Finding Our Frontlines in Indigenous North Dakota: The Climate Justice Movement is Standing Up – A Special Issue of Earth News: More than News of the World

October 10, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
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Photo by Rob Wilson Photography

Issue 4, September-October 2016

“I think something has happened that can open a new radical space….

I don’t know what comes next. I just know that the people are going to continue to resist, and it’s a great moment to be alive.”

– Rev. Sekou on Today’s Civil Rights Leaders: “I Take My Orders from 23-Year-Old Queer Women,”

Introduction by John Foran

This special edition of Earth News is devoted to attempting to begin to tell the story of what has been happening at Standing Rock through reports from some of its key participants and observers.  There is no doubt in my mind that this front in the epic struggle for global climate justice – and so much more – will be recognized in the future as a crucial epicenter, a ground zero, of our movement, because it marks a convergence of indigenous actors with other people of color and white allies to confront major corporations of the fossil fueled-drive to our extinction.  Its ramifications – politically, economically, culturally, and existentially – will be many.

As you read, keep in mind that ninety percent of the text is from the pieces I have gathered to tell the story.  My voice enters in mainly to briefly introduce each one.  Thanks to all the original authors and sources of the stories; unless otherwise noted, the images also come from the stories reproduced here.  Please refer to each piece for the complete story in each case, as I have only published extracts here, as is the way with Earth News in general.

This story is bigger than all of us, and this struggle is being waged for all of us, so my deepest gratitude to the protagonists at Standing Rock and their supporters everywhere.

As is often the case, my friend Brad Hornick has summed up the context of the conflict with admirable concision:

Over 200 Indigenous Nations have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Kalota Nation) to defend Indigenous rights and title against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) which would transport Bakken oil and threaten water supplies. The direct action at Standing Rock has heroically challenged corporate power, coalesced networks of supporters, and united Native American tribes to fight for alternative visions for a just and healthy world.

Throughout North America, First Nations land defenders, along with their settler allies, have been at the forefront of the climate justice movement, fighting fossil fuels at the points of extraction, production and transportation. All of us can learn from the warrior spirit fighting against fossil fuels, colonialism and capitalism that is demonstrated in these actions. Join us to learn more, and find out how you and your organization can act in solidarity with #StandingRock

An email I received on September 13 from the Center for Biological Diversity also summed up the situation concisely:

Water is life – and in North Dakota the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is leading an inspiring, historic battle to protect it. In an unprecedented show of unity, thousands of people from dozens of tribes have gathered to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.

The pipeline would carry fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, slashing through traditional indigenous lands, fragile wildlife habitat, sacred sites and the Missouri River. Spills are inevitable, and the pipeline will worsen climate pollution.

For months people have risked their bodies to stop the construction and challenge the highly controversial fast-track permit granted to the project. Last week industry used attack dogs and mace to bloody and blind people trying to save burial grounds from bulldozers.

Enough is enough…

First Hand Accounts

These have poured in from indigenous participants, progressive journalists, and supportive activists in the movement.  Here are some of them.


Standing Rock Sioux Chairman: Dakota Access Pipeline “Is Threatening the Lives of My Tribe”

Amy Goodman, originally published by Democracy Now! (August 29, 2016),

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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at North Dakota, where indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River….

More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. Protesters have included Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: The need to protect this water has grown way beyond Standing Rock. I’m Oglala and Northern Cheyenne. Many red nations are here. Many more red nations are coming. We put the call out for water protectors to come, land defenders to come. And the word “resistance” is being used. And sometimes we have a problem with the English language, deciding which word to use, but if we just listen to our spirits, we’re here to protect sacred water. People will come from all along the river to protect the river that they belong to.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, has also taken part in the protests against the Dakota pipeline. Banks also was part of the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff.

DENNIS BANKS: What’s happening here is equally as important, because of the stand that you’re ready to make. When they threaten the environment, they’re threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they’re threatening you. You have to be in that mindset like that. That’s who you are. That’s who we are. And our culture, our heritage is what has made us warriors.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dennis Banks. We’re joined now by Dave Archambault, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who’s joining us from Washington, D.C.

Chairman, thanks very much for being with us. Can you explain for us what this whole controversy is about?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There’s a lot of different components that all lead up to one, and it is a pipeline that is threatening the lives of people, lives of my tribe, as well as millions down the river. It threatens the ancestral sites that are significant to our tribe. And we never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes. And the things that have happened to tribal nations across this nation have been unjust and unfair, and this has come to a point where we can no longer pay the costs for this nation’s well-being. We pay for economic development, we pay for national security, and we pay for energy independence. It is at our expense that this nation reaps those benefits. And all too often we share similar concerns, similar wrongdoings to us, so we are uniting, and we’re standing up, and we’re saying, “No more.”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what exactly the Dakota Access pipeline is and how it ended up going through your land?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: Dakota Access pipeline is a pipeline that goes 1,200 miles, taking Bakken crude oil from the northwest side of North Dakota down to Illinois. And we were brought – made aware of this in 2014. And our biggest concern was, it was – it crossed the Missouri River twice, once north of – once in Lake Sakakawea and once north of our reservation. And right away, when we first learned of it, we said, “We don’t want this. We don’t want it here.” But it’s a private pipeline from a private company out of Dallas, Texas. And so, there’s a big corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, out of Dallas, who are making decisions for the state and for North Dakota, for my reservation, and they have no sensitivity or no acknowledgment of what is in place. All they see is dollar signs and greed. So we are not happy with this private-based company.

There are portions of this pipeline that cross federal lands, like water, and so they have to get permits, but they get easements on private property. And the private landowners who do not approve of the pipeline, there’s the eminent domain taking. So, the landowners where the pipeline crosses kind of have their hands tied. But in the federal permitting process – and it’s like, of the 1,200 miles, 200 waterways, maybe 300 miles are on federal lands. That’s what we’re saying: If we can’t do anything on the private lands, we’re going to ask the federal agencies to reconsider and take a look at this, because we never had the opportunity to express our concerns.


The Dakota Access Pipeline: What Would Sitting Bull Do?

Winona LaDuke (August 30, 2016),

It’s 2016 and the weight of American corporate interests has come to the Missouri River, the Mother River. This time, instead of the Seventh Cavalry or the Indian police dispatched to assassinate Sitting Bull, it is Enbridge and Dakota Access Pipeline.

In mid-August, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II was arrested by state police, along with 27 others, for opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the meantime, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called for more police support.

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Wiyaka Eagleman has been at the encampment since April and is from one of the seven Sioux council fire tribes set up there.  Photo: Desiree Kane

Every major pipeline project in North America must cross indigenous lands, Indian Country. That is a problem.

The road west of Fargo is rarely taken. In fact, most Americans just fly over North Dakota, never seeing it.

Let me take you there.

My head clears as I drive. My destination is the homeland of the Hunkpapa Oceti, Standing Rock Reservation. It is early evening, the moon full. If you close your eyes, you can remember the 50 million buffalo – the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of their hooves would vibrate the Earth, make the grass grow.

There were once 250 species of grass. Today the buffalo are gone, replaced by 28 million cattle, which require grain, water and hay. Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are dying off. But in my memory, the old world remains.

If you drive long enough, you come to the Missouri River.

Called Mnisose, a great swirling river, by the Lakota, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is breathtaking….

In the time before Sitting Bull, the Missouri River was the epicenter of northern agriculture, the river bed so fertile. The territory was known as the fertile crescent of North America. That was then, before the treaties that reduced the Lakota land base. But the Missouri remained in the treaty – the last treaty of 1868 used the Missouri as a boundary.

Then came the theft of land by the U.S. government and the taking of the Black Hills in 1877, in part as retaliation against Sitting Bull’s victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In a time prior to Black Lives Matter or Native Lives Matter, great leaders like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were assassinated at the hands of police.

One truth: The Lakota people have survived much.

Forced into the reservation life, the Lakota attempted to stabilize their society, until the dams came. The 1944 Pick Sloan project flooded out the Missouri River tribes, taking the best bottom lands from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, the Lakota and Dakota. More than 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota were flooded by the Oahe Dam itself, forcing not only relocation, but a loss of the Lakota world. The Garrison, Oahe and Fort Randall dams created a reservoir that eliminated 90 percent of timber and 75 percent of wildlife on the reservations.

That is how a people are made poor.

Today, well over two-thirds of the population of Standing Rock is below the poverty level – and the land and Mother River are what remains, a constant, for the people. That is what is threatened today.

Enbridge and partners are preparing to drill through the riverbed. The pipeline has been permitted in sections from the west and from the east. The northern portion was moved away from the water supply of Bismarck, into the watershed of Standing Rock. That was unfortunate for the Lakota….

More than 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil will pass through the pipeline daily, along with 245,100 metric tons of carbon daily – enough carbon to combust the planet to oblivion.

The pipeline would span 200 water crossings and in North Dakota alone would pass through 33 historical and archeological sites. Enbridge just bought the Dakota Access pipeline, noting that the proposed Sandpiper route – Minnesota’s 640,000 barrel per day Bakken line – is now three years behind schedule.

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The route of the Dakota Access Pipeline

In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Standing Rock claims the project violates federal and treaty law. Standing Rock also filed an intervention at the United Nations, in coordination with the International Indian Treaty Council.

As Chairman Archambault explained in a New York Times story:

“The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation supported more protection of the tribe’s cultural heritage, but the Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners turned a blind eye to our rights. The first draft of the company’s assessment of the planned route through our treaty and ancestral lands did not even mention our tribe.

“The Dakota Access pipeline was fast-tracked from Day 1 using the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental reviews required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by treating the pipeline as a series of small construction sites.

“Without closer scrutiny, the proposal breezed through the four state processes.”

…. The health of the Missouri River has been taken for granted.

Dammed in the Pick Sloan Dam projects, each project increases contamination and reduces her health. Today, the Missouri is the seventh most polluted river in the country. Agricultural run-off and now fracking have contaminated the river. My sister fished a gar out of the river, a giant prehistoric fish, only to find it covered with tumors.

Here’s just one case: In a January 2015 spill, saltwater contamination from a massive pipeline spill reached the Missouri River. In the baffling way of state and federal agencies, North Dakota’s Health Director David Glatt did not expect harm to wildlife or drinking water supplies because the water was diluted. The saying is: “The solution to pollution is dilution.” That is convenient, but not true.

Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River were contaminated after nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater with elevated levels of chloride contamination. All was diluted. But then there was that gar fish with the tumors.

There are pipelines everywhere and fewer than 150 Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) pipeline inspectors in the whole country.

And now comes the risk from oil.

The pipeline companies generally discuss a 99 percent safety record, but studies have found that to be grossly inaccurate. A former Scientific American Editor, Trudy Bell, reports that PHMSA data from 2001 to 2011 suggest the average pipeline “has a 57% probability of experiencing a major leak, with consequences over the $l million range in a ten year period.”

Not good odds.

At Standing Rock, as the number of protesters grew from 200 to 2000, state law enforcement decided to put up a safety checkpoint and rerouted traffic on Highway 1806 from Bismarck to Standing Rock, hoping to dissuade people from coming and put the squeeze on Standing Rock’s Prairie Knights Casino, which is served by that road.

We just drove around; the scenic route is beautiful. And as supporters surge in numbers, the casino hotel and restaurants are full.

While North Dakota seeks to punish the Lakota, Chairman Archambault expresses concerns for everyone:

From the New York Times: “I am here to advise anyone that will listen that the Dakota Access Pipeline project is harmful. It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is one of the cleanest and safest river tributaries left in the Unit States. To poison the water is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water. How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”

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“Resistance” sign at the site of the drill pad back in May. Desiree Kane

In the meantime, North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple announced a state of emergency, making additional state resources available “to manage public safety risks associated with the ongoing protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” He may have exceeded his scope of authority and violated civil and human rights to water.

Chairman Archambault’s interpretation: “Perhaps only in North Dakota, where oil tycoons wine and dine elected officials and where the governor, Jack Dalrymple, serves as an adviser to the Trump campaign, would state and county governments act as the armed enforcement for corporate interests.”

There are a lot of people at Standing Rock today who remember their history and the long standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. In fact, some of those in Standing Rock today were there in 1973 at Wounded Knee, a similar battle for dignity and the future of a nation.

I am not sure how badly North Dakota wants this pipeline. If there is to be a battle over the pipeline, it will be here. For a people with nothing else but a land and a river, I would not bet against them.

The great Lakota leader Mathew King once said, “The only thing sadder than an Indian who is not free, is an Indian who does not remember what it is to be free.”

The Standing Rock protest camp represents that struggle for freedom and the future of a people. All of us. If I ask the question “What would Sitting Bull do?” – the answer is pretty clear. He would remind me what he said 150 years ago: “Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children.”

The time for that is now.

This article was originally published by LA Progressive and reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

Arrest Warrant Issued for Journalist Amy Goodman for Coverage of Dakota Access Pipeline

Andy Rowell, Oil Change International (September 12, 2016),

There is good news and bad news for those fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

First the bad news. A week ago I wrote about the outrageous attacks by security personnel on those protesting against the pipeline by using dogs and pepper spray.

Some of the most powerful footage of the incident was fronted by veteran Democracy Now! journalist, Amy Goodman, who had been on site to witness the despicable attacks.

Goodman opened her report by stating:

“On Saturday in Dakota, security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline company attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray as they resisted the $3.8 billion pipeline’s construction.”

The footage went viral and lead to outrage from across the world including on CBS, NBC, NPR, CNN, MSNBC and Huffington Post. A colleague who has watched Goodman’s reporting for decades said it was the most passionate they had ever seen her broadcasting live….

Meanwhile, the day before, after an injunction by the Standing Rock Sioux was denied, the federal government stepped in immediately afterwards to halt construction of the pipeline.

For now at least.

The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued the following statement:

“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”

It continued:

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.”

“Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time … This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

Reaction was mixed on the ground as people poured over the fine print behind the headline news. Indeed, as usual, the devil is on the detail.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe replied that the announcement sets the “stage for a nationwide reform, establishing consultation with tribes regarding the need for meaningful tribal input for all pipeline projects in the future. This federal statement is a game changer for the tribe and we are acting immediately on our legal options, including filing an appeal and a temporary injunction to force DAPL to stop construction.”

“The feeling on the ground is one of mixed emotion. People are very upset that the tribe’s injunction motion was denied,” said one of the leading female activists, Kandi Mossett, who pointed out that the request to stop construction near the contentious site, was just that: a request.

Indeed, as DesmogBlog pointed out, even though the government has requested that the pipeline be stopped: “The federal government can’t stop Energy Transfer from proceeding to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline on private land, which is why it asked DAPL to voluntarily halt construction there.”

The Red Warrior Camp was more dismissive and posted online: “Nothing has changed for the thousands of people who came from thousands of miles on prayers and fumes to stop this pipeline. Stay peaceful without backing down.”

One blogger Kelly Hayes noted:

“Let’s reflect on that for a moment: A company that recently sicced dogs on Water Protectors, including families, who stepped onto a sacred site to prevent its destruction, is being asked to voluntarily do the right thing … Right now, all that’s being asked is that they play their part in a short term political performance aimed at letting the air out of a movement’s tires.”

She added:

“So what did the federal government do? Probably the smartest thing they could have: They gave us the illusion of victory … But if you raise a glass to Obama and declare this battle won, you are erasing a battle that isn’t over yet. And by erasing an ongoing struggle, you’re helping to build a pipeline.”

So for now the struggle continues, and the protests are going global. There will be demonstrations across the U.S. Tuesday and solidarity ones across the globe, including in London at 6 p.m. For more details go here.

For a climate justice interpretation, we have indigenous scholar Kyle Powys Whyte’s analysis, which makes the case by noting:

Climate justice – the idea that it is ethically wrong for some groups of people to suffer the detrimental effects of climate change more than others – is among the most significant moral issues today, referenced specifically in the landmark Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change….

Indigenous communities are among the first climate refugees, having to decide to relocate due to sea-level rise in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, as well as other places across the U.S. sphere. This is happening in other parts of the world too.

This is an injustice because, as indigenous scholar Dan Wildcat writes in “Red Alert!,” the suffering is occurring “not as a result of something their Native lifeways produced, but because the most technologically advanced societies on the planet have built their modern lifestyles on a carbon energy foundation.”


And for the climate justice and environmental justice nexus, there is:

Climate Justice Meets Racism: This Moment at Standing Rock Was Decades in the Making

North Dakota’s militarized response to activists opposing the Dakota Access pipeline – and the Standing Rock Sioux’s fierce resolve – reflect the area’s particular racial divides.

Jenni Monet (September 16, 2016),

North Dakota is not the whitest state in America, but it’s arguably the most segregated. More than 60 percent of its largest minority population, Native Americans, lives on or near reservations. Native men are incarcerated or unemployed at some of the highest rates in the country. Poverty levels for families of the Standing Rock tribe are five times that of residents living in the capital city, Bismarck. In Cannon Ball, the heart of the tribal community, there are rows of weathered government homes, but no grocery store. Tucked behind a lonely highway, this is where mostly white farmers and ranchers shuttle to and from homesteads once belonging to the Sioux.

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Add to that a contempt that many Native Americans say they feel from North Dakotans and particularly from police, and many people of Standing Rock are not surprised by the extreme response of law enforcement against activists.

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Photo courtesy of Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’ve run on empty for a number of generations,” said Phyllis Young, a former tribal councilwoman for the Standing Rock Sioux, the community that’s vowed to stop the pipeline in its path. “But now we’re taking a stand. We are reaching a pinnacle, a peak…”


For a view of life in the camp, there is:

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A view of the camp from Route 1806.    Xian Chiang-Waren

Inside the camp that’s fighting to stop the Dakota Access pipeline

Xian Chiang-Waren (September 16, 2016),

At sundown, Montgomery Brown meets me by the information tent. He has a paper plate piled with brownies in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. The 25-year-old youth organizer and Navy-trained combat medic from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been up since daybreak….

“Every time I walk around this camp,” Brown says, “… I hear those kids laughing and playing — it just reaffirms that I’m not just fighting for myself or my family. I’m fighting for everybody.”

Here’s a glimpse of what life on the camp is like.

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Montgomery Brown, 25, has helped to organize and chaperone youth events, including a nearly 2,000 mile intertribal relay run to Washington, D.C. Xian Chiang-Waren

“There has never been anything like this in Indian country before, ever,” said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux. Recently, Allard found herself at lunch with a member of the Crow and a member of the Pawnee — a meeting that would have been inconceivable until now.

It helps that the unifying thread of the protest — water — is so undeniably universal. The Missouri River provides water for Standing Rock Reservation, as well as for other towns, agricultural operations, and natural habitats downstream. Standing Rock’s lawyers say a spill would cause an “existential threat” to the tribe’s resources and way of life. Recent spills in the region include a 1-million-gallon crude spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, and a 2015 spill of 50,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

“We have an understanding as a people that we’re all related, at some point,” said tribal council member Robert Taken Alive. “We all drink water….”

The intentions of the original group at Sacred Stone is likely the reason that the first thing one learns upon arriving at camp is that most campers do not consider themselves environmental “protesters.” They call themselves “protectors” of the earth and its resources. They are not interested in fighting, but in defending. “We’re not here for violence or vengeance,” said Robert Eber, who identifies himself as “the maintenance guy,” and says he’d been at Sacred Stone since day one. “We’re here for love and healing, for all of mankind….

The younger generations at camp are there to fight a pipeline, but some also say they have come to heal from the wounds that genocide inflicted, and to embrace their heritage. At dinner around the campfire one night, a young Abenaki man explained to some non-native outsiders that his generation was seeking to reclaim environmental and earth-based wisdom from the elders before they passed. “Ceremony seems to have skipped a generation or two,” he said. “We’re bringing it back.” By the last week of August, some of the camp’s young people had built two sweat lodges near the river, in accordance with tradition.

“It’s all the young people that did this,” says LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. “When the young people stood up, people stood up with them.”

Along with prayer and fate, the young people at camp are using more visible tools for resistance. They have used hashtags and Facebook Live to broadcast the camp’s message. In July, Bobbi Jean Three Legs, Montgomery Brown, and Joseph White Eyes, all in their 20s, organized and chaperoned a nearly 2,000 mile, intertribal relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. (among three other runs), to deliver a petition of more than 160,000 signatures against the pipeline to the White House and to the Army Corps of Engineers in person.

“If this pipeline goes through, it is gonna affect our generation the most,” said Bobbi Jean Three Legs to a packed crowd at a youth concert on the evening of Sept. 8. “If anything, it’s going to affect the kids that aren’t born yet. We don’t want that.”

Whether the Dakota Access Pipeline actually goes through is still up in the air. Energy Transfer Partners, which has already invested $1.6 billion in the project, has publicly vowed to see the project through to completion. The Standing Rock tribe and its supporters, in turn, have vowed to stay at camp until the pipeline project is called off altogether.

No matter the outcome, this fight is just the beginning for many at camp. One dusty afternoon, as we hid from the sun under a brown tarp near the main artery of the camp, a tribal council member told me that the camp “had already won” a significant battle just “by coming together.” After all, the Dakota Access Pipeline is just one of many threats to tribal nations, clean water, and a warming planet. This generation of protectors has a future to defend.


Here’s another eloquent first-hand account by my Climate Justice Project comrade Theo LeQuesne.

Winter is Coming – Standing Rock Digs in for the Long Haul

Theo Lequesne (September 19, 2016),

There are still seasons in Standing Rock – for now. The contrast with Southern California, where I live, couldn’t be starker. The grass is green and lush, the air is fresh, the smell of rain never too far away, and the river winds through the meadows and between the hills full and with great purpose. The nights are growing cold and in the mornings our breath billows before us, white and steamy. I have just spent a week at the Standing Rock encampment that sprung up in April this year and which has grown in size and national significance this past summer….

Though my stay was far too short, it coincided with an important crossroads for the camp – both strategic and temporal. Throughout my stay I saw, or rather felt, these intense shifts take hold as temperatures plummeted and the camp was reinvigorated with purpose and power. My party and I arrived on Thursday, September 9th, the day before President Obama asked the pipeline company to halt construction pending a more thorough environmental impact review. Dakota Access, likely viewing a temporary cessation in construction as a welcome respite, and indeed a time to regroup against the unexpected groundswell of resistance, complied. Many large media outlets, which had only recently taken any notice of the camp, eagerly reported an overwhelming victory for the Water Protectors and the indigenous nations. However, the indigenous leadership at Standing Rock was sharper and more sceptical. Many speculated that all this was a part of a more insidious strategy to demobilize the Water Protectors before a counter attack could be mounted – all advised caution and vigilance.

Over the following weekend temperatures dropped and much of the encampment, as I perceived it, seemed to have succumbed to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. We ran into at least one group of campers who, believing the fight was over, packed up and left the day after Obama’s announcement. If offering this small victory was indeed part of a pernicious scheme to demobilize the Water Protectors, looking over an emptier camp on a cold Monday morning, I worried that it was working. The camp was still very large but considerable patches of green and brown grass had re-emerged in amongst the tents and tepees.

By Tuesday afternoon, however, it became clear that my fears were unfounded. With more arrests of Water Protectors engaged in non-violent direct action, the carefully timed NoDAPL nation-wide day of action and greater media attention, the camp’s population surged. The leading article on the front page of the local newspaper claimed that the camp’s numbers had swollen to 4000 people – and judging by the new tents popping up I believed it. Moreover, the camp’s certainty in its purpose had been restored: Stand firm for the winter, show that the Water Protectors are here to stay, and prove that the fight has only just begun. To this end efforts have been directed towards reinforcing the camp’s infrastructure, preparing it for the oncoming winter and sending parties further afield to block pipeline construction where it continues beyond the 20 miles of land protected under Obama’s request….

After a quick breakfast, usually of oatmeal and fruit from the vast stocks of food donations that have come piling in from across the country, we get to work. Under the close instruction of Tiffany, Emily and I are working with Nancy on inventory of supplies. Emily and I are sorting through enormous stacks of clothing donations. We split them into categories and wrap them in weatherproof bags before sending them up to the larger winter storage tents that others at the camp have erected a little way up the hill. Meanwhile, Nancy tirelessly sorts and stows sleeping bags, blankets and towels. The work is inspiring – because so much has been sent so generously by so many people across the country – and unexpectedly strenuous, for the same reason. We clear a space of clothes and immediately it is refilled as another box of donations is brought up to us. This place could withstand a siege, and it may just have to…

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Indigenous artist and youth activist, Jackie Fawn, created this image which has gone viral on social media

After lunch on our final day, we marched with 200 others from the avenue of flags lining the main road through the big camp. We walked a couple of miles to where Dakota Access went out of its way to bulldoze the ancient burial sites of the Sioux’s ancestors. As I was given to understand, each day marches of this sort left the camp as a ceremony of recompense for disturbing the ancestors. It was a solemn affair but seeing the site of such gratuitous violence was an important reminder of the struggle we’re in. When we reached the site an Elder sang prayers, a few words were said, sage was burned, and our respects given. Before leaving we were instructed to sprinkle tobacco over the site. On our way back to the big camp we passed the front lines where Dakota Access had pulled up its equipment away from the construction zone. Banners bearing slogans of defiance and hope and the words “Water is Life” had been tied to the fence to mark the spot – the spot where tragedy had, for the moment, been averted. We stopped and sprinkled more tobacco. For me, seeing the front lines was even more powerful than taking part in the ceremony and I vowed to redouble my efforts to support this struggle from afar….

One afternoon, Francisco, who spent much of his time at the camps befriending young indigenous activists, told us about the International Indigenous Youth Council that was meeting that night. We were allowed sit in on the council and it had a powerful effect on me. The young people, much closer to me in age and, as I found, in outlook, were welcoming and friendly. They spoke intelligently of the state of affairs at the camp, of their role in it, of preparing for winter, of supplies needed, of media and the power of symbols, and of expanding their three-week old organization into a global network. Of all the different groups I have met here, all with the different theories of change, I have found the IIYC to have one of the most sophisticated. They are radical, they are not held back by crude respectably politics, but they are also strategic and understand power and persuasion better than most. The youth council closed with a song by the indigenous poet and musician Lyla June of the Diné Nation called All Nations Rise. She sang with such incredible beauty and poignancy that every one of us was left deep in silent reflection before thanking her from the bottom of our hearts.

As we walked back from the council and the night settled in, the sounds of other songs, drums and flutes drifted across the river and were met with the defiant hip hop of the big camp’s indigenous youth and the prayer chants of their Elders. They rose and joined with songs from the Civil Rights era from some other part of the camp, and then yet more singing from other historic struggles for freedom and hope combined with them. We listened on the bridge as they all mixed together at the river and were carried away through the night. The songs spoke to me of solidarity, of resistance, of resilience, of hope and of peace – all the things this camp stands for and will continue to stand for. The camp is preparing for the winter, it will stay through the winter, it will stay for as long as the pipeline, the black snake, as many there call it here, is alive. They are there fighting for our collective future, for the water and for their lives. Though I am no longer with them I will continue to support them in what ways I can from afar. They are resilient and strong but if they are to last through the winter they will need solidarity to hold them together. We can and must support them in this.

Lyla June finished her song with these words and I can find no better ending to my own writing than what she had to say:

“They say that history is written by the victors but how can there be a victor when the war isn’t over? The battle has only just begun and Creator is sending his very best warriors. And this time it isn’t Indians versus Cowboys. No. This time it is all the beautiful races of humanity together on the same side and we are fighting to replace our fear with love. And this time bullets, arrows, and cannon balls won’t save us. The only weapons that are useful in this battle are the weapons of truth, faith, and compassion.”


Thus, a movement spreads.  The significance of any activism can be both personal and larger, and the two are linked, as Sarah van Gelder, founder of Yes! Magazine, puts it so eloquently in this piece:

At Standing Rock, a Sense of Purpose: “This Is How We Should Be Living”

Protecting the water and sacred sites brought people here. The experience of being here is changing lives.

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The most dramatic moment, though, comes with the approach to the main encampment. Suddenly, just below the road, is a wide field covered in tents, teepees, and trucks. Lining the main entrance is flag after flag, each representing one of the indigenous nations that has offered its support to the Standing Rock Sioux and their fight against the Dakota Access pipeline.

The impact is powerful. So many people have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to make this pilgrimage. When people first meet, they ask each other where they’re from. Some are old friends, but many represent tribes that have been estranged or enemies for generations. Many spoke of the arrival of representatives of the Crow Nation, who have a long history of supporting coal mining and working at odds with other tribes. They too came to support Standing Rock.

The purposefulness here overcomes everything – the determination that this time the damage will be stopped. This time, before the water is poisoned or another sacred site is bulldozed, the protectors will step in.

That sense of purpose pervades the camp. While some plan the next direct action or post on social media, others split wood for fires, sort the river of donations flowing unabated into the camp, or cook for thousands of people in makeshift camp kitchens.

This time, before the water is poisoned or another sacred site is bulldozed, the protectors will step in….

Life at the water protectors’ encampment is much like life was for millions of years of human evolution – close to the earth, near a river, clustered in family and community camps. There’s a rightness to these connections and to the feeling that people here will help you when you need it.

Here, with a purpose that threads through generations, work, celebration, and activism are a seamless whole. Young people ride through the camp on horseback among tents and teepees. Are they providing security, learning traditional animal caretaking, or just having fun together? Elders tell stories of Wounded Knee, say prayers, and sing. Are they educating the next generation, building coherence, or guiding the actions? These things are not separate. They are all of a piece, all about rebuilding indigenous ways of life and standing against further destruction….

This is how we should be living, one person at our camp says. We give what we have to give, and take what we need.

Protecting the water and sacred sites brought people here. But the experience of being here is changing lives and creating renewed unity across indigenous nations, and with it a purpose and power and confidence that will not be easily extinguished.


Lives change as a movement grows.  Dallas Goldtooth, son of Tom Goldtooth, an old acquaintance of mine (in the climate justice movement, “old” can be quite relative) I met Tom in Durban at COP 17 in 2011) – is now the Indigenous Environmental Network campaign organizer for the Leave It in the Soil campaign.  Sarah van Gelder’s interview with him is titled “The Big Difference at Standing Rock Is Native Leadership All Around.”

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We can only focus on this cherished moment that we have with each other. And the organizing continues. One thing that the uncertainty provides is this constant drive to see what else can we do to change the social dial toward our direction and change the conversation. I think slowly it’s happening, it’s coming. Standing Rock has now entered into the national narrative in some ways, in some places, so how can we further that?…

This is a special moment in the climate justice movement. We’ve had significant wins: Keystone XL. The Cherry Point coal terminal, another win in support of treaty rights. I’m looking forward to what happens next. There are people very committed – through nonviolent direct action, through legal strategies, through social movement strategies – to make sure we see a win in this case, too….

I don’t think there has ever been as large a mobilization and a unified, unilateral Indian Country support like this. We’ve had chairmen, traditional chiefs, chairwomen, the leaders of the leaders of Indian Country, who have come to this camp. Also, we’ve had a lot of non-Native allies that are 100 percent supportive of the fight and struggle here because they see the connections. This fight right now, it’s about the water. And because the messaging is that water is life, so many people can connect with that. Whether you’re native or non-Native, whether you’re from Chicago or Detroit or New Orleans or up in the Bakken, we all understand the importance of protecting the water. That brings us together….

The “Keep It in the Ground” narrative is nothing new for indigenous peoples. The language “keep it in the ground” we first encountered over 15 years ago from relatives in the Global South – in Central and South America – and relatives up in northern Alberta in Canada, who were saying: The only solution forward is to keep it in the ground; regulation is not going to work; a more sustainable method of extraction is not going to work. We indigenous people have been saying keep fossil fuels in the ground from the get-go. Although it has been frustrating to see the climate movement overall be slow to adopt that, it’s also amazing and welcome now.

It is indigenous people who are often – though not all the time –on the frontlines of climate change. It is oftentimes indigenous people, poor people, forest-dependent nations, water-dependent nations – they’re the first ones to feel the rapid sea-level rise. Those communities, those nations are still dependent on subsistence lifestyles; they’re living off the land. Our relatives in the Arctic are feeling it, their entire livelihoods. Even if they wanted to have absolutely traditional food diets, they can no longer do that because the animals’ life patterns are completely altered.

So we at the Indigenous Environmental Network stand in strong defense and support of those communities’ rights to self-determine what happens to the lands, water, to the world around them. And not only are the frontlines the source of the fight, but that’s where the solutions are going to come from.

The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, localized and sustainable. That’s the path forward that we have to take. The process to achieve that is all housed under the concepts of a just transition: We have to be mindful that even if we transition to 100 percent renewables, it doesn’t necessarily mean that society is just, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that poor communities will have access to basic needs. When we talk about this transition, we have to make sure it’s in line with the principles of social justice and environmental justice.


Emily Williams, my fellow CJP comrade, picks up one of Dallas’s threads in further teasing out the Just Transition implications of Standing Rock in this piece, published on the last day of September in Resilience:

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Photo:  Theo LeQuesne/Emily Williams

Beyond Rhetoric – What Does the “Just Transition” Mean for DAPL?

Naomi Klein’s term for lands and experiences such as these is “sacrifice zones” – zones in which the people and ecosystems are sacrificed and hidden away for the profit of others, or areas which bear the external costs of others’ practices. What the Sioux are making is an understandable plea – to protect the water and their homes. They call themselves “water protectors” and peacefully march and non-violently chain themselves to bulldozers with the eloquent message that “water is life.” In the midst of extreme poverty, loss of traditions across generations, and generally tough living conditions on the reservation, they remind others that you need water and can drink water, but you cannot drink oil.

Nonetheless, even as obvious as it is that water, not oil, is essential to life and therefore must be protected, we cannot ignore [local North Dakotan environmentalist] Rob’s neighbors’ concerns about their jobs. Water is life, but the oil workers of North Dakota are trying to support their lives too as best they can. Too often in conversations about climate justice and calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, as activists we forget (or conveniently ignore) what it means for those whose livelihoods and sometimes family traditions are so bound up in maintaining the status quo. When we talk about the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy, we need to think about all those who stand to lose while the desired transition unfolds. The fossil fuel industry and climate change don’t care about peoples’ lives or the health of ecosystems; the climate justice movement, however, has a responsibility to do better and ensure that the transition is a just one and includes everyone.

An economy so heavily reliant on the extraction and transportation of oil is an unstable economy; witness the relentless boom-and-bust cycles of so many American towns. Rather than plummeting these economies into a permanent bust and expecting the workers to train themselves up for a new job in renewable energy 1000 miles away, we need to think about how to plan a transition with these workers at the decision-making table, right alongside the indigenous folks who are on the ground fighting the pipeline. Planning ahead for diverse and varied economic activities to take the place of an oil-driven economy, working on job training programs, and asking the workers what they need before the tap is shut off are just a few ways to ensure that they come along willingly and have a stake in what replaces a way of life that can no longer be sustained if humanity is to have a future.

The transition to a 100% renewable economy is already underway and is going to happen whether or not everyone is on board. The only questions are how quickly it happens, and whether it can be done in a way that brings Rob’s neighbors to the table instead of the self-appointed few that got us into this mess in the first place.


There are global implications to consider as well.  Some of the good news for indigenous nations and communities of color globally comes on the increasingly active legal front:

ICC widens remit to include environmental destruction cases

In change of focus, Hague court will prosecute government and individuals for environmental crimes such as landgrabs.

John Vidal and Owen Bowcott (Thursday 15 September 2016),

Environmental destruction and landgrabs could lead to governments and individuals being prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the international criminal court following a decision to expand its remit.

The UN-backed court, which sits in The Hague, has mostly ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002. It has been criticised for its reluctance to investigate major environmental and cultural crimes, which often happen in peacetime.

In a change of focus, the ICC said on Thursday it would also prioritise crimes that result in the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land. It also included an explicit reference to land-grabbing.

The court, which is funded by governments and is regarded as the court of last resort, said it would now take many crimes that have been traditionally under-prosecuted into consideration.

The ICC is not formally extending its jurisdiction, but the court said it would assess existing offences, such as crimes against humanity, in a broader context.


On a related note, be aware that 2017 will see an International Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on the Human Rights Impacts of Fracking.

Meanwhile, another connection lies in the wider context of the national – indeed, global – anti-pipeline movement:

Anti-Pipeline Movement Gathers Steam

Chuck Collins, originally published by Common Dreams  | September 16, 2018,

Thousands of Native Americans at Standing Rock in North Dakota are protesting a pipeline project that puts their water supply at risk, threatens to plow up their sacred sites, and would worsen climate change.

Their rallying echoes hundreds of local struggles across the U.S. that question the prudence, safety, and necessity of thousands of new gas pipeline projects.

The gas industry tells us these projects promote energy independence and meet local gas needs. But the driving force behind most of these billion dollar infrastructure projects? Gas export.

Big gas is desperate to get their cheap shale gas to global export terminals – and they’ve dug up millions of backyards to do it. Fortunately for the industry, they have a subservient federal agency that grants them the power of eminent domain to take those backyards.

The anti-pipeline movement brings together mayors, state officials, and engaged neighbors concerned about health and safety, unnecessary rate increases, and the environmental irresponsibility of constructing new fossil fuel infrastructure. They’re fed up with a system that allows the profits of private energy corporations to override local concerns and dictate our future.


This piece links pipeline struggles to the global “water wars:

Halt to Dakota Pipeline Is Part of International Resistance to Water Threats

Keith Schneider, originally published by Circle of Blue  | Sep 19, 2016,

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Protesters marched in San Francisco last week against the Dakota Access pipeline to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux. The pipeline is under construction near the tribe’s land in North Dakota. Photo courtesy Peg Hunter via Flickr Creative Commons.

By almost any of the conventional measures of cultural and economic influence, the clash over water security and heritage between a tiny North Dakota Native American tribe and a wealthy and well-connected Texas pipeline operator would appear hopelessly tilted one way.

Yet on Friday, convention was set aside, at least temporarily, in an escalating struggle over water, energy, and land on the American Great Plains….

Such public interest breakthroughs at the places where water security and energy development collide are becoming much more common. In its struggle to curtail an expensive piece of transportation infrastructure, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands at the frontlines of civic activism that is elevating water safety as a rallying cry and disrupting the global energy sector. Targets of public opposition include oil and gas pipelines in North America, big hydropower projects in Brazil, Congo, India, Panama, and Vietnam, coal mines in Australia, India, Indonesia and South Africa, and big nuclear and coal-fired power plants on four continents.

Activism Stops Mega Projects, Influences Finance

The various campaigns are having the intended effects. They are delaying or ending disputed projects, raising costs, and discouraging developers from pursuing new proposals. Protests also are beginning to influence decisions by the world’s finance institutions to stop investing in massive new resource-consuming energy projects. In April, Norway’s $US 825 billion Government Pension Fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, announced that it had started to remove its investments from coal sector companies and projects.

The transfer of capital out of the energy sector, combined with fierce public resistance to big new fossil and hydro energy projects, is starting to close down expensive electrical generating equipment and strand natural resources from use. Earlier this year, for example, public pressure to reduce dangerous air pollution, and widespread worry about its limited water reserves, prompted China to curtail development of over 200 coal-fired power plants. China’s diminishing demand for coal resulted in lower prices and has been an important factor in causing an economic depression in the coal sector. Almost every major American coal producer is bankrupt and losses are in the tens of billions of dollars.


Struggles for justice – social, climate, indigenous, economic – are never over.  Gains are never secure.  New organizations form to carry the baton from veterans of previous movements.  The Treaty Alliance against Tar Sands Expansion has been over a year in the making.  On its website one learns:

The alliance is part of an Indigenous Sovereignty resurgence taking place all over Turtle Island where Indigenous Peoples are reasserting themselves as the legitimate governments and caretakers of their territories.

The allied signatory Indigenous Nations aim to prevent a pipeline/train/tanker spill from poisoning their water and to stop the Tar Sands from increasing its output and becoming an even bigger obstacle to solving the climate crisis. The world might not be able to immediately stop using oil tomorrow, but the last thing it needs is more oil, and especially not more of the dirtiest oil on the planet. It is critical that we urgently start building a more sustainable future and signatory Nations want to be at the heart of that building process.

The Treaty’s ban includes the following new, converted or expanded pipeline infrastructure projects in Canada and the US, any of which, if allowed to proceed, would lead to a major expansion of the Tar Sands: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain, TransCanada’s Energy East, TransCanada’s Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, Enbridge’s parallel Alberta Clipper & Line 3.

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“We are allying together to make sure people understand that no means no. The way things are going, it is getting hard to see a future past two generations, let alone being able to plan for 7 more generations.” Grand Chief Serge ‘Otsi’ Simon Mohawk Council of Kanesatake

Only a First Step…

While this particular Treaty targets Tar Sands expansion and the dangerous infrastructure that would fuel such expansion, other alliances between Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island and the world over are essential in safeguarding Indigenous Peoples and in protecting Mother Earth from man’s never-ending greed and violence. Standing Rock is proof that this is an unprecedented time in Indigenous solidarity and leadership…


Oil, water, land, culture – life itself – are all interconnected.  And there are multiple, intersecting ways to fight back.  Bill McKibben outlines this tactic for how you can take direct action.

Fighting Big Oil and Big Banks to Save Sacred Lands, Precious Water and Unraveling Climate

Bill McKibben (September 23, 2016),

Most Americans live far from the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline—they won’t be able to visit the encampments on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where representatives of more than 200 tribes have come together in the most dramatic show of force of this environmental moment. They won’t be able to participate in the daily nonviolent battle along the Missouri River against a $3.7 billion infrastructure project that threatens precious water and myriad sacred sites, not to mention the planet’s unraveling climate.

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TD Bank in Providence, Rhode Island, became the target of environmental and Native American rights activists. Steve Ahlquist /

But most of us live near a bank.

Maybe there’s a Citibank branch in your neighborhood. Or Wells Fargo or Bank of America or HSBC. Maybe you even keep your money in one—if so, you inadvertently helped pay for the guard dogs that attacked Native Americans as they tried to keep bulldozers from mowing down ancestral grave sites.

Maybe you have a retirement plan invested with Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley—if so, you helped buy the pepper spray that the company used to clear the way for its crews as they cleared the right of way straight to the Missouri River.

Perhaps you bank overseas. Credit Agricole? Deutsche Bank? Sumitomo? Royal Bank of Scotland? Barclays? Yeah, them too.

In fact, virtually every name in the financial pantheon has extended credit in some form to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, according to a remarkable dossier assembled by the organization Food & Water Watch…..

“It’s unlikely that Citibank customers support poisoning indigenous peoples’ water, desecrating sacred burial sites, or contributing to global climate change,” said Gloria Fallon of Rising Tide Chicago. Which is true….

Many of these banks may be vulnerable to pressure. For one thing, they’re eager to appear green: Bank of America, for instance, recently announced plans to make all its bank branches “carbon-neutral” by 2020. Which is nice—solar panels on the roof of the drive-thru tellers are better than no solar panels. But as Starbuck said, it’s basically meaningless stacked up against Bank of America’s lending portfolio, chock full of loans to develop “extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world.”

Put another way: They’re going to be the vegan owners of a global chain of slaughterhouses.

Rainforest Action Network’s numbers make clear just how mammoth this problem is for those of us fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground: In June, it reported that just 25 banks have invested “$784 billion in coal mining, coal power, ‘extreme oil’ and liquefied natural gas facilities between 2013 and 2015.”

But there are success stories: Australian campaigners, led by indigenous groups downunder and working with campaigners across three continents, persuaded most of the world’s banks to stop bankrolling plans for what would have been the world’s largest coal mine and port, and in turn, that has helped bring the project to a standstill.

The pressure will increase after this week’s release of a new report from Oil Change International, which makes clear that the oil fields, gas wells, and coal mines already in operation have enough carbon to carry us past the 2-degree target the world set in Paris a year ago (and to absolutely annihilate the stretch goal of 1.5 degrees).

That is to say: At this point, anyone who finances any fossil fuel infrastructure is attempting to make money on the guaranteed destruction of the planet.

So those Dakota Access Pipeline loans should come under new scrutiny—moral, as well as financial—since they assume that governments won’t enforce their Paris promises. That’s a gamble accountants might want to think twice about, especially after this week’s news that the SEC was investigating Exxon for its refusal to write down the value of its reserves in light of the global accords….

Put another way: They’re vegans who will now be lending to tofu makers.

But it’s probably sustained public pressure that will do the most good.

“Oil companies are always going to drill for oil and build pipelines—it’s why they exist,” Rainforest Action Network’s Scott Parkin. “But the banks funding this pipeline have a choice as to where they put their money. Right now, Citibank, TD Bank and others have chosen to invest in a project that violates indigenous rights and destroys the climate.”

Parkin points to the protests that have already sprung up at dozens of banks from DC to New Orleans to Tucson to Long Beach to the Bronx.

“We have the power to derail that loan with a different kind of currency,” he said. “Putting our bodies on the line at any financial institution that says ‘Dakota Access Pipeline, we’re open for business.’“

And if anyone has any doubts that civil disobedience can be useful, remember how the amazing activists at Standing Rock forced the federal government to blink, pausing construction earlier this month. Their nonviolent leadership has inspired all of us—and it should have sent a shiver down the spine of a few bankers.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Yes! Magazine.


Here’s one last, recent update on how things are going on the sacred ground of Standing Rock.

21 Arrested During Peaceful Prayer Ceremony at Standing Rock

Dan Zukowski (September 29, 2016),

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department, whose officers used mace and unleashed dogs on Dakota Access Pipeline protestors earlier this month, sent in armored vehicles and arrested 21 people Wednesday at two sites. But a video released by those at the Sacred Ground Camp shows unarmed protestors conducting a prayer ceremony involving the planting of willow and corn.

“We had a really nice ceremony,” said a Sicangu Lakota grandmother. “Then we looked and over that way, there were a few police and the next thing we knew there were 40 police all in riot gear.”

Police moved in as peaceful demonstrators stood with their hands up. The video then shows officers confronting the protestors, grabbing women and ordering everyone into their cars.

“I’ve never had a gun pointed at me,” said the grandmother. “I went into shock.”

In a press release issued Wednesday by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, they allege that “a protester on horseback charged at an officer in what was viewed as an act of aggression.”

Another video shows at least three riders on horseback but does not show any “charging” toward officers. At least one officer raised his weapon toward the civilians even as they shouted, “We are unarmed. We have no weapons.”

According to the Indian Country news site,, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier “has previously come under fire for spreading his own rumors. As thousands began to flock to North Dakota in early August, he claimed there were pipe bombs at the encampment but resisters told The New York Times that he was mistaken by the presence of sacred Chanunpa pipes used during ceremonies.”

The military-style show of force came as a surprise to the 60-vehicle caravan traveling to three sacred sites. The first of these was the Sacred Ground Camp, where ancestral sites have been desecrated. This was the location of the Sept. 3 attack using dogs. In a separate video posted by Indigenous EnviroNet on Twitter, they argue that North Dakota media has portrayed the protestors as violent and stress that their movement has always been about non-violence, prayer and peace.

Thomas H. Joseph II, who filmed one of the videos from yesterday’s arrests, posted on Facebook, “Today’s action where uncalled for, the police was a direct threat to woman and children.”

Famed actor Robert Redford spoke out Wednesday in defense of those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. “If this is legal, one must seriously question the laws of the land,” Redford said. “They are laws that prioritize the profits of energy companies over the rights of people who actually have to live on the land, drink its water and eat its food.”


If this is how things stood at the beginning of October, the struggle will continue.

Call to Action in October

“Power Shift Network”


October could be a pivotal month for resistance against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Somewhere in Washington D.C., an Army Corps of Engineers official is preparing to make the decision as to whether to enforce proper review of the pipeline. On the banks of the Missouri River, the Sacred Stone Camp is preparing for the cold North Dakota winters. And on campuses around the country, students are making plans to take action.

Whether you can raise a ruckus to resist a local pipeline, or raise awareness about the Dakota Access fight, the time is now.

Today, I’m excited to announce a new Stopping Dakota Access and Enbridge Toolkit, designed to help you do just that!


The Climate Justice movement stands with Standing Rock.  We all – and the Earth, our Pachamama – will stand or fall together.  Everywhere.  John.

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Photo taken by the author in his home town, Santa Barbara, California, on Indigenous Chumash ground

Tags: building resilient communities, climate justice movement, indigenous social movements, pipeline projects