Washington, DC — It was not business as usual when a delegation of indigenous people from Standing Rock Reservation and thousands of allies shut off access to the General Accounting Office (GAO) on Tuesday during a sit-in. They were there to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), whose offices are housed there, to deny the final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, needs an easement to finish the pipeline by drilling under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.
Security guards stood helplessly by on the other side of bolted doors, while well-known environmentalists, including actress Shailene Woodley, spoke out against the pipeline, which, if completed, would send 460,000 gallons of Bakken crude to Chicago for refining. She called on the public to pay attention to the brutal police response to the Standing Rock Sioux. The sit-in was but one action in over 300 actions in cities across the nation.
Woodley, who was arrested in September during the standoff and charged with engaging a riot, said Water Protectors were peaceful and that the police were creating a “false narrative” in their violent characterization of Water Protectors.
“I was charged with engaging in a riot. I don’t know what kind of riot the people of North Dakota have been to, but the protest that I participated in was the last thing from a riot,” said Woodley.
Hundreds of indigenous people locked in the tense standoff against militarized police have suffered trauma from brutal arrests and police tactics, yet have persevered. Construction crews have been franticly working to finish the final segment of the controversial pipeline before the January 1 in-service date. The police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound cannons on Water Protectors and those arrested have been strip-searched.
Woodley criticized mainstream media for not even reporting the Dakota Access Pipeline story and the police for painting the Sioux as violent. She asked everyone to reach out to friends on social media who are not aware of the drama playing out at Standing Rock Reservation. “We have to educate those who don’t know because we know the mainstream media is not doing it,” she said.
Woodley also encouraged divestment from the banks financing the project by closing personal accounts.
Environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, have said that completion of the pipeline would pose great risk to the Missouri and underlying aquifer on which millions depend.
McKibben said that the Standing Rock Sioux are standing up for everybody’s rights, and they should be honored by everyone for that. “People understand that it’s a place of great moral significance where a huge battle for human rights is underway saving not only the water but the climate as well,” he said.
The uprising has touched every corner of the globe as well. Worldwide rallies in support of the Sioux were held in the countries of New Zealand, Lebanon, Fiji, the Philippines, and in Brazil.
If there is a spill, critics of the pipeline say the reservation will lose its only water source for generations. They have also condemned violent police tactics used against peaceful Water Protectors.
LaDonna Allard, who is with Sacred Stone Camp, one of the encampments which is a base for the movement against the pipeline, and Eryn Wise, of the Indigenous Youth Council, led a subsequent march of several thousand from the GAO to the White House.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) met the Sioux delegation as it arrived in Lafayette Park at the White House. “For hundreds of years the Native Americans, the first Americans, have been lied to, cheated, and their sovereign rights have been denied them,” said Sanders to the thousands who had walked from the GAO.
Sanders complemented the Sioux for standing up for water rights and the environment. “We are demanding sovereign rights for Native Americans,” he said.
President Obama’s hesitancy to step in and stop the project, but instead adopting a “wait and see how things play out” posture, has provided an opening for activists to continue building political pressure on the builders of the project.
On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement delaying the final permits for “consultations ” with tribal leaders and to reconsider the environmental impacts, one of their major concerns.
President-elect Trump has investment in the project and is expected to push necessary permits through if it is still not completed after he is sworn in. But Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska said that Obama has a “trump card” he can play that will not only stop the project but kill it forever.
Kleeb said Predident Obama has authority to designate the area a national monument. She asked the crowd to call the White House and ask the President to designate the area near Standing Rock as a National Landmark.
“If you declare Standing Rock a national monument,” Kleeb said, addressing Obama, “that means that no oil and gas development can happen on that land.”
President-elect Trump has come out not only as a climate denier, but a strong advocate of the fossil energy industry. Advocating for President Obama to designate the area around Standing Rock Reservation as a national monument may be the last option the Sioux have to stop the project before Trump takes office January 20.