Hundreds Fight Dakota Access Pipeline in D.C.

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Nearly one month into a standoff along a tributary of the Missouri River, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have taken their protest of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to the White House.
     Calling on President Barack Obama to permanently halt construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline, the rally Tuesday evening in Washington was one of several scheduled in cities throughout the country, including Los Angeles and Atlanta.
     Obama did intervene on the Sioux’s behalf last week, asking Dakota Access to temporarily pause construction Friday, just after a federal judge in Washington shot down the tribe’s court maneuver.
     Pending additional reviews of the site, Dakota Access has agreed to cease works within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe, a water reservoir of particular concern.
     “You can’t half-heartedly stop the Dakota Access pipeline and allow folks to still be building it throughout the week,” the Rev. Lennox Yearwood said to a cheering crowd. “If you’re serious about your climate legacy, then you will stop this pipeline and every pipeline along with it.”
     Once completed, the 1,100-mile pipeline will transport crude oil from the Bakken shale through four states directly to the Gulf Coast — a first of its kind, reportedly.
     The Hip Hop Caucus and Sen. Bernie Sanders were among hundreds of supporters of the Sioux who joined the Tuesday protest from various tribal nations, nonprofits and government offices.
     “It’s time for real climate leadership,” said Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus. “That means you can’t talk about renewables on Monday and fracking on Wednesday.”
     Yearwood applauded the additional studies that the Justice Department has prompted.
     “I think it’s important for them to look at all the issues, both from the environmental and the cultural aspects,” the reverend said in an interview. “Part of the issue is that they’re actually digging up graves and relics, which I think is part of the harm.”
     Tara Houska, national campaigns director for nonprofit Honor the Earth, spoke at the protest and talked to reporters afterward about the ongoing protests on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation and the Obama administration’s involvement.
     “On the ground, people aren’t leaving,” she said, noting that the number of protestors has grown to about 4,000. Houska said the protest will extend into winter.
     “This has become more than a pipeline,” Houska added. “This is a stance for indigenous rights, and they’re not going to be leaving any time soon. And so the administration can make these incremental changes, but I know that on the ground those folks are willing to stand in front of a bulldozer to stop it. They’re willing to get attacked by dogs and by mace and go out there the next day and do the same thing again. That’s the reality, that’s what we’re fighting for. This is for our children’s rights and our future. These people are willing to die to stop this pipeline.”
     Houska has been in North Dakota with the protestors and described the mood of the camp.
     “You see people that are sharing music and culture and food and language, and then going out and standing in peaceful protest against moving bulldozers,” she said. “But then you go outside the reservation to the boundaries, and you see a blockade of armed guards, and planes flying overhead, and this massive military presence and security presence. The two worlds couldn’t be more apart.”
     Protesters have been charged with trespassing, and are now being slapped with obstruction, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief charges, she said.
     In his ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg cited “dozens of attempts” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, beginning in the fall of 2014, to consult with the tribe about potentially affected cultural sites. Boasberg said the tribe did not actively engage until this January.
     The view from the ground looks different, Houska said.
     “It’s a very different story when you actually talk to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and you talk to the elders that are there,” she said in an interview.
     “The tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, submitted a supplemental brief detailing all of these sacred sites that are along the pipeline easement route,” Houska said. “And the next day, Dakota Access went out and destroyed those sites. That’s what we’re seeing.”
     Houska said she’s hopeful about the trajectory of the lawsuit and the legacy the Obama administration will leave behind on the issue, but says the tribe has a message for the president.
     “We need you to stop this project,” she said. “This is sending a pipeline through our only source of drinking water.”
     Houska sees the potential for disaster as massive. “There’s already pipelines going through the river, so why do we need to add more threat, more risk onto that for infrastructure that benefits profits and not the people,” she asked. “We should not be taking those risks.”

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