Since August, my social media timeline has been fairly well-inundated by updates on the Dakota Access Pipeline protest near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
I have family in North Dakota. My mom grew up in Dickey County. My grandfather used to work roundups in the area we’re discussing. A cousin owns land up in the Bakkans and has expanded his business to a town in the area. So, of course, I discussed the situation with him and he sent me some information about it.
At the same time, my cousins on the Res — the other side of my mom’s family who live in Oklahoma — have been sending me posts where the builders of the Dakota Access are the default villains in this whole situation. Add to that all the people who have jumped on the bandwagon of the “poor beleaguered Indians who are having their land stolen” and my irritation meter is starting to tick over into the red.
Protests always get the media attention. People are drawn to civil disobedience that seem to pit David against Goliath. It’s an American tradition to accomplish great social good by waving signs and refusing to move. Idealistic sacrifice for a grand cause is a powerful narrative.
Big corporations, like the one building the pipeline, cannot count on media or public support, especially not in a day when the public is weary of crony deals amid powerful elites crushing the rights of others. “Why should anyone take the side of wealthy entitled bullies?” is how the narrative plays out.
The problem with this narrative is that it doesn’t apply to this particular situation. The real story is a contest between a commercial enterprise that is respecting the property rights of the Standing Rock Sioux in its effort to vastly improve the energy infrastructure of the Bakkans and bring new prosperity to the area and a coalition of interest groups that couldn’t give a care about the Standing Rock Sioux.
Amy Goodman of the protest group Democracy Now broke into a construction site on private land and, apparently unaware of the 5th Amendment, conveniently filmed the crime for our enlightenment. The film with commentary and other related videos is available to view here.
If you follow all the videos, you’ll see how Goodman captured Sioux trespassers walking in formation, beating security dogs with sticks, which resulted in injury to at least one dog. These dogs were not “set lose” on the protesters. The dogs’ job is to protect the equipment when humans are not available to do so. The dogs were responding to trespassers as they have been trained to do … as my yellow Lab would attempt to do if you broke into my house when I wasn’t around. Back in August, this breakin was reported as the trespassers being the ones attacked while passively strolling along, but the film shows them being active and aggressive.
Here we are, two months later and the civil unrest in Cannon Ball is escalating to dangerous levels as the protesters increasing work to damage infrastructure and possibly harm themselves in the process. The destruction has grown from cutting a wire fence to break into the construction side to setting trucks on fire and rendering the bridge the trucks were on unusable and unstable. The aggression has heighted from sticks and flag poles to guns, Molotov cocktails and improved explosive devices made of propane cylinders.A woman lost her arm and the protesters claimed the police somehow did it while deploying beanbag loads for crowd-control, but there’s reason to believe it was actually a homemade bomb created by the protesters. The FBI is investigating.
I would note that there’s about 300 protesters and about 20 cops to contain them, so it’s a fraught situation.
So, what about the claims that police are using water cannons on the protesters. I suppose you could consider it partially true. When police used fire hoses to douse the burning trucks, the 400 or so protesters who started the trucks on fire and gathered around them did get wet. There are many photos and videos available on line (including a heavily-edited Standing Rock protest site photo that crops out the blazing fire in the background) that show protesters atop piles of burning rubble, dancing in the water stream.
My North Dakota cousin says the hope is that with winter coming, this protest will die off.
It’s important to understand that the Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for this pipeline, which runs in parallel with existing pipelines. In other words, this is not pristine wilderness where cultural artifacts (if any exist) have been undisturbed. This is a major infrastructure corridor. The Army Corps of Engineers proposed a December 5 2016 deadline for protesters to remove themselves from a rancher’s leased land.
Most people really don’t know what to believe, but find the professionally edited campaign videos by the environmental groups driving the protest to be very moving. After all, they have music and dramatic imagery and imaginative location names like “Red Warrior Camp.”
Please understand that its no longer just the Standing Rock Sioux involved in this thing. Similar to how Wounded Knee started with a small group, this has drawn support from very far away and there is some large money circulating.
Many of the Standing Rock Sioux who are involved in protest say their tribal administration did not adequately inform them of the project. That’s kind of hard to believe because according to the Army Corps of Engineers, project leaders participated in 559 meetings in communities along the pipeline route. There were 43 regulatory hearings, public meetings and open houses where people could share their concerns with public officials. Regarding specific tribal concerns, the Army Corps of Engineers participated in 389 meetings with 55 tribes. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe itself had nearly a dozen meetings with the Corps — they refused or did not show up to several others.
I work in a field where public meetings are required for every project we do and they are well advertised because the law specifies what is required. We work in Alaska Native villages a lot and they show up … so long as we bring pizza and soda (sorry, that is a truth that makes me snicker).
In the case of Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, Dave Archambault, who failed to show up seven times to scheduled meetings, it is possible he did the common Native American thing of thinking he could wait until sometime in the future to protest. Sorry, that’s another observation from a fringe-insider. Reservation Indians always seem to think they have decades to deal with a situation. It is possible the DAPL project moved too fast for him. On the other hand, as I suggested in an earlier blog post, this might have been willful obstruction in hopes of a more profitable outcome. Tribal government is often quite lucrative for the tribal administration.
Archambault proved completely derelict in identifying sacred sites for the planners. Why would he do that? I don’t know the man, but his sister worked for the Obama administration until May 2016 and there is this photo of Archambault with the Obamas back in June 2014 … right about the time the public meeting process was going on. You don’t need a tinfoil hat to think promises might have been made … as they were when President Obama visited Western Alaska, a mess we’ll be dealing with for a decade or more.
Other protesters include white, middle-class, urban singles seeking adventure … rebels without a cause who are turning this into something like a Burning Man party.
“Just wanna note some white people – just showed up to Standing Rock – who want to spend donations on fluoride free water instead of tap.” — Nihiixoohoothitho (@teeteeseiht) November 13, 2016
In other words, they don’t know what they’re protesting, but if there’s some good ganga involved, they’re there!
Not all the Standing Rock Sioux agree with the protesters. Native communities have much to be concerned about today. Jobs would be nice and so would better education for their kids. The pipeline is part of a complex of pipelines that cross the Missouri River in that basic area. This pipeline poses no different threat than any of the others. It will provide a safe, efficient way to get Bakkan oil to the refinery without using trucks and tank cars, which are demonstratively less safe.
Putting on my tinfoil hat for just a moment, I think this was all planned back in 2014. Obama told Archambault to ignore the Corps meetings and promised to do exactly what he is doing now. Why? Because commercial enterprises like the construction company building the DAPL have bottom lines and they can’t afford to wait forever to build this thing. Their financing goes away if they do that. The regulatory system that pipelines require is lengthy, complex and expensive, but companies like this know how to shepherd their application to permit. Had the Standing Rock Sioux showed up at the public meetings to voice their concerns, they would have had their concerns addressed. The burial sites would have been protected, there would have been excessive and unnecessary safety protocols put in place to assure the construction did not contaminate the water. And, ultimately, the pipeline would have been built … just like the other pipelines in the area.
But violent protests … that has a propaganda cache that the environmentalists can use. President Obama knows that. And he knew that whoever the President-elect was come this fall, he would still be president and he could make his last months in office memorable. And, in the meantime, the pipeline company is slowly being bled dry by these protests, so that it is entirely possible that a perfectly legal pipeline, planned with great care to avoid conflict with stakeholders, won’t be built because the company won’t be able to sustain financing.
Yeah, it’s the unethical world that we live in.