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Activists react to pipeline news

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Last Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers made a decision that gave hope to the people demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction. Further construction of the pipeline was halted when the Army Corps did not grant an easement required to dig under Lake Oahe, a reservoir used by the Standing Rock Sioux as a source of drinking water.

While good news, anti-DAPL activists aren’t celebrating quite yet, and are skeptical of the permanence of the decision. Construction of the pipeline has not been stopped but potentially rerouted pending the result of environmental impact studies, and activists are concerned that the fees levied against Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners if they continue to dig will not deter construction.

“I’m happy but not optimistic,” said Yellow Springs resident Isaac DeLamatre, who traveled to North Dakota in November to deliver supplies to people demonstrating against the pipeline. “With a Trump presidency, it might mean next to nothing.”

Thousands of people have been gathered on Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands since the spring to protest the DAPL. Activists, calling themselves “water protectors,” are demonstrating against what they see as an act of environmental degradation and a continued assault on indigenous rights. Protectors have been met by police from all over the country, who have employed dogs, sound cannons, rubber bullets and water hoses in freezing temperatures in an attempt to disperse the demonstrations. Members from over 100 tribes have travelled to Standing Rock, and the protest  has gathered support nationwide, using #NoDAPL as a rallying cry.

Guy Jones, a Dayton resident who grew up on the Standing Rock reservation before moving to Ohio in 1981, has been coordinating activities between area groups agitating against the pipeline. There was much local interest in doing something to benefit the demonstrators, he said, and a network of demonstrators would be more efficacious in raising awareness and collecting goods for those at Standing Rock, especially considering the resources at the disposal of the government and pipeline investors.  

“Many people have not dealt with a truly fascist regime,” he said. “If you know the history of the government’s relationship to indigenous people, you know that the battle still goes on.”

Yellow Springs resident Shawn Tulecke agrees with Jones, and plans to continue the demonstrations he has helped to organize. He and other local activists have been mounting weekly demonstrations at the local Speedway and Speedway’s headquarters in Enon in order to raise awareness about the issue. Speedway is owned by Marathon, which is an investor in the pipeline. The demonstrations in Enon are every Wednesday from 4–6 p.m., and the demonstrations at the Speedway in Yellow Springs every Friday, from 4–6 p.m.

He likened the news of the Corps’ decision to doing well on the first assignment of a semester-long course.

“It would be foolish to stop trying after that first success,” he said.

In fact, Tulecke helped organize a benefit for the water protectors scheduled for this weekend in Yellow Springs. The “family-friendly” event will take place from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Spirited Goat. It is an all-day affair, he said, with an art auction throughout the day and performances by the Gin-Soaked Angels and other bands in the evening. 

“It’s a great opportunity to have a party and feel like you’re contributing something positive to the community and society,” Tulecke said.

The nexus of anti-DAPL activity are two encampments located on Sioux lands near Cannon Ball, N.D., close to the construction site. DeLamatre recently organized a trip to the camps in order to deliver donated food and winter supplies.

DeLamatre made the drive with his two young sons and two fellow Antioch College staff members, a 24-hour drive that often included treacherous winter conditions. The camps, while frequently described as “small cities,” were not easy to locate when he arrived in Cannon Ball. Given the vastness of the state, North Dakotans’ interpretation of “close by” differs greatly from Ohioans’, he said. But the caravan eventually reached the camps, where DeLamatre and his cohorts were greeted by a former Antioch student, who showed them around.  

Sacred Stone, the first camp they reached, had “hundreds” of residents, while the second camp, Oceti Sakowin, boasts a population of thousands. The camps had innumerable tents and lodges, DeLamatre said, including a “free store” with gloves and hats and a yurt serving as an elementary school. There were people taking inventory of food donations, setting up Internet networks and building more structures out of hay bales.

“There were camps within camps,” he said. “Everyone was busy doing something.”

DeLamatre, Antioch’s food service coordinator, was impressed by the ad hoc kitchens that sprouted up around the camp. One woman was making so much hamburger in an enormous cauldron that she had to stir it with a shovel, he said. He donated the food items he brought to her kitchen, and his sons gave the school supplies they collected at the Yellow Springs Montessori School to the camp’s school.

The entire movement was indigenous-led, DeLamatre noted. A sacred fire is maintained around the clock, and the sense of solemnity and seriousness is manifest. To see what a spiritually guided mission looks like is very powerful, he said.

But for DeLamatre, seeing what the camp has accomplished makes the situation all the more dire, and the possibility of renewed digging all the more heartbreaking. 

“The investors might just do it anyway,” he said. “Nobody is going to jail, and they can just work the fines into their business plan. They’re operating within a framework that benefits itself. Until the investors pack up and go home, there’s no victory.” 

But DeLamatre also hopes that the lessons learned from the NoDAPL movement can be applied to other struggles around the country, including the estimated 2.5 million miles of energy pipelines in the country, and the water crises in Louisiana and Flint, Michigan. There’s no end to the fight, DeLamatre said, because it’s related to all other fights.

Tulecke agrees. Even if the pipeline is successfully diverted away from indigenous lands, he said, he and other activists will oppose construction wherever it is rerouted. The 100 million metric tons of carbon emissions the pipeline is estimated to emit (equivalent to the output of 30 coal plants) is something the planet cannot afford, he said, and it’s important to oppose the “dirty energy” infrastructure in its entirety.

“Just like we’ve disregarded the treaty rights of Native Americans, we disregard treaties on pollution and environmental contamination,” he said.

Nevertheless, the most recent development in the DAPL saga is encouraging.

“It’s important to say this is a victory,” Tulecke said. “It shows that people power can overcome investments by the one percent.”

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