Despite the media blackout, I hope most of you are aware of the protests currently taking place at Standing Rock in North Dakota. A bit of background: the Standing Rock Sioux and many other tribes from around the country are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project, which as proposed will pass along sacred burial sites and under Lake Oahe which is adjacent to Native American land. The pipeline could negatively affect the water supply and was re-routed from a primarily white area in Bismarck to the land adjacent to Native American land after the residents of Bismarck said they didn’t want the pipeline running through their backyard. If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would carry crude oil from the nearby Bakken oilfields where it is being fracked to Illinois, where it would meet an existing pipeline that would transport the oil to Texas.
The Protesters are Not Trespassing, but Rather Protecting Their Land
If construction continues as planned by the developers, the pipeline actually would pass through land that BELONGS to the Native Americans. “Wait just a hot minute!” I can hear you saying. Aren’t the protesters the ones who are trespassing? After all, the North Dakota Speaker of the House has defended the police and the National Guard, stating that the water protectors are the ones violating the law because they are trespassing on property that does not belong to them. The video below is an audio recording of a Wesley Belter, the North Dakota Speaker of the House, explaining to a concerned activist that it is actually the police who are under siege:
So, who does the land REALLY belong to? According to an 1851 treaty, the Native Americans. The pipeline is supposed to go through Cannonball, which, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, was ceded to the Native Americans and is therefore their property. Take a look at the map below–Cannonball River is at the northernmost point of Sioux lands.
Of course, America has a long history of disregarding treaties with the Native Americans. And some might ask–does it really matter? I mean, this was a long time ago that these treaties were made, and so much has changed since then. Why is it important to honor these treaties? Why is it important to turn a new leaf and START honoring these treaties, TODAY? Native Americans take treaties very seriously, and as Americans, we should too. They are living documents, just as “alive” today as they were when they were agreed to. Just because the treaties were made 100, 200, 300 years ago does not make them any less valid. In fact, one could argue that it is the very abiding by our agreements over time that makes us civilized. The question now is, can we recognize the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux to this land, or will we capitulate to the financial interests of the few yet again?
Who is Financially Backing the Pipeline?
Yes Magazine has put together a fantastic resource for those of you who wish to contact these banks.
How Does Big Money Play a Role?
Let me be clear: it is not that authorities maliciously disregard the treaties for no reason at all. It is that the money, the power, the financial interest lie in NOT abiding by the treaties. Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the majority of DAPL, has a market cap of almost $21 billion as of December 3, 2016. Kelcy Warren, the director of ETP, has a personal net worth of over $4 billion and is a major GOP donor. Over the 2015-2016 election cycle, he has donated almost a quarter of a million dollars to GOP candidates and causes according to followthemoney.org. This explains why (in part) Republicans have not stood on the side of the Sioux (Of course, the modern-day Republicans tend to not to favor the disenfranchised and poor, as a rule).
But what about the Democrats? Other than some outspoken Democrats including Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Ben Cardin, Ed Markey and Tulsi Gabbard, why haven’t more Democrats denounced the desecration of the lands or spoken up about the environmental issues of DAPL? There are a lot of reasons, but one is certainly because some Democrats are in the pockets of big money as well, much as we might hope otherwise.
Let’s look at the facts: the other major investor in DAPL is Phillips 66. In fact, they own 25% of the pipeline. And guess who owns $6.7 billion worth of shares in Phillips 66 and continues to add to his holdings? Warren Buffet, donor extraordinaire to the Democratic base. Why isn’t Obama standing up for the Sioux, whom he promised to support in his campaign? Well, for one reason, Buffett has been a major donor to both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Wouldn’t be good to alienate your biggest fundraiser just for a few Native Americans, would it?
Can Obama or Trump Stop the Pipeline?
Unfortunately, the reality might just be that Obama can’t do much at this point to stop the pipeline without interfering in the affairs of a government agency, namely the Army Corps of Engineers. Tribal lawyers have stated that it is the Army Corps, not the President, that has the power to reroute the pipeline–or conceivably stop the pipeline. (Rerouting is not the answer either, in my opinion–shoving the problems inherent in pipelines to another area doesn’t actually change the metrics. The reality is we need to move away dramatically from our dependence on fossil fuels, and make real investment in sustainable energy sources like wind and sun.) Some lawyers involved in the case say that any effort by Obama to interfere in this issue would overreach. Others, like the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux David Archambault, argue that Obama should step in and push for an evaluation of the environmental and indigenous concerns surrounding the pipeline.
It may be a Trump administration that ends up overseeing the fate of DAPL. With all the hemming and hawing of the Obama administration, January 21st will be upon us, and Trump will be installed as the President. Trump, as you can imagine, has no great sympathy for either Native Americans or the environment, having sided with ‘business interests’ when he was toddler.
On Friday, December 2, Donald Trump officially announced his support for the completion of DAPL, and made sure to note (just in case you were concerned) that his decision “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans”. That statement was neccesary because not only does Trump himself hold stock in Energy Transfer Partners (thus positioning him to benefit financially once the pipeline is complete) but Energy Transfer Partners CEO Warren donated over $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, a PAC geared to electing Trump as President. Look away, look away! Just pay attention to my crazy tweets! No conflict of interest here! (that’s sarcasm, for all you non-native-New-Yorkers ;))
In the end, this is just the latest in a centuries-long string of atrocities and betrayals committed against Native Americans. But with arrival of the veterans this week to stand with the protesters, we might actually begin to see some positive movement. After all, the optics wouldn’t be too good if the militarized police and National Guard started macing and hosing veterans, right?
Stay tuned for updates.
ETA: December 6, 2016. The Army Corps of Engineers has denied the easement to route the pipeline through Native American lands. Step one completed. Now to get a complete Environmental Impact Statement.
ETA: December 12, 2016. Water protectors are staying at the protest site. Read more here. Many have decided to stay because they do not trust that ETP will abide by the Army Corps’ decision, and also because their fight is more fundamental that just one pipe under one lake.