Above: Protestors outside of TD Canada Trust in Victoria on September 23. Photo via Colton Hash.
By contributor James Churnsa-Jones
The long and hard struggle between the people of Standing Rock and the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry continues in North Dakota. By now you should have already seen the pictures and videos of Native American protestors on horseback, or heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), also known as the Brakken Pipeline.
Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners plans to continue with construction of the US $3.8 billion oil pipeline despite protests against it. If built, the DAPL will be around 1900 km long and stretch from the Brakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. It would also go though a sacred Native American burial site and Lake Oahe which is right near the Reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Tribal members of the Standing Rock Sioux have been staunchly opposed to the pipeline ever since the construction threatened their way of life. There is also much concern that the oil could potentially leak into their fresh water supply, as many oil pipelines tend to burst. Those who are confronting the construction crews prefer to call themselves “land defenders” or “water protectors” rather than protesters, and often use the phrase “water is life”.
Most importantly, the people of Standing Rock never consented to having an oil pipeline being built near their reservation, yet Energy Transfer Partners has not respected their wishes.
It began on April 1 when citizens of Standing Rock and their allies set up the Sacred Stone camp by the Cannonball River, directly in the path of the pipeline’s construction. “This started with a prayer,” said David Archambault, Tribal Chairman of Standing Rock. Soon after, the Red Warrior camp was established nearby to help. What started off as small eventually snowballed in a much larger movement as more and more people joined the camp. Eventually it began to catch the attention of mainstream news networks and stories began to leak out. BBC even reported it as “the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years”.
The protectors opposing the pipeline have faced many challenges from private security guards and construction workers. Images of attack dogs with blood on their mouths caught attention on social media last month followed by reports of security guards using them against the people at the camp. Officers in riot gear using tear gas and pepper spray was reported as well. Recently, militarized police have arrived on the scene in armoured vehicles and have even pointed their guns at the land defenders. So far there have been over 100 arrests.
Despite the hardships, the camp at Standing Rock has gained support from far and wide. Among the many who have joined the camp are US Green Party leader Jill Stein, Hollywood actress Shailene Woodley, and Nanaimo resident Derrick Manson. Shailene Woodley was recently arrested on site for “criminal trespassing”.
Other supporters of Standing Rock include members of US Congress and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who on Twitter called the DAPL “dangerous”.
Anonymous has even become involved by launching an operation against the pipeline with the hashtag #OpNoDapl. In August a sector in Canada uploaded a YouTube video titled “OpNoDapl Anonymous Message to Obama” declaring that they “stand in solidarity with all tribes of Indigenous people against the Dakota Access Pipeline” and urged the US president to “put forth a direct order” to stop the pipeline.
In September the Obama administration did order a temporary halt to construction of the pipeline near the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior Camps. The US Department of Justice, Department of the Army, and The Department of the Interior even released a joint statement urging for further review of the project.
In the recent months there has been a movement to boycott TD Canada Trust, and protests have been held outside their branches to show solidarity for the Sioux Nation. The reason for this is because TD is Canada’s largest financial contributor of the DAPL, having invested $365 million into it. Other Canadian banks funding the pipeline are the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Nova Scotia, investing $340 million and $100 million respectively.
On September 12 of this year, a large crowd gathered outside the Toronto Dominion tower in Vancouver carrying signs and drums. “We are calling on everyone to deactivate their personal and business TD bank accounts and for TD to divest their money from the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said one of the organizers.
Another protest was held in Victoria on September 23. A sizable crowd gathered by the entrance of the TD branch on 1080 Douglas St., right in the heart of downtown Victoria. The branch closed for three business hours due to the protest and there were no arrests.
There will be more protests outside branches of TD Canada Trust; VIU’s Student Organization for Social Change (SOSC) is hosting one on October 22 outside the branch in Nanaimo on 9 Nichol St and another the day after in Duncan on 351 Island Highway, both starting at 1 pm.
The struggle at Standing Rock is now one of the largest movements in North America and has gained international recognition. This is the first time since 1875 that all the Lakota tribes have come together at the Cannonball River, and Indigenous people from across the globe have travelled to Standing Rock to join in on the action.
Tribal leaders of the camp plan to continue with non-violent means and civil disobedience. As cold weather approaches the protectors of the Sacred Stone Camp have dug their heels in the ground and are preparing for a long legal battle.