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For several months in 2016, the whole world stood at transfixed by what was happening at the Standing Rock. The looming threat of the Dakota Access pipeline through tribal lands combined with the lack of respect for the sovereignty of the tribes to whom that land was significant inspired massive protests and led to the development of three large residential camps that housed between 3,000 and 4,000 at any given time. These camps grew as a way to help facilitate ongoing protest. Native Americans and their allies tried to stop the progress of the pipeline, which threatened both sacred land and the water supply for the local tribe.
Security workers brought attack dogs to run off protesters, which resulted in multiple people and a horse getting bitten. Military and local law enforcement cleared a camp the next month, wearing riot gear while threatening people praying. They ended up arresting 140 people in October as a result of that clash with protesters. The month after that (November, 2016), there were clashes that resulted in the use of water cannons against protesters, and even firing projectiles that produced shrapnel at protesters.
Those large camps may have cleared out, and despite mass protests and a Native March in Washington DC in March of 2017, the Trump administration rejected called for a more complete and thorough environmental impact assessment. Many people question the initial report, which doesn’t even review the risk of a spill. With five spills in the first six months of operation, the Dakota Access Pipeline has already shown to be as dangerous as protesters believed it could be. Worry runs high that another spill on the Dakota Access Pipeline could prove tragic for nearby Native American populations.
Tribal authorities often have to battle the government for even the smallest modicum of accountability to their previous promises and treaties. Water sovereignty and the right to a clean environment remain threatened for many, including residents of tribal lands across the country. There are also people heading into court because they face criminal charges over their involvement with the Standing Rock protest. These individuals require support, both financial and social.
Little Feather, of the Chumash Nation, got arrested for participating in protests. He took a plea bargain that resulted in 36 month prison sentence on May 30th of this year. Red Fawn Fallis, from Denver, Colorado, was sentenced to 57 months in jail this July.. Just days ago, on September 7th, Dennis Lehmann, a Mennonite from South Dakota, was convicted and sentenced to probation. Many others have ended up convicted of crimes as a results of their participation in the protests at Standing Rock.
Then there is the case of Sophia Wilansky. This young woman was taking part in the protests when police used some kind of projectile (likely a grenade) to try to run people off of the land. She was severely injured, with shrapnel throughout her arm. She almost lost her arm as a result.
Those pieces of metal and debris were removed in the medical facility and seized as evidence by the FBI. Just recently, her lawsuit requesting the return of the shrapnel removed from her own body was denied, which could impact her ability to seek compensation for her injuries. That shrapnel that would conclusively link the military and law enforcement forces present at Standing Rock with her injury, but she cannot access it.
Despite the consequences of the Standing Rock protests, more tribes are standing up to the government regarding pipelines, which pose significant risk to nearby populations in the event of a spill. Challenging the questionable and inaccurate environmental impact reports is one legal strategy that could help.
We all need to stand in solidarity with Native and indigenous populations when they stand up for their rights. They deserve to have their basic rights, as well as the sovereign control of their lands, respected by both our culture and our government.
For previous Ladybud articles about Native Americans, click here.
Photo Credit: Maggie Volpo