Army Corps deadline looms at Standing Rock

February 22, 2017

Federal agencies are doing Trump's dirty work to get the Dakota Access Pipeline built, in defiance of massive solidarity with the water protectors, writes Brian Ward.

WATER PROTECTORS are facing a February 22 eviction order to clear protest camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, following the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capitulation to a Trump administration command to reverse itself and permit construction on a key part of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Days after taking office, Trump signed a presidential memorandum ordering the Army Corps to expedite building permits for the DAPL and even the long-defunct Keystone XL pipeline. The Army Corps did Trump's bidding, granting a permit for Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to drill under Lake Oahe along the Missouri River, without bothering to complete the environmental impact statement it had earlier mandated.

ETP got started immediately with drilling in an area that is sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The company brags that it can have the DAPL operational within 30 days.

The Army Corps followed up its drilling permit with orders to clear encampments from land it controls along the Cannonball River. Meanwhile, the water protectors who remain at the Standing Rock camps have faced intensified repression from law enforcement agencies at all levels, from federal to local.

Taking a stand at Standing Rock
Taking a stand at Standing Rock

SINCE TRUMP'S announcement in January, supporters of the Standing Rock water protectors, including military veterans, have tried to go back to previously established protest camps, or set up new ones.

But some veterans told the media they were being targeted by law enforcement. Likewise, longtime water protectors have been picked up and charged with serious federal charges that could lead to many years in prison. "Our brothers and sisters are being snatched right in front of us," water protector Aubree Peckham told the Guardian.

At the beginning of February, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and local authorities arrested about 74 people who were setting up another camp on land claimed by ETP. The BIA has agreed to work with other law enforcement agencies to make sure that the area is cleared by the February 22 deadline.

Michael Black, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, echoed the line that proponents of the pipeline have repeated again and again: "The closing of the camps is a matter of public health and safety, and working together at this time will allow for the safe removal of waste and debris that will impact the local environment and protection of those camped."

Clearly, the BIA and other authorities aren't concerned about the damage--in the form of waste, debris and worse--that a completed DAPL will do to the community.

Meanwhile, the company is escalating its propaganda offensive, with ETP Executive Vice President Joey Mahmoud submitting written testimony to Congress that accused the water protectors of violence. "Had these actions been undertaken by foreign nationals," Mahmoud said, "they could only be described as acts of terrorism."

The irony, of course, is that ETP and the U.S. government are invading Lakota treaty territory to build the pipeline--and their private security goons, along with police, have been the ones prepared to use violence to get their way.

IN JANUARY, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council decided to call for all protest camps to be cleared and said it would request federal aid on this basis. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, who previously welcomed the mass show of solidarity that swelled the encampments, now insists that the fight must take place in the courts.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed a new lawsuit to call on a temporary halt of the pipeline. This followed a recent court ruling that threw out a case calling for a restraining order on ETP.

The legal strategy of the tribal council has caused a split among water protectors. Many of the Indigenous people who have been resisting the pipeline called Archambault's direction a mistake. After all, as they argue, if any people in the U.S. know that the courts can't be relied on to dispense justice, it's Native Americans. The federal government has been historically unfaithful in honoring treaty rights with any number of Indigenous nations.

Besides, the courts had nothing to do with the water protectors' previous victories at Standing Rock, including a halt to construction in December, just hours before a previously threatened eviction date.

With the showdown looming, tens of thousands of people poured into the Oceti Sakowin camp, including representatives of hundreds of Indigenous nations and a huge delegation of military veterans, Native and non-Native alike. This mobilization was the culmination of an inspiring show of solidarity that built over months of action.

Ultimately, the Army Corps, then under the control of the Obama administration, refused to grant the necessary easement to drill under Lake Oahe, pending a study on the environmental impact of the pipeline.

The spirit of solidarity with Standing Rock has continued into the new year, despite the contemptuous actions of the new Trump administration. Hundreds of solidarity actions took place around the country during a week of action from February 12-17, focused mainly on a call to pressure financial institutions to divest from DAPL.

Some localities have started to divest from Wells Fargo, a large financer of the DAPL. On February 1, the Seattle City Council Finance Committee voted unanimously to pull funds from the mega-bank for its support for the pipeline. The measure will go to the full City Council for a vote that could result in the city pulling $3 billion from the bank.

Despite the Tribal Council call for water protectors to leave, veterans mobilized again to the resistance camps at Standing Rock in an effort to stand in the way of another eviction order. But it is a much smaller mobilization that remains on the site today.

Moreover, this time, Donald Trump is president, and he has made it abundantly clear that he will keep pipeline projects like DAPL going by any means necessary. His presidency has been weakened by major clashes with sections of the ruling political and business establishment. But when it comes to escalating production of fossil fuels, no matter what the cost to people or the planet, the ruling class is united.

The about-face by the Army Corps in withdrawing its own order for an environmental impact study and the even more aggressive actions of law enforcement show that the Trump administration is able to make itself felt. The possibility for state repression and violence on February 22 is real.

But the struggle at Standing Rock is part of a centuries-old fight, and it won't end with bullying executive order for Donald Trump. No matter what happens on February 22, we need to support the fight against DAPL and every pipeline and against the attacks on Indigenous sovereignty under the Trump regime.

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