Thousands Protest Against Dakota Access in Front of White House
Indigenous activists and their supporters gathered in D.C. to condemn executive and state-level plans for continued pipeline construction and expansion of fracking
KIM BROWN: The beating of drums and choruses of chants filled the air Friday, as swells of demonstrators wound their way through the streets of downtown Washington D.C. The Native Nations Rise march was a global call to action to unite with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the embattled nation who has fought for years against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, across their sacred lands.
With the blessing of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were granted the final permit in February, for the portion of the pipeline to run under a Missouri River reservoir, which the tribe says is their primary source of drinking water. Those impacted directly by oil pipelines expressed their concerns.
MARLIS: We’re from Standing Rock. I come from Rock Creek, South Dakota. I am a great grandmother and I believe everyone should have a right to clean water. And the pipeline is already under our river, and when it bursts, it will contaminate our water — not only us, but for 18 million people downstream, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Every living plant, animal and humans will die.
NIQUI AMERICAN HORSE: With our Native peoples beginning to come out and speak up, and being more educated, you know, we eventually want to get that land back, you know? We’re not just only for the money aspect of it, you know, but just to be a bigger nation, a stronger nation, you know? And you know, there was kind of a controversy coming out saying, “Oh, you guys are only fighting for your lands.” And you know that’s not the truth. It’s not, you know, we want to protect whatever land we have left, not only for our future generations, but for everybody, you know?
KIM BROWN: Friday’s march wrapped a week of lobbying on Capitol Hill by Native leaders, along with a symbolic camp on the National Mall. The Native American Indian Housing Council held their annual conference, and on Wednesday, a number of tribal officials addressed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, attended by newly sworn in Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, whose agency oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
RYAN ZINKE: Now, I have the honor to lead the very department that unfortunately has not always stood shoulder to shoulder with the tribes, and the communities they represent. Many reservations continue to struggle, as we are all aware. Often times unemployment rates, and lack of business opportunities prevail. Indian schools, roads, and houses are literally falling apart.
Despite all this, the Administration has an opportunity to foster a new economic period of productivity through improved infrastructure, expanded access, in all the above energy process.
PAUL TORRES: My oral testimony will focus on three APCG priority issues, for the Trump Administration. One, is tribal consultation; two, the Federal Indian Budget; and three, Indian healthcare.
ALVIN NOT AFRAID JR: For many years coal has been the main stay of the Crowe Reservation economy. However, various Federal regulatory initiatives during the previous administration in D.C., have taken serious toll on the western coal industry, and especially on the production of coal, and other Indian coal owners. My administration is aggressively pursuing other economic development projects, including renewable energy, to diversify and reduce our dependence on coal revenues, but those will take time, probably many years.
KEITH B. ANDERSON: When Secretary Zinke, and President Trump, face competing pressures to allocate scarce federal funds, we’ll ask Secretary Zinke to remind his colleagues in the administration, of the many contributions in blood, and treasure that Native tribes have made to the welfare of the United States over two centuries. And we will ask that he help maintain that federal funding that is inherently owed.
KIM BROWN: Yet, some tribal leaders were not feeling particularly welcomed by the nation’s policy makers, especially by President Donald Trump. The head of the tribe at the center of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s standoff, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambeault, told the Washington Post that a scheduled meeting with Trump was abruptly cancelled, only after the Chairman had landed in Washington, after travelling from North Dakota.
The issue of government’s respect, or lack thereof, for the sovereignty of Native American nations and tribes, was on the minds of some of those who attended the march and the rally.
MARLIS: We are here to tell the President that we want no more pipelines anywhere, not only Standing Rock. It will contaminate our waterways, our aquifers. We are fighting, and this is our last stand here. We don’t know if we’re going to win, but we’re here.
KIM BROWN: Others didn’t have to look too far to recall the force of U.S. law enforcement used against indigenous peoples.
RALLY SPEAKER: The Native American government…
FRANKIE TSO JUNIOR: They… they… you guys have seen the videos. You guys have seen the live feeds. You guys know that we get tear-gassed; we get pepper sprayed; we get shot with rubber bullets; we get shot with beanbags. And we never had weapons. We never had weapons from the start. The only weapons we had was our heart, and our strong spirit, and the will to stand for Mother Earth.
KIM BROWN: And how long were you at the Standing Rock encampment?
FRANKIE TSO JUNIOR: I was there from August 5th to the… when we got kicked out.
KIM BROWN: And at any point in time did you feel as if your life was in danger from law enforcement?
FRANKIE TSO JUNIOR: Oh yes. I’ve… I’ve been shot from the… I’ve been shot in the back of the leg, lost… I lost a little… lots of my leg… my leg… my leg balance. It made me lose my balance. I’ve felt getting… getting pointed out, getting laughed at by the cops — it really hurts me because watching them hurt women and children; watching them tackle down peace pipe carriers, people who are walking in prayer, doing… I don’t know, just… It just really hurts me. They… they’ve damaged me more mentally, than physically.
KIM BROWN: As at Standing Rock, in Washington environmental activists allies called for the Trump Administration to keep it in the ground, and to put a halt to greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources, such as fracking and tar sands.
CAROLINE: I’m a pipeline fighter with Bold Alliance. We represent the Appalachian Region. So, I’m here to help stop fracked gas pipelines, transmission pipelines, like the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. I got involved with this two and a half years ago, when we were contacted by a natural gas company that wants to run a transmission pipeline through our family farm.
So, that kind of got me in the mix of here. So, I’m a landowner that’s affected by this nasty black snake, and we are here in solidarity with Standing Rock, to say no to pipelines. These are risky. They’re dangerous. These are private companies that want to take land, and have the power of eminent domain, to take our land for their private gain, their financial benefit. It’s greed.
RALLIERS: …”We stand with Standing Rock! We stand with Standing Rock! We Stand with Standing Rock.”…
YONASDA LONEWOLF: We are at war with our water. And our backyard here, right here, in Washington D.C., Baltimore, there is lead in the contaminated water pipes. The infrastructure of the water pipes all across this nation is at least 100 years old. The most recent, newest ones, is in the 1930s.
And so, there is a huge war with our water. This government, the Trump Administration, and Trump, just did an Executive Order for the pipes that was supposed to get fixed in Flint, the money that — he just stopped that. So, the people of Flint are not going to have those water pipes fixed.
Then we have the Dakota Access Pipeline that is being built, as we are here rallying. We have the Keystone XL that is going to be, you know, that we are going to have to fight next; and as well, so many pipelines.
So, from our water source, to all the way to how we get our water from the source, with the pipes — we’re dealing with contaminated water. And all we’re supposed to have is clean water.
GOVERNOR O’MALLY: I’m out here to stand in solidarity with our Native American brothers and sisters, and really, in solidarity with the Earth, that we have an obligation to pass on to our kids, healthy enough to support life. So, I believe that there’s a renewable energy future waiting to be born. And we need to stop ramming oil lines, and pipelines through Native territories, and embrace the future.
KIM BROWN: Governor O’Malley, when you were in office, you signed a temporary moratorium on fracking in the State of Maryland, and it’s not been firm, but you at least took the initial steps to try to keep fracking out of the State of Maryland. Do you think that the fracking ban that is currently in front of the Maryland General Assembly, do you think that will pass?
GOVERNOR O’MALLY: I hope so. I think the Legislature needs to pass a ban, especially as long as Larry Hogan is in office. We put forward trying to put some speed humps in his activity — the toughest restrictions, you know, zero methane release –the toughest restrictions in the country. He’s watered those down greatly.
I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a guy who believes that the Earth is to be extracted and exploited, and the waters and rivers be damned. So, I hope the General Assembly passes the ban.
DEMONSTRATORS:: (chanting and drumming)…
KIM BROWN: The Native Nations United March is estimated to have drawn about 1,000 protestors. Some estimates, as high as 3,000. But the message they wanted to send to the President of the United States is very clear. Although, Donald Trump signed the Executive Order green-lighting the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, the fight for clean water rights, and indigenous people rights, is far from over.
Reporting for The Real News Network in Washington, I’m Kim Brown.