whose own health is deteriorating. Respiratory diseases, skin rashes, digestive disorders, neurological problems, and incidences of cancer, have all been reported whenever fracking activity is present. And earthquakes.
Given its wealth-generating potential, it’d take a powerful political push to phase out and ban this highly unstable method of extraction from the U.S.’s palette of energy source options. But it’s possible now that solar and wind power have become profitable, generating good quality jobs in a relatively short span of time. Then again, beyond health concerns, the fight at Standing Rock boils down to potable water.
In 2014, Michigan offered a tragic textbook example of what happens when public water is not protected. A spectacularly misguided decision, by Governor Rick Snyder and others, caused widespread lead contamination in Flint, in a crisis whose consequences are not completely mapped yet. One thing is for sure; thousands of Michigan children will forever suffer neurological and developmental problems.
In his waning weeks in office, and given the prospect of energy regulations being rolled back by the new administration, President Obama’s decisive support to the Standing Rock movement against the Access Pipeline could be a defining and ever lasting moment for his legacy.
He could use his executive power, and his still considerable mandate, to determine that construction should be called off, control over the land being reversed to its original Native American ownership, and declare the area an environmental sanctuary for future generations.
For thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans to North America, the Sioux and a myriad of native nations had already proven to be the truly defenders of this land and all its resources. It’s just fair that they’ve now earned the title of Water Protectors too. The least that they can expect from us, direct benefactors of their history of courage, is to lend them our support. Have a great week. WC