Last week, approximately 4,000 Torontonians showed up at a protest in support of the Indigenous standoff heating up in the United States over the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). It was the fifth action in Toronto in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, who’ve hosted thousands of people in an encampment on their reservation over plans to transport Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.
Videos documenting peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten and arrested en masse by police have focused international attention on Standing Rock that has grown with social media and celebrity support.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency, sending in heavily armed police to quash the protest. And last week, more than 140 people were arrested on felony charges.
Mainstream media in the U.S., however, in particular the major news networks, have largely ignored the epic dispute. Closer to home, three protesters locked themselves inside TD’s head offices in the financial district on November 3 to highlight TD’s stake in the project. TD subsidiary TD Securities is one of 17 banks that have provided some $360 million in loans to Dakota Access LLC. It is also financing Sunoco Logistics, a member of the Energy Transfer corporate family that partly owns the joint venture of Dakota Access LLC.
The action coincided with sit-ins at the offices of Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett “in solidarity with First Nations such as the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, that are opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline.” Later this month, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada over Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline.
Here’re some reasons why Standing Rock has become such an important flashpoint in the fight for clean water.
1) It’s the largest action of native Americans in more than 100 years.
Approximately 4,000 protestors, including settlers and native people, have camped out for months at Standing Rock. Well over 300 First Nations have sent representatives and declarations of support. On November 3, 500 interfaith clergy members joined protesters and burned copies of the Doctrine Of Discovery, a series of religious documents from the 15th century that justified the colonization of the Americas. It’s been reported that two police officers turned in their badges, acknowledging that battling water defenders is not what they signed up for.
2) Stand up against an obvious double standard.
Within the narrative of the DAPL is the story of Bismark, ND, the state’s capital, through which the pipeline was originally planned to run. However, fears of contaminating the city’s water supply saw the pipeline instead rerouted through sacred sites and near water supplying the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Says Crystal Sinclair of Idle No More Toronto, who visited Standing Rock earlier this year: “We have teachings that are thousands of years old. These teachings are coming back now. We held them underground on a thread, from the generations that had to stand up against and policies that tried to annihilate us. What is happening right now in Standing Rock is standing up against genocide again.”
The oppression of native Americans – the land theft, genocide, residential boarding schools, etc – is now commonly understood as a shameful part of the history of the United States and Canada. But it’s increasingly evident that colonialism lives on as polluting industries push their projects on native communities against their will.
3) Indigenous rights are our last, best hope of saving the water, air and earth.
From the tar sands in Alberta to fracking in New Brunswick and pipelines across the country, Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of movements to protect the land and water.
“It is within our belief that there is going to be the seventh generation where there is going to be a moment of significant change and renewal of our traditional lifeways. This prophesy was established seven generations ago, meaning that what we are seeing right now is that generation of positive change,” says Dallas Goldtooth, a Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
“This fight in Standing Rock right now is not just about one pipeline. It’s a fight against the greater economic and colonial system that continues to force projects like this on communities all across the land.”
4) With Donald Trump elected, now is the time to push for a sustainable future from the ground up.
While climate change threatens the livability of the planet, we also live in a time of extreme extraction. Fracking, tar sands, open-pit mining, clear-cut forestry and even mono-crop agri-culture enable environmental de-struction and the wholesale pillaging of resources. Those on the front lines of the impacts of these developments are also on the forefront of change.
“What’s happening on the ground right now all across the country in this fight against DAPL is a critical moment for the climate justice movement,” explains Goldtooth. “We have the opportunity to stop a mega fossil fuel infrastructure in its tracks, while it is being constructed. This is something that is unprecedented and also very timely given the recent election of Donald Trump, who fully supports fossil fuel development. Now is the time to fire across the bow that our society is done with fossil fuels.”
5) At a time of disillusionment with our political systems, this is a David-and-Goliath struggle worth fighting.
Let’s face it – people feel disillusioned and disempowered by our system of electoral politics. That’s partly the reason why Standing Rock has inspired so many to act directly to protect their water and take control of their destiny, facing off with police and private security in the process. With Trump personally invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline, protectors are going to need all the help they can get.
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