Under orders from President Donald Trump, the Army Corps of Engineers on February 7 approved a final easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Construction has re-started, and lawyers for the company say it could take as little as 30 days for oil to flow through the Dakota Access pipeline.
While the Standing Rock Sioux and neighboring tribes attempt to halt the project in court, other opponents of the pipeline have launched what they’re calling a “last stand,” holding protests and disruptive actions across the U.S. In North Dakota, where it all began, a few hundred people continue to live at camps on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, using them as bases for prayer and for direct actions to block construction. Last week, camps were served eviction notices from Governor Doug Burgum and from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, demanding that they clear the biggest camp, Oceti Sakowin, by Wednesday and a smaller camp, Sacred Stone, within 10 days.
The fight against DAPL didn’t come from nowhere. It’s a direct descendant of the Keystone XL fight — both pass through the territory of the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, which includes bands of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people. And when Standing Rock tribal members saw that it was time to mobilize, they turned to relatives that had fought the Keystone XL.
In 2014, Joye Braun was living at an anti-Keystone XL camp called Pte Ospaye, on the Cheyenne River reservation, when she first heard about a new pipeline that would pass just outside the border of the Standing Rock reservation, on land leaders say would be tribally controlled if the U.S. government obeyed its treaties. “I went holy crap, here comes another one,” she said. Two years later, she would find herself helping set up Sacred Stone camp, the first anti-Dakota Access pipeline camp.
Now, most of the thousands of people that visited Standing Rock last fall have returned home, and some have taken up long-shot local fights against the oil and gas industry. In Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee it’s the Diamond pipeline; in Louisiana, the Bayou Bridge. In Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa actually voted to decommission and remove the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline from their reservation.
Many communities have turned to direct action as a last resort. The city of Lafayette, Colorado, which has long attempted to block fracking in the area, has even proposed a climate bill of rights, enforceable via nonviolent direct action if the legal system fails.
In at least four states, encampments built as bases for pipeline resistance have emerged. They face corporations emboldened by Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, which have used their first weeks in power to grant fossil fuel industry wishes, overturning environmental protections, appointing Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, and reviving the halted Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline projects.
“Forces arrayed against us are quite wide in my opinion,” said Owl, a member of the Ramapough-Lunaape tribe who helped set up a camp in New Jersey to oppose the Pilgrim pipeline. “They are hell-bent on this infrastructure.”