By Michael Sainato

On November 20, members of the Lakota Law Project delivered a petition of 55,000 signatures to the Morton County State Attorney’s office to have the remaining charges against water protectors against the Dakota Access Pipeline dropped. The petition was delivered on the one year anniversary of a violent attack by police on water protectors at the Standing Rock camp, during which 21 year old Sofia Wilansky nearly lost her arm she was hit with the explosion from a concussion grenade.

“We have been in the front line for ten years fighting off pipelines that have come through treaty territory,” said Phyllis Young, a Standing Rock Sioux elder, former Standing Rock Sioux Council member, and coordinator/organizer for Central Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main camp of Water Protectors at Standing Rock, at the petition delivery. “This petition is representative of what happened a year ago, the most violent confrontation that occurred by TigerSwan in cooperation with every law enforcement, local, regional, and national. The crimes and acts of war that occurred a year ago today is why we are commemorating today and putting forth the petition for dismissal of the additional charges that people are facing in the court system.”

The water protectors working to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline that went into full operation in June 2017 were vindicated by the Keystone Pipeline spill last week of 210,000 gallons, though reports have noted the spill could have been much larger than that. The spill debunks claims from oil companies that pipelines are safe and don’t leak, yet the evidence from oil pipelines have proven otherwise.

“The exact same analysis that is used by Trans Canada to assert no reasonable expectation of a spill along any given length of pipeline was used by Energy Transfer Partners in the case of the Dakota Access pipeline,” said Daniel Sheehan,  Lakota people’s Law Project Chief Counsel, said in an interview with me. “These companies feel justified in not even including a clean up proposal in their environmental assessment. Yet, their assertions with regards to safety is a false positive proved over and over again —200 times in the last seven years — to be false and unsupportable. There have been 200 leaks in pipelines operated by Sonoco Logistics alone since 2010.”

In October 2017, a federal court ruled the Dakota Access Pipeline can remain operational while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts its environmental review, which is expected to be completed by April 2018. As litigation has come up short to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, efforts are now focused on having the remaining charges against water protectors dropped.

According to the Lakota People’s Project, 409 cases have been acquitted, dismissed or deferred so far, while 323 cases are outstanding and an additional 99 cases with outstanding warrants have not been activated. The water protectors still facing charges are either without representation still or are defended by the Water Protectors Legal Collective.

Among the outstanding cases still pending include those of Chase Iron Eyes and HolyElk Lafferty, who intend to use a rare “necessity” defense, arguing that they had no choice but to protest the pipeline due to its potential to harm their communities and the environment.

“Chase Iron Eyes and HolyElk Lafferty, the two ‘necessity defense’ defendants represented by Lakota People’s Law Project, have had additional discovery approved and combined by their respective judges,” added Sheehan.  “They will now have until May 2018  to conduct this discovery and gather evidence to support their claim that they had no alternative but to resist against the Dakota Access pipeline due to its great threat of harm both to their communities downstream from the pipeline crossing, and the world as a whole thanks to climate change caused by the oil industry.”

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