(UR) Sacred Stone, North Dakota — While Keystone XL, perhaps one of the most newsworthy oil pipelines in recent memory, lies dead at Obama’s feet, the government has silently approved its replacement. Although not specifically an inheritor for Keystone, the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL) measures only seven miles shorter and seeks to achieve the same ends as Keystone: moving domestically mined crude oil overland to be refined for export and consumption.
Like Keystone, DAPL has also become a focus of environmental protestors and activists, specifically among Native Americans who, understandable and legally, see the government approval as having come at their expense, and with complete indifference to territorial and treaty rights.
Planned for construction to begin this year, DAPL has received approval across all levels of government oversight and Dakota Access, LLP is keen to begin. Problematically for the project, government approval is providing the means for several Native American Nations to pull together in an effort to see DAPL go the way of Keystone, executive order or not.
What is at stake here in the eyes of settler environmentalists is pretty clear: The potential environmental impact of the construction of a pipeline, not to mention what happens if it leaks or fails, is massive. For Native activists, the issues are slightly more nuanced, and need to be analysed within the context of ongoing colonization.
For many indigenous cultures the world over, nature and culture are not separable. Where nature, to settlers, is something to be categorized and examined, many Native American cultures view themselves as aspects of an interconnected system, and therefore interact with the living world in a much different, closer way. Legally, this argument has always been problematic. Perhaps more importantly in the colonial setting, and within the American legal framework, the proposed DAPL crosses recognized treaty land, held by Native American Nations. This legal reality, despite treaties often being ignored, gives the protest some legal standing.
This week the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with support from the International Indian Treaty Council, brought their protest to the United Nations, asking that an international decision be made that brings planned construction to a halt. By positioning their appeal as a human rights issue, the Standing Rock Sioux are using other legal structures against those of a repressive and colonial state.
Even while the Standing Rock Sioux appeal awaits reaction from the U.N., protesters on the ground have met with some success. Sacred Stone, a protest camp launched by the Standing Rock Sioux, now stands in DAPL’s way, as “hundreds of indigenous activists have shut down construction.” Their protest and direct action, unfortunately, is being met with increasing hostility from government agencies.
This week, the FBI began an investigation into an incident that saw a laser pointer being aimed at a surveillance aircraft. Although no charges have yet been filed, federally or at the state level, investigation, surveillance, and other coercive tactics against Native American protesters are nothing new. By invoking federal aviation law, the FBI has granted itself the ability to begin investigating members of what has primarily been a peaceful protest.
Meanwhile, both protesters and construction workers await the decision of a federal court set to be given Wednesday, 24 August, over an injunction against the Standing Rock Sioux and their fellow activists. With federal courts moving quickly when oil pipelines are at stake, and the U.N. being notoriously slow and laborious, forcing the construction company to file an injunction is possibly the first step on a long road to killing another terrible serpent that threatens to break the earth opened.
For Native American activists, it is unfortunately one of the only avenues they have left to reassert their territorial rights.
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