On Nature column: Pipeline decision shows nonviolent protest can be successful
After more than seven months of protest with thousands of water protectors camping near the banks of the Canon Ball and Missouri Rivers on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has come to a halt.
On Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to drill under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the $3.8 billion 1,172-mile pipeline. It was slated to move up to 570,000 barrels of sweet crude oil per day from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Illinois.
The peaceful unarmed water protectors attempting to preserve water sources they claim will be contaminated by an inevitable pipeline leak, have endured months of violence and aggression from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota State Police, the National Guard and out of state police forces (including officers from Indiana). Protesters were subjected to pepper spray, attack dogs, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, sound canons, and they were doused by water canons in sub-freezing temperatures.
The confrontations resulted in more than 500 arrests (including several journalists) and accounts of various types of injuries, including a case of cardiac arrest, blindness from exposure to pepper spray, and the maiming of a non-Native woman who was hit with a percussion grenade and has undergone several surgeries after severely injuring her arm.
Several weeks ago, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple demanded all protesters vacate the area by Dec. 5 or face forced removal. He said heavy fines would be levied for anyone attempting to transport supplies to the resistance. The governor cited approaching winter storms and protesters’ safety as the impetus for his demands.
On Dec. 4, more than 2,000 military veterans arrived at the reservation to stand in solidarity with the water protectors and to serve as a human shield against the ongoing assault on the Native and non-Native people encamped in the area.
As the risk of a confrontation between active military/police forces and inactive or retired unarmed veterans grew, the Obama administration and the Army Corps halted the construction of the DAPL one day before Dalrymple’s deadline.
The action of the water protectors is a prime example of the power of direct action nonviolent protest. Yet, the future of the DAPL and the Standing Rock Sioux is uncertain. In response to the Army Corps’ refusal to permit construction under the Missouri River, ETP stated it fully intends to complete the pipleline, regardless of the action taken by the Obama administration. President-elect Donald Trump, who until recently was invested in ETP, is in full support of the pipeline.
What is certain is the renaissance of the environmental movement through direct action protest, and there is more to come.
Eliot Reed, an Anderson native, is the owner of Park Place Arts, a custom frame shop and art gallery in Anderson. He is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition.