At the beginning of the year US President Donald Trump gave the green light for tunneling to begin under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River and the Sioux Tribe’s main water supply. It was a heavy blow for the water protectors who instigated a worldwide movement and a human blockade against the pipeline.
Since mid-year oil has been pumping through the pipeline and action has moved from Standing Rock to the courts. Just last month the Sioux lost another battle when a federal judge allowed for the pipeline to continue operations while a court-ordered environmental review is conducted. The tribe argues that construction has already damaged sacred sites, and that it poses a constant threat to the water quality of their reservation.
Associate Professor Kyle Powys Whyte, who is a member of the Potawatomi Nation and advocates for the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the dark reality was that the US Army Corps of Engineers may have legal grounds for their actions.
“What’s a bit frustrating about the court process, is that it appears to be the type of situation where those Army Corps of Engineers did follow the law as it’s stated, or at least it’s very hard to prove that they didn’t in the way that legal system is set up,” he said.
“And it obscures the idea that actually the very consultation process that the US has established for working with tribal communities when pipelines and other environmental threats come about is itself inadequate.”
‘What do you do on a daily basis?’ Calls for non-Indigenous allies to step-up
Professor Whyte said despites these setbacks, momentum amongst Indigenous people hasn’t been lost. But he said non-Indigenous allies needed to keep up the fight.
“For Indigenous people everywhere in the world they were watching, they were invested in the acts of protecting the water that so many people were involved in at Standing Rock to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline,” he said.
“But what really concerns me is actually with the non-Indigenous people.”
“For many people who were involved either from a social media standpoint, or who went out to Standing Rock that I met, it was one of the first times they had engaged in activism on behalf of Indigenous people. And so I asked a lot of them, ‘what do you do on a daily basis to support Indigenous issues? Do you try to lobby your politicians to change all of these tiny little laws and policies that make it harder for Indigenous people to exercise self-determination?’”
“And many of those people I talked to weren’t aware of what they could do on a daily basis.”
How you can support the water protectors
Professor Whyte said there are many ways people can support the water protectors, and action doesn’t have to involve physically going out to Standing Rock.
“For example the divestment campaign: to try to build awareness about how all these networks of banks support these projects that ultimately impact Indigenous people negatively, that’s still something that people can support that ultimately might affect the capacity of oil and gas companies to continue to engage in these activities,” he said.
“And there’s also the water protectors legal collective which is supporting the many hundreds of people who were arrested and whose lives are now made much more complicated by having to go through all of these legal processes and other burdens.”
Professor Whyte said while the battle for Standing Rock isn’t over, the hope is that they can also prevent this from happening again.